Carina & Nigel: The Beauty and Her Beast
He was born in France and is "so British". For his next adventures, obliging cordial relationships, Nigel, the little dragon prince of Hyde Park, goes to meet the sovereign of the Tuileries. Ex-model, Carina Axelsson has dropped everything to create him. Babar is getting a run for his money.
Photo caption: Carina, in a Chanel jacket and jeans in the Tuileries Garden. International by birth, she chose to live in Paris where she gave birth to Nigel, a little royal dragon who must learn to grow up and become brave. A new hero with a happy ending for children who are amateur historians.
Carina Axelsson has been carrying her little royal dragon around for almost five years. She defends him tooth and nail. "With Nigel, I'm a real mother hen. He's really my baby." A descendant of an illustrious scaly family, His Gracious Majesty Prince Nigel Arthur Alfred George has just been born. Who could resist the charms of this fearsome fire-breather and his very pretty creator? Half Mexican, half Swedish, Carina fed her imagination on flamboyant family myths. She speaks of her great-grandparents who literally loved each other to death. Of an orphan grandmother sent to a convent by uncles impatient to steal her land. And of a grandfather, a Mexican caballero who tore that beauty from the nuns for a handful of money, married her and gave her 12 children. She recounts Swedish forests and her childhood in the mountains of California. Her two donkeys April and Mojave, her mare Bonita, her dogs, her cats, her duck. Very early on, Carina felt like a foreigner exiled on American soil. The little girl took refuge in a teeming interior world, devouring Babar, the works of Astrid Lundgren and Beatrix Potter. She already dreamed about writing. "I would walk along with my notebook in my hand, the pencil in the air, desparate that I couldn't scribble a single line. Between us, during those years, I had nothing to say!"
Photo caption: One of the marked memories of Carina's childhood: when she met Mickey Mouse! On the right, the rabbit she designed for Christophe Robin, colourist to the stars.
As an adolescent, Carina didn't like going out. She continued to read, feverishly draw and play Mozart, Bach and Chopin for hours on her piano. She also began to discover Europe, the history of the old continent was fascinating to her. "Every week, I waited for the English magazine Country Life like communion bread. I was without a doubt the only person in California to adore it!" After high school, the young girl hesitated about which path to travel. "I had my dreams, but I didn't know how to make them happen. One day, a male friend took me forcefully to a casting call for models. At the time, it didn't interest me at all." Nonetheless, her success in San Francisco was immediate. At the end of a year, a New York agency called. Carina is not ready to forget her arrival in the Big Apple. The plane was late, her luggage was lost, she found herself in a sinister apartment with no hot water. But the next day, she had appointments with Conde Nast and bookings with Vogue, Mademoiselle, Glamour, Marie-Claire, the biggest titles you could work for. Carina had the wind in her sails and her heart as mast. "People always thought of me like a UFO. In New York, my difference became my strength. Nonetheless, I hated this job."
She decided to move to Paris. "I was right away very happy here. I was finally breathing that perfume of history that I'd always loved." Carina rented a piano, learned French from day to day and travelled throughout Europe by posing for photographers. But secretly she nourished other projects. For two years, she took evening classes at Ecole Boulle and became familiar with the applied arts: sculpture, design, drawing, painting. At the end of these courses, she decided she was done with fashion photography. "I didn't like this world where female complexes live. If you believe those people, then a new lipstick will make you feel different. That's completely false."
Carina decided to start again at zero and became an illustrator, producing invitations, programmes, and announcements but her budget was strained. To make ends meet, she doubled up on little jobs: "I did everything: babysitter, salesgirl, secretary, dog-walker (far from the nicest job)." One day, Christophe Robin, the colourist to the stars, asked her to design a little character to decorate children's shampoo bottles. Among six options Carina proposed, there was a little dragon, called to a greater future. "The day when I drew Nigel, everything became very clear, very fast." For another six months, she became the personal assistant to John Galliano. The designer appreciated her good taste, but he was less convinced by the organization of the person he called Cinderella. From this contact, Carina had a revelation. "By watching him work, I understood that with just one good idea, you could convince people as serious as Sydney Toledano and Bernard Arnault." She decides therefore to dedicate herself entirely to Nigel. All over again, it's lean times. The young woman faced almost universal incomprehension. "My friends said: Get married! Find a rich man! Afterward, you can always draw your books in your chateau on weekends." Happily, there was the support of regular French people, with their simple and spontaneous gestures. "So many people helped me! The café and the corner grocery, the cleaners, the bookstore gave me credit. Marianne Robic gave me flowers, Christophe Robin did my colour for nothing. Friends took care of my dog." When the phone rang from Assouline Editions, the young illustrator was making a final, desparate effort: "I didn't have any heat and I was in the process of selling my piano." Since then, Carina has been living the fairy tale, but for nothing in the world would she ever be delivered from the grip of her dragon!
Photos: Alexia S. for Point de vue