PARIS — While Berluti is opening the Paris Men’s Fashion Week calendar this season, it turns out its video will be just a teaser for the unveiling of the full collection on March 5 with a physical event in Shanghai.
Artistic director Kris Van Assche said the decision was made fairly early not to stage a traditional runway show in Paris and to hold a presentation in China, which has become a magnet for fashion brands as one of the few markets worldwide to enjoy economic growth during the coronavirus pandemic — notwithstanding a new round of lockdowns just ahead of the crucial Chinese New Year holiday shopping season.
Because of ongoing travel restrictions designed to limit the spread of COVID-19, Van Assche and his teams won’t be able to attend, so they fitted models in Paris for a video project titled “Living Apart Together” that will be broadcast on 10 large screens, in addition to a connection between Shanghai and Paris.
“I did not want to not be able to go there and have virtual fittings through Zoom,” the designer said during the video shoot last week in a vast hangar in an eastern suburb of Paris. “I’ve been working with tailors and ateliers for such a long time in my career, that I do notice when a shoulder is not in place and I do notice when a sleeve is too short.”
This season features a collaboration with Berlin-based Russian artist Lev Khesin, who works with dense layers of silicone paint, in a process that Van Assche compares to the application of the patina that produces the deep shades in Berluti’s shoes and leather goods. The house will ship the entire collection to China to be displayed at the venue.
“If you want to insist on the luxury side of the product, people need to be able to touch it, see it up close,” argued Van Assche, who feels videos don’t provide a real sense of the clothes. “I do feel like that is the danger within luxury. You can get away with a lot of cheating on film, we all know that. It makes high and low even more blurred.”
The idea for the video was born out of a conversation with his friend Yoann Lemoine, the musician better known as Woodkid. “He was bringing out a new album, and I was bringing out the new collection, and we both had exactly the same problem, which is like, there’s not going to be an audience,” Van Assche recalled.
Keen to avoid a standard filmed runway show, he hired Lemoine as creative consultant and found himself working for the first time with a video director, Antoine Asseraf, and choreographer, Olivier Casamayou. For the show production and sound, he stuck with his usual team of Etienne Russo and Frédéric Sanchez, respectively.
The concept was inspired by the restrictions enforced by the pandemic. “We start from this reality, which is social distancing, the impossibility to travel, the impossibility to even hug — even when you go to the bakery, you have these social distancing stripes on the floor,” Van Assche remarked.
“There is obviously the symbolic frontier between Paris and Shanghai, but there is also the frontier, just basically, with your neighbor. So we start from that, and acknowledging that that is today’s reality, but also the wish that that will change,” he explained. Hence the live element. “It’s really like we are going to be together, but on the other side of the world,” Van Assche said.
The event coincides with a retail push in China, where Berluti operates 10 stores and plans to open three more boutiques this year: one in Shenzhen at the end of January, one in Ningbo in April and a third in an undisclosed location by year-end. The brand, which belongs to luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, is also launching a pop-up on WeChat this week.
“Berluti has less of a history in China, so people are very open-minded and very enthusiastic about the reinterpretations, about the more creative stuff, about, basically, my work,” said Van Assche.
“‘OK, this is a sh–ty situation,’ I tell my team, ‘but at least the most fashionable clients are still shopping,’ I mean, it could be the other way around and that would be a less interesting marketing brief, you know what I mean?” he added with a laugh.
Van Assche will be expanding his remit with the launch of Berluti’s first home and office collection in June, following a collaboration with specialist firms including Italian wood workshop Bottega Ghianda and Werkstätte Carl Auböck, a Viennese atelier specializing in bronze-casting, on a holiday gift collection last year. “Now we are designing pieces from scratch ourselves, so I’m very excited about it,” he said.
“A lot of people think that patina is something really traditional and almost a little old-fashioned, let’s face it. And by pulling it into those contemporary worlds, whether it’s design or to collaborate with these contemporary artists, has been a way of totally making it relevant for today,” Van Assche concluded.