How Curator Olivier Saillard’s Creative Vision Has Transformed From Museum To Merchant
Olivier Saillard has mastered the art of cool. He shows no sign of anxiety or stress when considering the landslide of projects he is juggling in addition to his role at J.M. Weston as Image and Culture Director at the French men’s shoe brand. Saillard was offered the role in 2017 after spending the first half of his 25-year plus career as curator of both the Musée de Marseille and Musée des les Arts Décortifs, Director of Palais Galliera in Paris as well as guest curating elsewhere but has transitioned that experience into to the world of commerce recently.
Possessing a keen eye and unrivaled creative panache, Saillard has also been occupied with his own collection Moda Provera in the last two years which converts cheap, basic bulk-buy clothing staples in XXL sizes into pieces of couture. According to Saillard, his vision has become “laser-sharp” since launching the project. “Normally, a fashion curator doesn’t know how to sew, cut, drape or fold a garment. I’ve learned those skills with Moda Provera and it changed a lot of things about how I view a garment and has developed an even stronger point of view.”
And brands have noticed. Saillard splits his time currently between Paris and Florence where is also the creative consultant for Pitti Imagine Foundation, which hosts the pivotal Pitti Uomo show twice yearly. It’s here he developed his relationship with several key decision-makers at Salvatore Ferragamo including James Ferragamo and Stefano Salvatici with whom he worked with on the recent Ferragamo’s Creations collection exhibit in Paris.
Entitled Jamais Reproduits or “Never Reproduced” Saillard drew upon Ferragamo’s own cinematic ties in the past and displayed the fifteen archival shoes which are actually reproduced line for line with only slight adjustment in little ‘mise-en-scenes’ stages. “With J.M. Weston’s consent, I worked with Stefano – who realizes the Creations line – to create a display like I used to do as a curator. Immediately I thought to make mini-movies sets to present the shoes. They are actually easier objects to work with versus soft, unstructured clothes.” Each vignette brought out the personality of the shoe such as the “Argento” silver sandal that peeks out from behind a red curtain or the 1957 “Fiesta” sandal that steps down a grand staircase.
James Ferragamo, noticeably pleased with the outcome added, “We worked with Olivier when Ferragamo did a stocking shoe Naomi Campbell wore for Azzedine Alaïa’s last collection in July 2017. Tonight, for Creations, he basically treated the shoes as stars by creating the film sets. We always say at Ferragamo it’s dressing from the shoes up, so they are the star of the show.”
Prior to this Haute Couture week event, Saillard displayed one of the most refreshing presentations’s during Men’s Paris Fashion Week. At the Rue St. Honoré J.M. Weston store, the artistic director put on a shoe fashion show in the intimate setting with young men and women dressed in vintage clothes, possessing a cinematic quality themselves, who modeled the new J.M. Weston Vintage collection. Each shoe was given its own orated description by Saillard himself and possessed charming and scintillating names which often referenced designers such as “Ralph Simons”, “Hedi Saint Dior” or “Roger Gabbana”. The idea for the collection came about when he was vintage shopping in Tokyo and discovered J.M. Weston shoes at every turn.
“The Japanese really love J.M. Weston; it’s a principal market after Europe. I discovered all these vintage styles that were fine on the outside but needed interior refurbishing. It was here I had the idea for Weston to buy up our vintage stock and re-sell. I realized I had a lot of liberty to invent new details like embellishments, fringe, hole-details or paint, “ adding, “I really liked this collection as it reminded me of when I was a curator where the creation started with something from the past to become something new.”
Not to mention its green factor. “We encouraged customers to trade in old shoes for refurbishing/resale by offering them a discount on another pair, old or new.” But he is quick to point out that the brand’s DNA has always included this aspect with over 10,000 refurbished pairs of shoes yearly.
Rounding out the busy artistic directors January Paris fashion week’s events was the opening a new exhibit at the Association Azzedine Alaïa, entitled Alaïaand Balenciaga: Sculptors of Shape which paired designs from each couturier next to each other on white backgrounds to highlight the similarities of their work. Saillard worked with Kris Ruhs, the partner of Carla Sozzani, President of the Azzedine Alaïa’s Association, who designed the gauze-like background maze on which the clothes were displayed. Exhibits such as these also influence what pieces Sozzani will commercially release.
“Sometimes a dress from Balenciaga is a shadow of a dress from Alaia or sometimes a jacket from Alaïa is like a shadow of a jacket from Balenciaga,” says Saillard who commenting on the effect the gauze display had on the clothes in the background space. Perhaps his point of view has also become so strong as he now sees himself free of the rules that a typical curator follows from a historic perspective. “I am completely free and thus more flexible and creative in my approach now. For instance, I left out stronger Balenciaga pieces in lieu of others that made the point more clearly.” He applied to the same method to a Sportmax book he just completed. “If you want to explain what Sportmax is, focus on the beginning and today. You can omit their 90s era for instance.”
This size of Saillard’s to-do list is no exaggeration. “I’ve created a small ‘agency’ of sorts with three full-time assistants to help manage and realize the projects. And I turn many of them down.” After just wrapping a recent edition of Pitti where curated an event with Brioni, Saillard is already thinking about what’s up next. “In June I will do a special performance with Charlotte Rampling and later on Tilda Swinton. Then onto the next Alaïa exhibit.”
I am bit crazy because I like to do a lot of things. But maybe an outside perspective into a brand’s past is something that they need to push them forward to the future.
– Olivier Saillard
Adding “maybe I am stronger to do this because I have no issue with editing or forgetting any part of the archives.”