For the past 25 years, Alexandre de Betak has become fashion’s go-to ringmaster for creating buzz via cutting-edge shows and events. As the industry stands at the crossroads, he and a handful of others have a glimpse of what lies ahead for fashion communication. Chief Impressionist Kenneth Richard speaks with Alex about the changing dynamics of fashion shows, how technology will enhance the experience, and how he sees the game being played next.
Kenneth Richard:Alex, thanks for sitting down and chatting with us as we know you’ve been busy with shows. Do you have down time at all anymore? Alexandre de Betak: No, not anymore. When I started, people thought my job was completely seasonal, working just summers and winters, and the rest of the time was free. That’s long gone. We do so many events and shows and start working on them way earlier now that no one thinks that.
Today, we are being consulted for different types of, “experiences,” as everyone likes to call them now. They are projects of permanent or semi-permanent installations for retailers, real estate developers, and hotel groups. For instance, we’re doing a big event in Macau for a casino group next week. There is a consistent increase in the number of events we do. We also consult for a lot of our clients, and not just on shows. We’ve taken what we’ve been doing for over 25 years in fashion and molded it into installations that be activated every day, every hour, or even every moment.
Kenneth Richard:Assume the catalyst for all of that is the fact that every one of these events now gets broadcasted around the world opposed to just being seen by the 800 people that are there. Budgets must be up for events. Alexandre de Betak: Yes, they are growing proportionally to how big they already were. Small designers and small companies without those budgets don’t suddenly have an increase. On the other hand, the large ones are growing because this form of communication brings the most return.
The “experience” is one major new word for companies and obviously, “instagramability,” or the “selfie,” is important in anything we do. I’ve been saying it for years, and it is finally materializing. Other industries are now catching on to how fashion communicates creating these pinnacle moments. With meaningful budgets and serious effort into a short moment that is very media worthy. With Instagram and social media, the audience generates instant free buzz. I believe we are at just the beginning of the movement where companies recognize they need the types of things we do.
Kenneth Richard:What are smart brands getting right today versus ones resisting the evolution? Alexandre de Betak: Evolution is one of the keywords. There’s less of a recipe that works for everyone and there’s a bigger need for creativity.
There is a need for brands to be more creative, more themselves, and more daring than ever. The ones who do it right are the ones who take risk. There are many different ways of taking risk, but people in brands should view it as a positive.
What’s the common denominator between the inclusion that everyone wants today? The diversity of looks, colors, religions, shapes, and sizes are basically a claim and a need for more truth. Truth as in what is the world made of. I believe that brands that get it right already are being true to themselves which in turn leads the creatives to be truer to themselves. That leads to the truth spoken: being transparent; being real. I think people want reality, and everyone wants to dream. We’ve been an industry that created somewhat artificial images because it is easier to make a dream than reality. And we still need to create amazing realities that make people dream, but we need to show them in a realistic and truthful manner; which is very new for all of us.
Kenneth Richard:What is the skill set that it takes to do this today versus yesterday? Alexandre de Betak: I think the skill sets today include open-mindedness to absolutely everything and not restricting your jobs to something specific. Now, it’s really about finding an idea that will check all the boxes. You may need something remarkable, emotional, truthful, “Instagrammable,” or memorable.
Many think it is just the set, and an amazing set can be what makes a fashion show or an experience memorable, but it could also be because of the lighting, special effects, casting, music, storytelling, emotion, and all of the visuals. In fact, I love creating emotion in the dark with the set left unlit for a long time, creating emotion with sound effects, smell, humidity, you name it. There has to be no limit to the tools we use.
I like to think that too much consistency gets boring, so I take a step back and tell our teams or our client to stop a second. Before we take a pencil and draw anything, we should propose a collaboration with something completely crazy−with an artist or a cook. There are a million approaches to an event.The set is only one of the elements.
Kenneth Richard:A leg of a table. Alexandre de Betak: It’s one of the legs of the tables and table could have many legs, no legs, or one. Really, there is no rule. What makes the best brands best? It isn’t relying on a recipe. I think great brands have great history, or DNA. You don’t erase the DNA even though you can put on a costume for a minute. Similar to dressing up for a party.
Kenneth Richard:What does a good client come to you with? Alexandre de Betak: Thankfully, they’re all very different, and I tend to attract the ones that have the most needs or are the most extreme. Some of them come with a brief that I listen to and my team and I will comeback with ideas. Others come with briefs that I don’t listen to at all, because sometimes I read the description of a brief and realize this could apply to anybody. It seems counter-effective. There are creative directors of houses that are actually incredibly clear on what they want. I think the greatest minds have to be open-minded and the greatest brands have to be open-minded.
Kenneth Richard:When those creative directors come to you with an idea, are you able to propose another?There aren’t many people who would say, “Maybe we should look on the other side of the mountain.” Alexandre de Betak: I think part of me always did that. When I was a teenager, I was already like that. It was based on the complete lack of knowledge of the topics, mediums, or fashion in general. I knew nothing about it. I came at it intuitively, and with pure naiveté. Trust me, when you ask me the question again, I would say a lot of it has to do with experiences as I’ve done over 1,100 hundred shows now.
Kenneth Richard:So many you see them in your sleep. Do you have a reoccurring dream about shows? Alexandre de Betak: Yes, I do actually. I continue to dream that they could be much better!
Fashion shows are unlike other mediums, such as concerts, because you do them once. It’s a cliché, but true. Fashion shows are done only once. You may rehearse it for a minute a half and but it can always be better, and that’s why we do another one. I believe we won’t repeat fashion shows, but we will begin exploring the idea of the medium of what a fashion show is. By medium, I mean the way we communicate through those events and do more semi-permanent installation with them. Everyone wants an interactive experience today. People book tickets to an event. They go, they see, they watch, they’re in the dark, the stage is lit, and that’s it. No one wants that anymore.
Kenneth Richard:One of the experiences that has changed for me is the resort shows. I can’t make it out to 90% but we live broadcast so many that I experience them like a sport, from the couch. Of course, I wasn’t able to enjoy the rain at the last Dior cruise show, which I loved, in part because of the rain. Alexandre de Betak: Next time I’ll bring you a little rain machine to your couch!
I wish we could share all the emotion that we manage to transmit live through a screen. We will get there one day. I believe we will manage to extend the experience to people that aren’t live, through the angles and point of view that we share. We now film in new ways that can bring an exclusive point of view to a screen audience.
But I don’t wish for all of the important events of our lives to be lived only virtually. I want people to be attracted to more live experiences because if we don’t manage to do that, there would be no reason at all for any of them. If technology helps us and helps you be better in the couch than not, if technology will help you print the food you could have at the restaurant better without waiting or without any reservation, if it will make you receive the goods you need faster and cheaper than if you went to a store, then there will be no reason in life for you to leave that couch. I will continue to find reasons for you to leave that couch.
Kenneth Richard:Well, I’m prepared to leave the couch, and appreciate you joining me here on one Alex. Thank you very much for coming in today. Alexandre de Betak: You’re very welcome.
Portrait Photo | Mark Seliger for The Impression 250
Photos from Top | Saint Laurent Spring 2019, Dior Spring 2016, Calvin Klein Fall 2018, Galliano Fall 2009
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