The Wiz­ard of Coz

Fash­ion show mae­stro ALEX DE BETAK talks to zaneta cheng about how he’s made magic hap­pen for the past 30 years and what he has up his sleeve for the Chi­nese au­di­ence

Prestige (Thailand) - - CONTENTS -

“we’re start­ing now to do real Chi­nese things, in Chi­nese for Chi­nese peo­ple,” says Alexan­dre de Betak, who’s speak­ing from the Mor­pheus Ho­tel’s atrium, which has been pan­elled with bright white boards as a set for the ho­tel’s open­ing cer­e­mony that evening. “Tra­di­tion­ally, we’ve helped im­por­tant lux­ury brands break into China. This is very dif­fer­ent, be­cause it’s China for China. It’s a very Chi­nese ex­pe­ri­ence for the Chi­nese.”

Lawrence Ho and Fred­eric Winck­ler of Ma­cau’s City of Dreams needed some­one to see things dif­fer­ently, and to or­ches­trate a rib­bon-cut­ting cer­e­mony of in­ter­na­tional cal­i­bre that could stand with the majesty of the Zaha Ha­did Ar­chi­tects-de­signed build­ing. No one was bet­ter suited to the job than de Betak, who, in his three-decades-plus ca­reer, has been re­spon­si­ble for giv­ing the mod­ern fash­ion show its panache, trans­form­ing an in­dus­try walk­a­bout into a spec­ta­cle suited to In­sta­gram and ev­ery other form of so­cial me­dia that can be thrown at it.

From Chaumet to Gabriela Hearst to Alexan­der Wang, de Betak trans­lates brand aes­thet­ics and mes­sages to the world. Scroll through Dior shows and ev­ery one of them will have been de­signed and ex­e­cuted by de Betak’s com­pany, Betak Bureau. Of the cruise 2019 show in Chan­tilly this May – which took place in a semi-cov­ered space

where an all-fe­male char­reada team per­formed as their lace dresses got wet­ter and wet­ter in a down­pour – Betak says, “Every­one said to me, ‘Oh no, I’m so sorry it rained on your show,’ and I thought, ‘What do you mean? It looked beau­ti­ful in the rain!’”

And so, of course, what was first a sim­ple rib­bon-cut­ting brief turned into a full open­ing cer­e­mony with a Dj-or­ches­tral bat­tle. “In lieu of cut­ting the rib­bon, we pro­posed to them this in­stal­la­tion,” de Betak says. “Which is ba­si­cally a rib­bon cut­ting, but an in­ter­pre­ta­tion of rib­bon cut­ting by mix­ing fu­tur­is­tic and clas­sic el­e­ments to show­case how grand the place is. We un­veil the tower af­ter the speeches from the in­side, through this [tem­po­rar­ily] roof above your head, which will dis­ap­pear in a sec­ond and re­veal a 60-piece tra­di­tional orches­tra, with one mu­si­cian in each of the lit squares that you see.”

What Betak pro­posed was to pause most of the el­e­va­tor op­er­a­tions in the build­ing in or­der to set a mu­si­cian into each level of the glass ar­ter­ies run­ning up the spec­tac­u­lar atrium. From there, Betak says, “We will si­mul­ta­ne­ously raise out of this box to the side com­poser Thomas Rous­sel and DJ Pe­dra Win­ter, and in­tro­duce a live or­ches­tral bat­tle be­tween fu­tur­is­tic elec­tronic mu­sic and tra­di­tional or­ches­tral mu­sic for 15 min­utes fol­low­ing the un­veil­ing of the atrium.”

The pur­pose was “to am­plify the grand­ness of the ver­ti­cal­ity” of the Ha­did build­ing, which boasts one of the largest free-stand­ing atri­ums in the world. To Betak, it plays into his per­cep­tion of Ma­cau as sci-fi, one of his favourite gen­res as a child. “Weirdly enough, the atrium looks big­ger to me ev­ery time I see it,” he says. “The scale of things in Ma­cau is kind of weird. You go from a small Eif­fel tower to a huge foun­tain. There’s a scale mind-bend that I find quite in­ter­est­ing, which I played with when I walked in here.”

His in­ter­est in sci-fi is part of a deeper phi­los­o­phy for de Betak – that of play. “Sci-fi in­ter­ested me when I was just a kid, but I’m still a kid,” he says. “You can be a kid at any age. I have no idea what I’ll do when I grow, so in the mean­time I play around with what I have.

“I think the idea of fu­tur­ism is – I re­ally want to think that we’re lucky enough to live in a time where fu­tur­ism should be and is now. I guess I’ve al­ways been at­tracted to the genre, be­cause I re­ally aim to see the world change and hope­fully help it change. We have the chance to be ex­posed and to use a lot of new tech­nolo­gies, which ... should help ad­dress the is­sues that can

change the world for the bet­ter. Part of it is sci­ence fic­tion and part of it is re­al­ity.

“I’ve al­ways been more in­ter­ested in look­ing into to­mor­row than yes­ter­day, but I think the speed at which the world changes to­day makes it re­ally pos­si­ble to take ideas from sci-fi and make them re­al­ity. And I think tech­nol­ogy, if well used, can help peo­ple’s minds and ideas look fur­ther, more than they would have oth­er­wise. It’s just great to feel that you’re par­tic­i­pat­ing in to­mor­row’s world.”

De Betak’s his­tory as a dis­rup­tor – he barely has a job ti­tle as he does so much, from in­te­rior de­sign to art di­rec­tion to fur­ni­ture de­sign – po­si­tions him per­fectly to bring a new aes­thetic to the Chi­nese mar­ket, one that’s as Chi­nese as it’s in­ter­na­tional. “I think I’ve par­tic­i­pated in al­most ev­ery revo­lu­tion­ary or dras­ti­cally chang­ing mo­ment of the fash­ion­show world, and I think now is a bet­ter time than ever be­cause all bar­ri­ers be­tween me­dia and gen­res can be bro­ken,” he says. “It’s glob­al­i­sa­tion the way I like it. Don’t make ev­ery­thing the same ev­ery­where and erase cul­ture. On the con­trary, mix cul­tures. Help lo­cal cul­tures be­come even more lo­cal and dis­tinct.”

Per­haps it’s easy for him to say, given that he’s the man whose wiz­ardry can shut down New York’s Chi­na­town, the Pom­pi­dou Cen­tre, Rodin Mu­seum and Pi­casso Mu­seum in Paris, and Bei­jing’s For­bid­den City for his ex­tra­or­di­nary events, but cre­ativ­ity, ac­cord­ing to de Betak, “is to be open to ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing and ev­ery style, ev­ery cul­ture, ev­ery era, ev­ery tex­ture, ev­ery colour.”

Pre­con­ceived no­tions are the en­emy. De Betak calls them “pre­con­ceived block­ages” that close the mind and brain to pos­si­bil­ity. “You can’t block the in­put – that ref­er­ence, that mu­sic, song, colour, fab­ric, what­ever – so you should let it come in and make sure it rests in a place where it can come back out in a sub­jec­tive, per­sonal way at a time when it will work and be un­der­stood by every­one.”

How does this trans­late to his most re­cent Chi­nese ven­ture? “I’ve been com­ing to China for 15 years,” de Betak says. “I be­lieve it’s the same any­where, one has first to un­der­stand and learn the cul­ture of where one goes.

“I think we grew up in too much glob­al­i­sa­tion. I be­lieve in a kind of glob­al­i­sa­tion where you un­der­stand and ad­dress lo­cal cul­ture in­stead of eras­ing it. I think the ’90s erased most of that. Ev­ery lux­ury brand tried to make the same thing ev­ery­where around the world to the point where we would walk down a street and for­get whether we were in Hong Kong or Paris or Mi­lan or Dubai or Mum­bai. I find that to be a crime, so I’ve al­ways ad­vo­cated do­ing the op­po­site, and to learn about who you’re talk­ing to, learn what made them what they are.

“In the case of Chi­nese cul­ture, it’s quite com­plex. There’s im­pe­rial China, com­mu­nist China, postrev­o­lu­tion China, which is crazy and bril­liant. Hav­ing worked within the Chi­nese mar­ket for 15 years now, I think it comes in­trin­si­cally and nat­u­rally to me to think of what to­day’s Chi­nese com­mu­nity or guests for such an event like, but at the same time we should do what we think is right and we’ll help them bet­ter un­der­stand the mes­sage.”

It’s an in­ter­est­ing phi­los­o­phy to bring into casino land, which to most peo­ple rings of gar­ish gold, tacky baroque gild­ing, harsh neon lights and elec­tronic notes blar­ing from machines. But de Betak rel­ishes this. “The key is to go be­yond kitsch, that’s when ev­ery­thing be­comes good again, when it be­comes fun. Tra­di­tional casino land was very tacky, but it’s not be­cause it’s tacky that I think we should do tacky. I think it’s that be­cause it’s tacky we need to re­verse it to make it be­come what we be­lieve the gam­bler, the con­sumer can ap­pre­ci­ate and up­grade to­wards.”



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