You could call him a wizard, a pirate, a cowboy or a poet. He is one of the rarest people on Earth with multidisciplinary talents, with the exact perception of romanticism needed in life and the wisdom of breaking all the limits with grace and mastery. Alexandre de Betak is the reincarnation of creativity and passion, and he is also one of the names behind the major fashion shows of the last twenty five years. From Dior to Jacquemus, from Jimmy Choo to Jason Wu, from Viktor&Rolf to Carven, the list of clients is just powerful and endless, as you could expect from a producer with the most critical eye on the field. With offices in New York, Paris and Shanghai, he built this empire by himself. And in the end, everything he does is simply always memorable and always avant-garde. We could call it magic, but it’s not: it’s Bureau Betak.
How does it feel to be you right now? How does it feel to be the mind responsible for the hugest events in fashion?
(Laughs) That is a very tough question! I guess I should say that I feel very lucky, but that is a bit of bullshit because I don’t believe in luck at all – although I guess I’ve had some. It’s very fulfilling, very pleasing, but it is also very tiring, and I get very tired of myself as well, but I have to deal with it.
Does the word ‘routine’ fit your dictionary, or not at all?
No, not really. The word ‘routine’ doesn’t fit my dictionary at all. However, I have to admit that big part of what I obviously try to do, together with my team, is to always make sure that it is not the same girl up and down the catwalk thousands of times. We are always trying to create new ways in the routine.
One of the key points in your career was the Sybilla party in Paris. But tell me more about it. How was it? What and who could we have seen there?
God, it was a long time ago! The party was in 1991 and the day was precisely a month after the end of the Golf War. You weren’t probably born, were you? (Laughs).
No, I wasn’t. I was born in 1994.
My goodness, you weren’t even born when I was doing that crazy party! But it was in 1991, right after the end of the Golf War, which basically meant that it was great because the war had ended. There was sort of a celebration mood in Paris and, in fact, pretty much everywhere. It was my first party, and it was very spontaneous, an unconscious approach to the job that we do today. I mean, I had never learned it, I just did it in the way that I believed was right, without knowing anything. Obviously, I had been to other parties, but I had never produced one. And it was quite crazy. We are talking of almost twenty five years ago from now. The theme behind the party was a mix of a traditional funfair and a circus. So we took all the funfair games and we redesigned them with the colours, themes and images of the collection. It was quite funny, and a parody of the fashion industry at the same time. The collection was presented in a circus tent, with acrobats in the air, people cycling in one wheel and there was a giant puppet there… It was really fun.
Like you said, you left high school and started working immediately. And if you think about it, by then there was no degree available that could fit your job perfectly – and neither is there now. Am I right?
Yes, you are right. But it is a good thing that there is no degree available. I believe in degrees, I believe in education, but I also strongly believe in general culture, in wider education. I think it would be very sad saying, at the age of 16 or 18, that you want to produce fashion shows and going to school for learning fashion producing and learning only what one believes that fashion producing is.
Most of the things you need for doing what we do are everything you’d think you don’t need. Most of what you need is general culture. I mean, when we ask people to come and work for us, they come from everywhere but that. They never come from doing fashion shows. In general, creativity should be nurtured, in a wide way. It’s good that you add to your original creativity things like pop culture, general culture, art, architecture, design, plants, flowers, food, technology and whatever. I mean, the lucky part of what we do is to be able to use all these different sources of knowledge. And that’s why it is cool to do what we do, because you need inspiration from everywhere in the world but from what it is. From anything, except from fashion shows. We try to find where we show these products in a manner that would be memorable by the emotions as much as by the surrounding you give to it, by the story that you tell around it.
So, no, there is no perfect education for what we do. The only advice that I would give is: learn as much as you can from everything that interests you, as wide as you can, and then learn by working, by doing internships.
Speaking about internships, do you usually hire interns? They don’t need to have experience and they can come from all around the world. Is that true?
Yes, absolutely. There are several relevant aspects for doing what we do. One of them is being creative and another one is purely organisation. Both aspects need to be together, you have to be practical. When you create, you need to create something that will be visible. And, like in movies or theatre plays, or like in architecture, there is no time to get it done, there is no time to get it developed and I need it to be realistic very quickly. It is not an illusion that you stage.
Have you ever thought, even in a remote way, of a Betak Academy?
(Laughs) I have never thought of that. I’m not sure what that would be like. Well, our life is a little bit of an academy: we, including myself, should learn something every day. It’s the only thing that interests me, to be honest. When you start with a new topic, you learn about it. When you do fashion shows or fashion events, unfortunately, you never have enough time to learn as much as you wish, so sometimes you go back to it to continue learning about it. I have few things that particularly inspire me and I go back to them often, and therefore I can continue to learn about them. There are also things I don’t know anything about and then I start learning about them. We can be inspired by anything. We have done hundreds and hundreds of fashion shows. I don’t even count them anymore, but they are probably eight hundred shows or more. But I still try to come up with better ways of doing them, with better processes and also with the technology involved.
Parties, shows, dinners, exhibitions… What kind of event thrills you the most?
Pretty much all of them. If I only did one thing, it wouldn’t be functional at all. We are starting to work now in other projects: we are doing films, animations and we will start to work more on technology with artistic residences, kind of the Betak academy that you were talking about. We offer a day residence to young geeks –by lack of a better term– so we can give them art direction and access to a world that usually is not theirs. I don’t believe in boundaries or limitations, I don’t think that there should be any. I think that, luckily, we are living in an age in which technology helps us from day one and hopefully people are more open minded to accept someone to do anything different.
And how is the night before the event? Do you remember some particular nightmare?
No, not really. I don’t remember any nightmares. Either if they happened while I was asleep or awake, I just don’t remember them. And I am not a very easily-stressed kind of person. I am very lucky for having an amazing team and what we do is very well cared, so it’s not stressing.
Speaking about your team, could you describe it a little bit?
We have different teams. We have a design section, which is essentially made of architects and designers. Then there is a production section, which is made of producers, production coordinators, assistances and also freelance producers. The head producers are in charge of the clients and of the budget. Then we have the administration team, of course, that is responsible for the contracts, accounts and all that and then there is a communication team, which handles the artistic side of communication, but also a lot of communication tools that we create for our clients. In other words, they do Instagram, blogs, Facebook, relation with the press, but also the relation that we create for our clients, that involves films, website films, photos and all the images that sometimes we create for communicating. And I guess I am the head of the departments inside. My team expanded a lot, but I also have people here that have been working with me for twenty years from now.
Like you said, in your team there’s people that have worked with you for more than 20 years but you also have had some clients for over than a decade. How does it feel?
Oh yes, absolutely. I guess it feels good (laughs). I believe in deep, long relationships. I think it’s the same thing for life, with friendship and love, and it is the same thing with work. My dream when I start a relationship with someone is to make it last forever. And precisely, it happens that I managed to succeed in that a lot. Some people have been working with me for 20 years and I have had some clients for 20 years now, too, or more than that. I believe in long relationships but I also believe that a relationship is hard work, everything about it is hard work – it takes time and energy to satisfy a relationship. It takes renewing your ideas and your systems, so that you can’t get bored. And we shouldn’t get bored.
You mentioned relationships… What do you feel about what we call the new social media networks? How do you understand these mediums and how important can they be?
They are very important. They are very, very, very important. I guess they are the most important thing in the world today. From a couple years ago you can see bloggers in the fashion shows, and you can see them being treated as royalty, because they drive directly to a lot of people. Traditional media gets to way less people than social media does, both in quantity and in quality. In quality in the sense that we, or the brands, address directly to the people we want to reach and we choose to get there. So, Instagram and social media are one of the most important medium that covers what we do, and it’s getting more and more why we do it for. Everything we do should be understandable, memorable in the palm of your hand, which is not easy. It is very short, very fast, very small.
In your website we can read “coming soon for the last 20 years” and maybe it will be an endless coming soon. Will it always be a lifestyle philosophy for you?
Well, it’s “coming soon” the never come? I hope not (laughs). But in the meantime we have had the blog, the Facebook and the Instagram accounts. The website in the traditional forms is ok, but it’s not something that I am interested in. I believe that it should always be an emotion, a movement and a never stop position. But coming soon is usually coming.
So, could we expect that the first show on Mars will be produced by you?
Definitely, absolutely! At least on the way to Mars. But yes, we will. You can expect a show done without gravity produced by Bureau Betak.
Before you mentioned the budget, are we speaking about millions?
I wish, not always! (Laughs) We do very big things and very small things. And funnily enough, in the same company, with the same people, we can do a fashion show for one hundred thousand and a fashion show for 5 million or even 10. The range is really, really, really large. It goes really from one to one hundred, and it is very unusual. I don’t think that there are many people and places working with such a wide range. We do high and we do low.
And how is the location scouting process? It sounds like a lot of fun but a little bit hard.
It is hard. First of all, in the fashion cities there have been thousands of fashion shows. Paris, Milan, New York, London, and in Asia, Tokyo and Hong Kong… These places become very challenging, it is harder and harder, but we still do it. We have many places where we do shows often and it is very agreeable because suddenly you open to new possibilities in the same places, but we go for special locations sometimes. For example, with Dior we went to the Brooklyn Bridge, to Monaco. There is never enough and it will always be more of that. The future of the shows will be mostly on Instagram and in social media. I mean, they will be remote and virtual. Probably, in a new future, we will be able to do amazing events, amazing shows in crazy places. Maybe people that will be present there won’t be the people that traditionally were; there will be a minimal amount of people to come, and a maximum of people following it live. People will just see it as reported news, in social media and traditional media, of course. You will be able to follow a show live in 330 degrees, or to have the camera controlled by you and your eyes. When that happens, we will be able to bring the live element to somewhere else.
I look forward to experience it.
Me too. I can’t wait!