This week, during Art Basel Miami Beach the Prada store, designed in a futuristic cocktail with a delicate taste of Art Deco accompanied by a heritage spirit, has its premier. Besides Prada’s classic green walls decorated in Art Deco foliage, the floors mainly of classic black and white checkboard referring back to the first Prada store in Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is flurrying my curiosity.
If you take a look at the picture you will see a pattern consisting of three-dimensional geometrical rectangles with plane surface in black, yellow and white. These should be a modern interpretation of their architectural predecessors, lozenges or cubes in general called Opus sectile – Latin for “cut work”– designating a technique for paving floors and walls in geometric patterns or figurative scenes using meticulously cut and polished polychrome stone tiles.
Opus sectile – Latin for “cut work”
These titles were crafted together and laid with such precision that there was hardly space to insert a knife-blade between them. Opus sectile as a pavement design first time appeared in the Greek world and was late highly appreciated by the Romans, who used exotic marbles and mainly paved reception rooms in wealthy houses to demonstrate their prosperity and worship for the craftsmanship.
This particular mosaic on the store’s floor is called Opus scutulatum, the first type of Opus sectile to appear in Italy with the earliest recorded example found in the cella of the temple of Apollo in Pompeii (150 BC). There were lozenges in three colours arranged to form a pattern of perspective cubes. This type of floor was constructed of lozenge-shaped tiles that could be set to create a number of patterns. Different colours and shapes of marbles could be used to create a better effect on the perspective cubes.
The Romans were actually well accustomed to the issue of sustainability and in the late Empire they reused pieces of originally designed mosaics for different purposes. It was shown by the varying thickness of some contemporary patters and the fact that they did not match and also had marks of previous use, including inscriptions, on the reverse. The practice, however, continued into the Middle Ages; the several floors of several Carolingian churches in and around Rome are considered to be composed of reused pieces of Roman opus sectile.
Meanwhile, I would also take it a step further and assume that German Lozenge camouflage, developed for and used in the last two years of World War I by Imperial German Luftstreitkräfte to camouflage their aircrafts.
As we can see, fashion has, also been active in capitalizing on the cultural appropriation of the ancient references. Thus, in 2010 Pierre Hardy launched a collection called the Cube Perspective Canvas Line, interpreting the graphic geometry and ancient origins of opus sectile in his own way. Prada created a collection Fall/Winter 2012 referring to the bold interiors of David Hicks, who was also inspired by geometric cubes and hexagons, creating his own eclectic style.
While looking at Goyard’s interlocking “Y”, which is said to be a symbol stranding for the Goyard family history as log-drivers, leads the thoughts back to the Ancient times. However, the notoriously mysterious French maison will probably never tell the true story to the world, leaving us wondering and desiring, as the true luxury should do.