Run­way

Alexan­dre de Be­tak makes magic hap­pen. Amy Verner speaks with the leg­endary run­way pro­ducer.

Fashion (Canada) - - Contents - ALEXAN­DRE DE BE­TAK

Fashion show pro­ducer Alexan­dre de Be­tak cel­e­brates more than 1,000 run­way shows with a glossy new book.

In the sec­onds be­fore one of Alexan­dre de Be­tak’s run­way pro­duc­tions be­gins, his voice usu­ally comes on the loud­speaker with the same po­lite re­quest for the guests seated in the front row: “Ladies and gen­tle­men, un­cross your legs, please.” Depend­ing on the city, he makes this an­nounce­ment in his na­tive French or in a re­fined, barely ac­cented English. Fashion show habitués might say that this is the most ob­vi­ous iden­ti­fier in his high-im­pact ap­proach to set­ting the scene for di­rec­tional de­sign­ers and brands such as Chris­tian Dior, Calvin Klein, Ro­darte, Mary Ka­trant­zou, Hus­sein Cha­layan, Vik­tor & Rolf, H&M and Jac­que­mus. But once the lights go up and guests’ shoes are safely out­side the pho­tog­ra­phers’ frames, the Bureau Be­tak in­flu­ence truly takes shape. What­ever the cre­ative di­rec­tion of a col­lec­tion, de Be­tak adapts and makes magic. When asked whether guests can de­tect his stylis­tic DNA, he only says, “Whether spe­cial ef­fects or pure min­i­mal­ism, I think there’s a way of us­ing those cho­sen el­e­ments that make it a very de Be­tak sig­na­ture.”

By the time you read this ar­ti­cle, de Be­tak will have sur­passed an ex­tra­or­di­nary mile­stone: 1,000 run­way shows and pre­sen­ta­tions pro­duced around the world over the bet­ter part of three decades. Odds are, if you have at­tended a show in one of the four fashion cap­i­tals, you have ex­pe­ri­enced the ever-chang­ing ways in which he con­jures up at­mos­pheres— from a vaguely retro ex­plorer theme ac­cented with global flora and life-size card­board-sculpted fauna for the re­cent Dior haute cou­ture show to the flu­o­res­cent tube light­ing that reap­pears sea­son af­ter sea­son on Ro­darte’s run­ways. But you don’t need an in­vi­ta­tion from these brands to watch de Be­tak’s spec­ta­cles; they have evolved in the­atri­cal­ity along­side tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances such as live stream­ing so that any­one can feel the fris­son of the front row from their smart­phones. »

In­deed, de Be­tak’s new, se­ri­ously slick mono­graph, Be­tak:

Fashion Show Revo­lu­tion (re­leased in Oc­to­ber), con­firms that this Paris- and New York-based cre­ative mas­ter­mind and his name­sake agency of roughly 50 staff de­serve sig­nif­i­cant credit for trans­form­ing the con­ven­tional dé­filé into what is ar­guably the most an­tic­i­pated, piv­otal and en­gag­ing as­pect of a brand’s or de­signer’s on­go­ing iden­tity. Start­ing with an in­tro­duc­tion by Sally Singer, cre­ative dig­i­tal di­rec­tor for Vogue.com, and end­ing with com­ments by huge names from both in­side and out­side the in­dus­try (think Raf Si­mons, Michael Kors and Kirsten Dunst), the book lays out the larger-than-life sets, con­cep­tual artistry and spe­cial ef­fects that in­duce awe— even among the most jaded fashion types.

But as the in­dus­try’s in­her­ent ex­cite­ment gets in­creas­ingly weighed down by the challenges of off-cal­en­dar sched­ul­ing, untested cy­cles (see now, buy when?) and the con­stant ex­pec­ta­tion of shak­ing up the sys­tem, the onus falls more and more on de Be­tak to make some­thing mag­i­cal and mem­o­rable out of a mere 10 minutes—15 max. He ac­knowl­edges as much when we speak by phone, while re­main­ing un­fazed by the un­knowns. “I started my ca­reer ad­dress­ing a very knowl­edge­able yet blasé au­di­ence of spe­cial­ized press. And now you still have them, but you also have the di­rect viewer and some­what di­rect con­sumer. Be­yond that, and, more im­por­tantly, to­day, this is forc­ing the speed at which the new revo­lu­tion of fashion shows has to hap­pen. Dig­i­tal me­dia and so­cial me­dia have shown the brands that the viewer has changed and the tra­di­tional press is no longer the au­thor­ity—that ex­pec­ta­tions are much faster and much wider,” he says, clearly aware of the chang­ing land­scape. The cur­rent chal­lenge, he sug­gests, is to be si­mul­ta­ne­ously exclusive and in­clu­sive. “Be­fore, when I did fashion shows, I was al­ways think­ing of the in­spi­ra­tion of the sea­son as well as the his­tory of the house,” he says. “Now, in ad­di­tion to these two ob­vi­ous ob­jec­tives, we need to ad­dress a very wide range »

“We need...to give them a wider point of view, a wider range of emo­tion, some­thing much less dic­tated by the house.”

of au­di­ences—wide in age, ge­og­ra­phy and so­ci­o­log­i­cal prove­nances—and give them a wider point of view, a wider range of emo­tion, some­thing much less dic­tated by the house and much more raw. Peo­ple want to see be­hind the scenes; they want to see what hap­pens and why it hap­pens.”

But won’t all this ac­cess kill the ca­chet? Not when tack­led in­no­va­tively, de Be­tak ar­gues. “[Fashion weeks] still need to sur­prise, and I think the for­mat has be­come too ex­pected and not sur­pris­ing enough,” he main­tains, adding, “I think there is go­ing to be a full free­dom of ways; soon enough, houses will have the free­dom of show­ing when they have to in the com­mer­cial cy­cles but also when they want and where they want be­cause they are show­ing to ev­ery­one, re­gard­less, all the time.”

When I sug­gest that this is optimistic, he replies: “I’m ide­al­is­tic and, I think, re­al­is­tic. I be­lieve that fashion shows are still a medium that makes peo­ple dream and helps fashion and lux­ury brands. I be­lieve that the emo­tion that comes out of the live mo­men­tum is ir­re­place­able, but I also think there have been too many of them and [they’re] too close to­gether. Not ev­ery­one agrees with this, but the tra­di­tional au­di­ence is no longer the one that mat­ters the most. The live show will still have a rea­son for ex­ist­ing, but [it needs] to rein­vent it­self.”

At this point, de Be­tak, 49, isn’t con­tem­plat­ing his own rein­ven­tion so much as brand ex­ten­sion. (Some­what re­lated, ear­lier this year, Sofía Sanchez de Be­tak, his Ar­gen­tinian art di­rec­tor and fashion con­sul­tant wife, re­leased Trav­els with Chufy:

Con­fi­den­tial Desti­na­tions, a book whose ti­tle is a nod to her well-known nick­name.) Com­ple­ment­ing his book (which is nearly 300 pages) is a range of “fashion show tools” and “sur­vival gear” that in­cludes pouches made by Comme des Garçons and a spe­cial Caviar Kaspia box set con­tain­ing vodka and a tin of caviar (the restau­rant is a leg­endary hang­out dur­ing Paris Fashion Week), plus less-deca­dent items such as sweat­shirts, notepads and head­phones—all of which were de­vel­oped by de Be­tak and launched at Co­lette for the Septem­ber shows.

De Be­tak’s prophecy of what we might ex­pect from fashion shows in the near future reads rather safe, for some­one so plugged into the in­dus­try. “The ba­sic el­e­ments of live hu­man be­ings walk­ing will, at least to a cer­tain de­gree, al­ways be there, and the ways they are trans­mit­ted and seen and used will be dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent,” he says. “I think it will be a mix of both ex­tremes; I’m pretty sure of that.” Given that de Be­tak is al­ready work­ing with some brands on their strate­gies through sum­mer 2018, can he en­vi­sion him­self still go­ing at this rate well be­yond that? “I mean, yes and no,” he an­swers. “I’m com­mit­ted to cre­at­ing the next revo­lu­tion. And then we’ll see.” Af­ter all, at the risk of sound­ing clichéd, the shows must go on.

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