August 29 2014

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Take Five: Cédric Rivrain’s Antique Medical Instruments


Fashion folk are a curious bunch, and we’ve found that they tend to collect equally curious things. In our new “Take Five” feature, we get the lowdown on our favorite industry personalities’ most treasured trinkets.

Cedric Rivrain's Antique Medical Instruments

Best known for the eerie, expressive fashion illustrations he’s done for the likes of Martine Sitbon, John Galliano, Lanvin, Hermès, and Maison Michel, Cédric Rivrain lives in a Paris flat filled with curiosities. Among them are piles of anatomical figures, containers filled with unusual drawing tools, and stacks of Hermès boxes. But most intriguing is his collection of over fifty vintage medical instruments—some of which date back to the early nineteenth century—which are displayed proudly on his glass coffee table. “Some people are scared of them, but they know that I’m not a mean person, so it’s fine,” said Rivrain. “And everybody is always trying to guess what they were used for. I actually don’t even know myself!”

He doesn’t really want to know, either. Left to Rivrain by his late father—a general practitioner who had a large practice in Brittany—the drills and breathing masks look more like implements of torture than a doctor’s paraphernalia. “I was obsessed with them as a kid,” remembers Rivrain, who, along with his brother, would play with the unsettling antiques when his parents were out. “That’s why I never really wanted to know what they were used for. In my memories, they were never for medicine. They were for magic and fun.”

Here, Rivrain, who divulged that he’ll be launching his first T-shirt collaboration this fall, discusses his favorite contraptions with

1. “This one is a total mystery to me, but I think it’s a weird old mechanism for cutting. I know it was for surgery, and you’re supposed to fix different instruments to it, and then it rotates. I used to play with it and pretend it was a pistol.”

2. “This is a mask that was used for anesthesia. It’s quite rare to still have the bubble attached. I think it’s made of something awful, like a dried organ—but not a human organ, of course. I wasn’t allowed to play with this one when I was a kid, because it’s super fragile, but it goes over your mouth and nose.”

3. “This is a little spoon with a hole. I have no idea what it’s for. I have a few of them, and I love the big handle. When [my brother and I] would play, in our heads, it was a spoon for magic potions.”

4. “This is a knee hammer, for testing reflexes. When we were kids, we’d pretend to have trials, and we’d use this for a judge’s gavel.”

5. “I always thought this one was really scary. It’s a very complex syringe of some sort. It’s made of glass and leather and steel. I never played with this as a kid, because I was so afraid of it, but now I think it’s such a beautiful object.”

Photos: Lauren Fleishman

Dept. of Culture