Eight­ies Re­vival?

WWD Digital Daily - - Front Page - BY LUISA ZARGANI

Benet­ton taps JeanCharles de Castel­ba­jac as artis­tic di­rec­tor to re­gain the brand’s Eight­ies and Nineties hey­day.

MI­LAN — United Col­ors of Benet­ton’s move re­vealed on Mon­day to tap JeanCharles de Castel­ba­jac as its first artis­tic di­rec­tor may sig­nal a strate­gic change for the Ital­ian fash­ion group — or a way to seek to re­cover the fash­ion brand’s iden­tity by hark­ing back to its hey­day in the Eight­ies.

“The choice of a ‘real’ de­signer may tele­graph Benet­ton’s de­ci­sion to exit the realm of fast fash­ion, which has be­come a crowded and com­pet­i­tive ter­ri­tory and not very prof­itable un­less one has a su­perla­tive dis­tri­bu­tion in all coun­tries around the world, and the group’s ef­forts to try and rise a lit­tle at a more pre­mium brand level,” said Paola Cillo, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor and vice di­rec­tor, depart­ment of man­age­ment and tech­nol­ogy at Boc­coni Uni­ver­sity and co­or­di­na­tor of lux­ury busi­ness man­age­ment full-time MBA at SDA Boc­coni school of man­age­ment.

Cillo did not at­tribute Benet­ton’s choice of de Castel­ba­jac to nos­tal­gia, but rather to the com­pany’s and the de­signer’s com­mon affin­ity to col­ors and wool.

De Castel­ba­jac, who will be in charge of both the men’s and women’s col­lec­tions for the brand, first launched his brand Ko & Co with his mother Jeanne-Blanche de Castel­ba­jac in 1968 in Li­mo­ges, France.

The de­signer in­spired trends such as the “anti-fash­ion” move­ment and the al­ter­na­tive use of ob­jects such as rags and sponges to dec­o­rate gar­ments. In 1974, he co­founded Ice­berg, and in 1978, he launched the JeanCharles de Castel­ba­jac brand, which he left in 2016. Over the years, the de­signer has also col­lab­o­rated with Max Mara, El­lesse, Cour­règes, Ros­sig­nol and Le Coq Sportif. Blend­ing punk and pop ref­er­ences, his style dove­tails with Benet­ton’s use of strong col­ors and a whim­si­cal and ir­rev­er­ent touch.

This is a new role and one of the first ma­jor steps for the la­bel fol­low­ing the re­turn of Lu­ciano Benet­ton as chair­man of the group in Jan­uary. On Mon­day, de Castel­ba­jac said the de­signer’s “ex­pe­ri­ence, charisma and abil­ity to fore­cast to­mor­row’s so­cial and fash­ion trends will con­sti­tute a great as­set for our brand.”

Surely, de Castel­ba­jac is not lack­ing in en­ergy. “There is ev­ery­thing at Benet­ton, it’s magic, a real trea­sure,” he said in an in­ter­view. “Work­ing at the plant I see it.

This is a fan­tas­tic chal­lenge. It’s the most beau­ti­ful ad­ven­ture of my life.” Asked what he thought the brand was miss­ing, he said, “it’s DNA had been for­got­ten, the knitwear, the col­ors, the pop. They were good col­lec­tions, but lacked a touch of imag­i­na­tion and fan­tasy, they shouldn’t be ba­sic col­lec­tions.”

De Castel­ba­jac goes way back with Lu­ciano Benet­ton, and with Oliviero Toscani, whom the en­tre­pre­neur has also asked to re­turn and help with the turn­around. “Our lives were al­ways in­ter­con­nected,” said de Casatel­ba­jac, who re­mem­bered how Benet­ton agreed to pose wear­ing an Ice­berg pullover for an ad cam­paign, de­spite the fact that his com­pany was al­ready well-es­tab­lished and both were “do­ing rain­bow col­ors” and tread­ing a sim­i­lar path. That same cam­paign also saw Andy Warhol and Franco Moschino pose for Ice­berg and Toscani. “I would ask those I ad­mired,” noted de Castel­ba­jac. Benet­ton, he said, “had a sense of hu­mor and the right spirit to ac­cept” to model for the brand. “There were al­ways com­mon grounds and the pas­sion for knitwear is very par­tic­u­lar. We share that.”

He re­al­izes “the world has changed with the In­ter­net, and it asks us to re­spond to give things that touch a gen­er­a­tion of Mil­len­ni­als. It’s very in­ter­est­ing to­day. We are men of ex­pe­ri­ence but also of cu­rios­ity. To­day I share my cu­rios­ity with the team, with those that are 30, 90 or 50. We can cre­ate good qual­ity, func­tional and creative fash­ion, for any­one. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing, no­body does this, it’s ei­ther sports or mass mar­ket,” he con­tended. “Thanks to so­cial net­works, fash­ion to­day is vis­i­ble to ev­ery­one, but it re­mains af­ford­able only to a few. To­gether, United Col­ors of Benet­ton and I will seek to cre­ate to­mor­row’s wardrobe, bring­ing beauty and style to ev­ery­day life, at prices that ev­ery­one can af­ford.”

“Is it best not to change a win­ning team?” won­dered Da­vide Dal­lomo, founder and pres­i­dent of the creative tal­ent and man­age­ment agency La­gente. “To­day we find our­selves fac­ing a very dif­fer­ent world, and not only in terms of fash­ion; per­haps this move could be risky, as to­day there are mega play­ers such as Zara, H&M and Uniqlo [that] did not ex­ist in the Eight­ies and which have changed or, at the very least, con­di­tioned fash­ion to­day. [For ex­am­ple, the con­cept of drops which was un­fath­omable not so long ago.]” That said, Dal­lomo be­lieves “cre­ativ­ity is a con­cept that re­mains some­how time­less.” If de Castel­ba­jac and Benet­ton “will suc­ceed in mod­ern­iz­ing cre­ativ­ity mak­ing it con­tem­po­rary, the project will surely be in­ter­est­ing.”

Asked what steps he would take in this case, Dal­lomo would “flank the artis­tic di­rec­tor, who­ever it is, with ad­e­quate re­sources for com­mu­ni­ca­tions and im­age strate­gies, com­bined with a solid creative team that can trans­late the vi­sion of the artis­tic di­rec­tion with an equally valid mer­chan­dis­ing team. It’s not a prob­lem

The de­signer is the com­pany’s first artis­tic di­rec­tor.

of names, but rather one of re­search and con­tent. Let’s in­vest on con­tent.”

Alessan­dro Maria Fer­reri, ceo and owner of The Style Gate con­sult­ing firm, who has worked for the likes of Bloom­ing­dale’s and Macy’s in the Mid­dle East, the Al Tayer Group, Har­vey Nichols and Furla, among oth­ers, un­der­scored his con­cerns over the fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion of the group, which he pegged at “an ero­sion of 300 mil­lion eu­ros over the past three years,” and said the ar­rival of a de­signer is “sim­patico,” but ex­pressed his need for more in­for­ma­tion on how Benet­ton in­tends to re­launch the brand. He had no reser­va­tions about de Castel­ba­jac, com­par­ing him to So­nia Rykiel, Jean Paul Gaultier and Valentino Gar­a­vani, say­ing “he was a wiz­ard with knitwear, blend­ing it with ny­lon in 1970, he was pro­jected into the fu­ture with vi­sion­ary ma­te­ri­als, he added patches 20 years be­fore Alessan­dro Michele. He is a mas­ter in terms of tech­niques. And not ev­ery­one knows that he was artis­tic di­rec­tor of TV se­ries ‘Char­lie’s An­gels’ dress­ing Far­rah Fawcett for 10 years — an ante lit­teram stylist, he has an in­cred­i­ble eye for color. He is a great col­lec­tor of mod­ern art and he is a pil­lar of the fash­ion world. There is no doubt he will be pos­i­tive for Benet­ton.”

Com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tant Ma­rina

Pi­ano said surely de Castel­ba­jac is very much “in line” with Benet­ton and sees the two as a good fit. De Castel­ba­jac’s pop back­ground is wel­come at this time “as are his con­nec­tions with Toscani and Warhol.”

A mar­ket source, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity, said all this “may very well be, but in a world of young creative tal­ents and with Benet­ton’s cus­tomer base quite young, with the brand and the prod­uct that need to be re­ju­ve­nated, couldn’t a street de­signer maybe be a bet­ter fit? That said, at the time of Benet­ton’s glory days, de Castel­ba­jac was it, that was his own glo­ri­ous mo­ment and, in any case, there is merit in choos­ing a skilled de­signer.”

Lu­ciano Benet­ton, one of the firm’s founders with his sib­lings Gi­u­liana, Gil­berto and the late Carlo, is be­hind Toscani’s own re­turn to the brand. The two men fa­mously col­lab­o­rated for years on con­tro­ver­sial ad cam­paigns in the Eight­ies and Nineties, and Toscani pho­tographed a new com­mu­ni­ca­tion cam­paign for the brand that bowed in De­cem­ber.

Lu­ciano Benet­ton had re­tired in

April 2012, pass­ing the ba­ton to his son Alessan­dro, who ex­ited the com­pany af­ter two years. The se­nior Benet­ton de­cided to be­come newly in­volved in United Col­ors of Benet­ton af­ter years of de­clin­ing sales, with the goal of turn­ing around the fash­ion group that made his name into a global brand.

In ad­di­tion to a long ca­reer that spans from de­sign to paint­ing, ad­ver­tis­ing and street art, de Castel­ba­jac and Lu­ciano Benet­ton also share a pas­sion for blend­ing fash­ion with art. The French de­signer be­friended and worked with artists such as Andy Warhol, Miquel Barceló, Keith Har­ing, Jean Michel Basquiat, M.I.A and Lady Gaga. His cre­ations have been dis­played at New York’s In­sti­tute of Fash­ion and Tech­nol­ogy, Lon­don’s Vic­to­ria & Al­bert Mu­seum and the Gal­liera Mu­seum in Paris. In 2018, he was guest artis­tic di­rec­tor at the Paris Bi­en­nale.

The Ital­ian en­tre­pre­neur has tire­lessly trav­eled around the world with his col­lec­tion called Imago Mundi, which con­tains works in a 3.9-inch-by-4.7-inch for­mat by artists around the world and now to­tals around 25,000 pieces.

“There is ev­ery­thing at Benet­ton, it’s magic, a real trea­sure…its DNA had been for­got­ten, the knitwear, the col­ors, the pop. They were good col­lec­tions, but lacked a touch of imag­i­na­tion and fan­tasy, they shouldn’t be ba­sic col­lec­tions.”



Jean-Charles de Castel­ba­jac

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