When I speak to esteemed fashion producer Alexandre de Betak, he is fresh from working on the Dior S/S18 show at Paris fashion week, a glittering wonderland inspired by Niki de Saint Phalle’s Jardin des Tarot. Crafted using over 80,000 pieces of mirror in a custom-built venue in the gardens of the Museé Rodin, the show is just one of 22 that De Betak has produced this season alone. Over the past 25 years, the man often referred to as the ‘Fellini of fashion’ has created over 1,000 runway shows for countless designers, each as unique, decadent and innovative as the last.
Fitting, then, that his vast portfolio of masterpieces is now documented in a new book titled Betak: Fashion Show Revolution, the pages of which demonstrate his unique talent and highly collaborative way of working. “I like to think about shows as a part of a long story,” he explains. “No show is just an individual show, they are long lasting, creative collaborations that I have with the fashion designers – some of which have been 20 years-long. The show is just one element of a longer story that we write together.”
“No show is just an individual show, they are long lasting, creative collaborations that I have with the fashion designers – some of which have been 20-years-long” – Alexandre de Betak
The most prominent of those relationships is De Betak’s ongoing collaboration with Raf Simons, from the Belgian designer’s namesake brand and celebrated tenure at Dior, to his most recent undertaking as creative director of Calvin Klein. It is clear that the two men hold each other in the highest of regards: “Raf and I are very close,” says De Betak. “He’s very precise, very involved and knows exactly what he wants, it’s what makes him so relevant and surprising. He’s also extremely open to new ideas from others and open to quite radical changes. He is a true creative force in the sense of the unexpected, and I guess I am too, that’s why we complement each other.” Indeed, the combined power of their creative minds resulted in some of De Betak’s most breathtaking work: a surrealist style box of mirrored baubles in Moscow’s Red Square; a Blade Runner-inspired floating steel structure complete with artificial snow and neon beams in Tokyo; and hundreds of thousands of blue delphiniums, cascading across a custom-built, 59-foot-tall mountain outside the Louvre for Dior’s S/S16 show.
De Betak’s ideas are in constant flux, reflected in his multifarious endeavours, which span set design, production, events and furniture design. “I knew I always wanted to create something and I still sometimes wonder how to explain it properly. I’m not sure what I will be doing tomorrow, to be honest with you,” he muses. “I think creating something to transmit an emotion, a message or a need is what I’m interested in doing. Fashion shows are just one medium, but I have begun to design installations, museum shows, spaces, objects and furniture and for me, they all participate in the same thing, it’s just a way of creating – that’s the singular attraction to me.”
“I think creating something to transmit an emotion, a message or a need is what I’m interested in doing” – Alexandre de Betak
With his penchant for working outside of a box – and at an almost superhuman pace – it is only natural that De Betak has turned his attention to thinking above and beyond the bricks and mortar set-up of a fashion week show. “I think we are ready for a new revolution!” he declares. “We’re entering a completely different era of social media and technology and I’m very excited by that. It’s going to liberate the designers and houses that show in such a confined format. Fashion week has rules that have been followed for decades and decades, but now it’s dictated by the fact the show needs to work on social media – that’s the next revolution.” That said, he will not let technology take the lead in his creative process, or following a particular set of rules. “I am interested in twisting everything, taking the virtual tools into real life, and real life into the virtual. There are no rules or formats that should prevail, it should just be surprising.”
So what does a man with no limits do next? “I think you can guess,” he laughs, “the moon would be at the top of my priorities.” We don’t doubt it for a second.
Betak: Fashion Show Revolution is out now, published by Phaidon.