Kingdom of Dreams: Is Bernard Arnault a White Knight or a Black Knight?
Is Bernard Arnault a White Knight or a Black Knight? An entrepreneur saving once glorious fashion house’s from decay, or an aggressive raider who ruthlessly exploits creative talent purely to amass even more wealth? Kingdom of Dreams is a colorful documentary series which held its French premiere this weekend in Paris at A Shaded View of Fashion, the world’s first fashion film festival.
Produced by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui, the son of London’s famed fashion retail genius Joseph Ettedgui, the duo trumpet the four-part series as the Game of Thrones of Fashion. The result is a visually arresting compilation of fashion history from the 1990s, when first Arnault and later Francois and son François-Henri Pinault began acquiring historic marques like Christian Dior, Givenchy, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent.
The key to the series is the brilliant editing of often raw footage; elements from French, UK and Canadian TV; clips from fashion video reporters Jeanne Beker and Vix Foster, all interspersed with talking heads fashion historians, editors, commentors, friends or family. And, above all, archive interviews with the four key designers in this tale – John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford.
That said, Kingdom of Dreams will be seen as a highly Anglo-Saxon view of fashion, which positioned the four aforementioned designers at the top of the creative pyramid and radically overstates the kingmaker role it assigns to Anna Wintour. There is no mention of many of the designers who truly set the agenda in the 90s, Helmut Lang, Miuccia Prada, Dries Van Noten or the great Japanese masters Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo. Which felt doubly odd at the premiere, seeing it was staged in Rei’s cultural center in Paris.
Much of the series thinking is based on the book Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, a highly tendential tome by former Newsweek staffer Dana Thomas, the most talkative of the talking heads in the series. The book argues that the rapid concentration of ownership by several larger groups LVMH (Arnault), Kering (Pinault) and Richemont (the Rupert family) has led to a decline of real quality and rampant outsourcing, an argument not shared by many in the industry. Indeed, the whole point about Arnault and Pinault is that they have hired and trained thousands of artisans to make all the handbags, shoes and accessories that have turned them into billionaires.
That said, those keen to brush up on their visual fashion knowledge base will love Kingdom of Dreams, which boasts great footage of seminal fashion moments – from Galliano’s legendary 1994 Kimono tailoring fantasy collection in Sao Schlumberger’s mansion and his debut for Dior, to McQueen’s earliest disruptive shows and even his New York debut, so crowded Anna Wintour was denied access. All the way to Jacobs’ notorious debut Grunge collection for Perry Ellis, which led to his immediate dismissal, and Ford’s debut Julie Christie collection for Gucci.
“The 1990s were a golden era for fashion, so we needed the canvas of a TV series to tell this story. On the one hand, there was a new young generation of extraordinary designers, like the quartet, and on the other hand the tycoons who had come into luxury. They were revolutionizing it with hostile takeovers and grand battles for certain brands and houses. The two worlds of commerce and creativity were just a fantastic backdrop. We called the designers the wizards and we joked that this was Game of Thrones set in the world of fashion,” explained Ettedgui, who previously with Bonhôte produced a separate documentary on McQueen.
Backed by Fremantle Films and commissioned by Sky, Kingdom of Dreams is available in the UK, and soon be released in France and the US.
This year’s festival marked the 14th edition of ASVOF, which was staged in the Hôtel de Coulanges, a historic mansion located at 35-37 rue des Francs-Bourgeois in the Marais district in central Paris, now also home to Comme des Garçons. Actress and Chanel brand ambassador Caroline de Maigret was the president of the jury, and French designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac will be honorary president.
The event included "Klash! L'art entre acte", a mini-series in which Franck Perrin analyses the work of artists like Olafur Eliasson, Ai Weiwei and Orlan; and the screening of "Boom For Real", Sara Driver’s film on the adolescent years of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
However, the big statement moment was very much Kingdom of Dreams, which seems destined to ruffle a few feathers.
François-Henri Pinault declined to comment on the series, and a spokesman suggested he was unlikely to see the series. While Arnault’s spokesman did not return calls. A pity, all we really wanted to ask the LVMH chairman and CEO, and Europe’s richest man, was whether he thought of himself as a Black Knight or a White One?
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