Fashion Maven Alexandre de Betak Explains the Art of the Fashion Show


It’s been over 25 years since iconic fashion show runner Alexandre de Betak introduced his now definitive agency Bureau Betak to Paris. Renown for his ultra-efficient, impactful show production style and the dreamscapes he creates, de Betak has transformed Paris’ Musée Rodin into an otherworldly tropical greenhouse for Raf Simons at Dior, sent models through a tunnel of snow for John Galliano’s Fall 2009 show, and even took over Red Square for Christian Dior Couture. His 2000 Victoria Secret show crashed the bra company’s website, while his work with Rodarte represents some of the industry’s most intimate moments. Tonight, he’ll introduce his new book Betak: Fashion Show Revolution as well as a capsule collection of specially curated and designed objects that he finds essential to putting together a show to New York at Dover Street Market. CR phoned the fashion veteran to get the scoop on the goods, his favorite moments over the years, and just what makes a fashion show last in memory.

How did you get into show production to begin with?

In high school I started working for independent magazines doing different types of reporting. I also started taking pictures for little travel guides during the day at night. While I was doing that, I was still a kid—still in school, 17—I met a fashion designer named Sybilla [Sorondo], who was just starting but really important at the beginning of the 90’s. I loved what she did, and I proposed to help her. I started creating imagery for her, doing art direction, and all sorts of different things. In fact, I met with Carine back then. That’s how I fell into fashion. From there, I started offering my services to others, and pretty quickly that’s what I was doing. I was doing the concept and the design for fashion shows: first in Paris and then Milan and Madrid and Japan. Almost 25 years ago I moved to New York, and that’s when I really started. In the 90’s, New York was really happening. It was the start of New York Fashion Week as we know it. I came with a proposition, which was very different from what fashion shows were in New York then. Even though I was very young–I was in my early 20s—and I was not very experienced, I came with a very clear idea of what became my style.

How would you characterize this style?

It’s hard for me to describe. For me, the most important thing is to make the show memorable in a moving kind of manner. I try always to touch people’s feelings in many different ways. In order to do that, there are different tools, as I call them. I do the cueing between the creativity and the models and the special effects and the action. I also work on the choreography very early on. We created those famous model boards that you see backstage. I also use the light in a very particular manner, and it’s very obvious—from Dior to Rodarte—that I think in flowers a lot. I try to use only a few elements at a time, but in a very important way, in a very grand way, and in a very precise way.

Do you have favorite memories or shows or moments as you’re looking back?

Of course, all the years with John Galliano are very memorable for both his own brand and for Dior. All the years with Hussein Chalayan were quite important in a very conceptual and very calm manner. And on the opposite spectrum, all the years I’ve worked with Michael Kors. That’s a very important memory for me. We used very little added elements. Michael loves a glamorous woman. We’ve worked on creating this extremely glamorous woman with a ton of energy, super up; the shows were usually very energetic, the music very memorable. On the other side of the spectrum is Rodarte and Dior today with Maria Grazia. Raf Simons was another. There are many of these designers that we have been working with from the very beginning, who we have created such important stories with.

What’s the start of your creative process when you’re beginning to work with a designer on a new show and production?

I myself try to really understand the brand—its history, its DNA, whether it’s thee hundred years old or three minutes old. I try to understand all of what the brand has that is particular to it, and all of its history if it has one. Then I try to understand the proposition of the moment—the new collection—the novelty of it, and then I think of a language for that brand and that designer. I try to come up with the parameters of how to show the brand. And then—only after of all this—do I think, “What should I do now?” And I do that every single time. Every show isn’t one just isolated show—obviously it’s of the moment—but every show marks itself within the history of the brand. Today, when communication is so fast, you can only last if you’re part of a really identifiable long story. If you’re one little thing, you can be brilliant for a minute, but you won’t last tomorrow, and it will all be useless. Life is not made of a million one minute scenes. The best of it is deep, long lasting, and real relationships, whether they’re with people or even with brands. The culture that each one of us has needs to serve a purpose.

In addition to your new book, you’ve created an assortment of fashion show “survival” items. Can you speak to some of these objects and explain their purposes?

Some of it was limited edition collaboration with brands we like, and others are pure creation. What I wanted to do was—in addition to the book—create objects—which we call Fashion Show Tools and Survival Gear—in order to help explain the process. They are basically a mix of different things inspired by how we actually create fashion shows. They go from the tech kind of gear—like the headphones that I use to call shows—to my stopwatch, which I time the models with, and even a digital camera with Fuji. We created a vinyl record, which is very funny. It’s music—a kind of a rap—of what we say backstage during shows to ourselves that no one else has ever heard. We have also more fun stuff: T-shirts and sweatshirts and caps and messages for the models like “How to walk.” We did shirts with APC. We did bags in Japan and belts made specifically for the fashion producer tools. We did a bento box, which is what we eat during fashion week. Notebooks with show instructions and all the names of all the models and what time they come out. It’s a lot of fun stuff. There’s also a special collaboration with Comme des Garçons, which is a collection of pouches with model instructions.

What is your goal for the book?

One of the ideas is to hopefully express another position in the world of fashion that most people don’t know about. People have discovered and been inspired by fashion from, of course, the designers and the models to also the stylists, the hair, and the make up. What we do has never really been expressed and explained before. Hopefully the book will highlight the existence of that world—of creating the fashion shows—and the thread between all of them, which is I guess my personal style. Even years later, removed from the moment, these shows still express something. Hopefully they will inspire others to come in and do the same thing and there will be more beautiful fashion shows to see.

Alexandre de Betak’s Betak: Fashion Show Revolution and capsule collection are now available at Dover Street Market New York.


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