Kris Van Assche is not the improvising type, so when the Berluti offices went into lockdown in March, he took a while to find his bearings.
But after getting an office set up at home, the designer known for his precise and methodical approach found inspiration in something decidedly more instinctive and unpredictable: the flamboyant creations of U.S. sculptor Brian Rochefort.
Van Assche is a ceramics collector himself, starting off with the classic Fifties French Modernist styles that sit well alongside his Pierre Jeanneret furniture. But he also has one of Rochefort’s oversize vessels, which drip and bulge with color and texture.
In a first for Berluti, Van Assche has collaborated with Rochefort on his spring 2021 collection, translating the patterns of the sculptures into vibrantly patterned silk shirts, densely textured knits and flecked patina motifs on the brand’s signature shoes.
“He himself describes himself as a slap-in-the-face kind of a ceramics artist, which I think is very funny, and which I think is also quite appropriate for these times because in the end, what I wanted with this collection is that it would almost be a kind of a slap in the face of joy, color, something light, something cheerful,” he said in a preview with WWD.
The two men discuss working together in a video released by Berluti on Thursday that provides a fascinating look at Rochefort’s process.
“I didn’t feel like trying to do a fake fashion show because I don’t believe in a similar emotion through a video screen. So I said, I might as well do the total opposite and take the time to explain, to actually even introduce people to the artist, the inspiration, the working process, all the things that I never really get the chance to show on a runway,” Van Assche explained.
Rochefort hopes his work will spread cheer. “People are inundated with all sorts of crazy information from social media and sometimes it’s best to, like, tune out a little bit and enjoy the celebration of color and excitement in artworks rather than the depressing concept behind some contemporary art,” he said in the film.
“Color’s always been my thing,” the sculptor said, explaining the complexities of glazing and how challenging it is to photograph his creations, which are often described as volcanic. “Even though my work does command a lot of attention in real life, it will be interesting to see how that translates,” he noted.
Van Assche said the process was comparable to the layering of the patina that produces the deep shades in Berluti’s shoes and leather goods.
He noted that the luxury house’s knowhow, condensed in its state-of-the-art “manifattura” in Ferrara, Italy, is often lost in the blur of an eight-minute runway show. “So I think this is a good occasion for that, because now it starts with the explanation and the pictures come after,” he said.
The lookbook for the collection will be released in December, just before it lands in stores in January. There will be several drops, and Berluti also plans to unveil a new collection of essentials in late February or early March.
After two years at the house, which is owned by luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Van Assche feels confident in the style he has established and thought the time was right to open up the brand to an outside creative talent.
“There is very little archive at Berluti – the archive is basically the shoes – so it’s important now for me to bring in other influences,” he said. “Usually people collaborate to break open the brand to a bigger audience. I kind of like, at Berluti, that we would introduce our public to a more niche, underground idea of collaboration.”
While he’s keen to return to the runway soon, working under the limitations of the coronavirus pandemic has allowed Van Assche to further tighten his focus.
“This is definitely a new reality, for sure, with quite a lot of downsides, because I will miss the fashion week. But there is also something quite challenging in adapting and trying to make the best of it,” he said. “And I’m really happy about what this looks like, so the editing is also quite interesting in the creative process.”