18-Oct, 02:24

00:34, August 31 172 0

2017-08-31 00:34:03
Unbuttoned: Desigual Turns to Jean-Paul Goude for a Makeover

Jean-Paul Goude, the photographer-illustrator-filmmaker-advertising maven-former Grace Jones paramour/Svengali responsible for the Paper Magazine cover of an oiled and naked Kim Kardashian West that “broke the internet” in 2014 has added another hyphenate to his string.

Desigual, the Barcelona-based, accessibly priced brand known for its teeth-clenchingly zany mix of colors and prints, has named Mr. Goude as its first artistic director, in a bid to be taken seriously as part of the style conversation. It’s a surprising pairing, and one that is also representative of (and possibly instructional for) this particular moment in fashion.

After all, though the house has shown at New York Fashion Week since 2013 (with Katie Holmes and Iris Apfel spotted in various front rows), and has 500 stores in more than 100 countries, and revenues of 860 million euros in 2016, according to Daniel Perez, its head of communications, it doesn’t get much industry respect. Jezebel once characterized its aesthetic as “I look like an indecisive parrot, and I want everyone to notice.” There is a Twitter account titled @desigualisugly devoted to retweeting posts that … well, make the case. It didn’t help that Marine Le Pen has a fondness for Desigual bags.

Mr. Goude, who is in his 70s, is, by contrast, famous for the Esquire illustrations that started his career; for his photographic and cinematic work with Chanel, Alaïa and Hermès; and for a museum retrospective, “Goudemalion,” at the Musèe des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

He has all the aesthetic credibility Desigual lacks, except in one area: clothes. And though he is not officially being asked to design (his remit is “visual communications,” though it’s a loosey-goosey definition), his appointment does raise some questions: Which comes first, the image or the products? And can the two actually be separated?

It’s an issue not just at the heart of this experiment, but also of the industry more broadly, as distinctions among designer, artistic director and creative director become fuzzy, and the drive for social media buzz seems to be, rightly or wrongly, the single greatest imperative behind many creative decisions.

Consider that such respected names as Alber Elbaz, Peter Copping, Stefano Pilati, Marco Zanini, Bouchra Jarrar and Riccardo Tisci are all out of full-time jobs, and hundreds of new designers flood the market every spring from schools such as Central Saint Martins and Parsons.

And consider the fact that Mr. Goude’s appointment follows the naming of Rihanna as creative director of Puma (complete with her own line, Fenty Puma); the appointment of Isabella Burley, editor of the British magazine Dazed & Confused, as “editor in residence” of Helmut Lang last March; and that of Justin O’Shea, a former buying director of MyTheresa.com, as creative director of Brioni in 2016.

As it turned out, Mr. O’Shea lasted less than six months at that job (his decision to use Metallica as a face of the brand James Bond built did not go over well with the old consumer base). Which could be a warning sign. There is another, growing school of thought that says the best way to revive a brand is to hire talented designers and give them power over all consumer-touching decisions. See: Gucci, Saint Laurent and Loewe.

Mr. Goude, who resembles a grizzled pixie and has a tendency to pair seersucker jackets with nipped-in waists with black T-shirts, drawstring harem pants and white bucks, is well aware of the risks. “It’s a dangerous undertaking,” he said. “But it’s a challenge! I am having fun. I believe they want to change. I hope so.”

He may be right, given that one impetus behind his appointment was an internal survey of 16,000 customers. It yielded the primary conclusion that “it’s too much the same,” according to Mr. Perez.

Besides, Mr. Goude said, “I’ve been around a long time. Assignments aren’t life or death to me anymore.” And he has a good idea of what he is getting into. “I knew enough about Desigual to understand why it was not considered as the hippest,” he said. Later he added: “Their habits are very provincial.”

He has been given three years to change that. He has ad campaigns and social media and events and one store with which to experiment. (“The stores are really, really hideous,” he said. “Everyone knows it.”) He is playing around with the idea of using revolving mannequins on top of a table made of TVs and possibly keeping the store open all night, the better to be a kind of hangout zone.

He has been discussing a new face for the brand (“They wanted Rihanna,” he said, before adding, “I said, ‘I think she’s pretty busy.’”) And he has the show, which will serve as his kind of opening salvo, and which will take place next Thursday, Day 1 of New York Fashion Week.

Mr. Goude has reimagined it as a performance piece (his mother was a dance teacher and he “was raised in the dance world”) choreographed by Ryan Heffington, who won a 2014 MTV Video Music Award for choreographing Sia’s dance in “Chandelier” and more recently worked on the film “Baby Driver.” There will be dancer/models with clothes styled by Mr. Goude and his team. He may not have been able to change the designs, but he can at least recontextualize them.

Pointedly, however, the show will also contain a capsule of his own sketches. Though responsibility for the main collection remains with the founder and chief executive, Thomas Meyer, who invited Mr. Goude to the company, Mr. Goude was allowed to create his own looks: ones that involve bigger volumes on the bottom, and exacting, architectural tops. If the silhouettes are well received, he will do a larger collection for winter.

“We will build and build!” he said. “I am like a Trojan horse: I come in in a very discreet way, and see if I can influence people to my way of doing something.” (He also compared his collection to a group of Navy SEALs infiltrating the company; he likes military metaphors.)

Mr. Goude already has a name for his line: Desigual Couture, which is both a joke and a provocative reference to the brand’s less-than-elite reputation. And, perhaps, his own lack of experience in the area. “It’s complicated because I have never designed real clothes — the ones you wear in the street — and I have no idea if they have any commercial potential,” he said.

But it’s also an acknowledgment, albeit implicit, that despite how all this has been conceived, what really matters in the end are the clothes. What’s left in the closet after the razzmatazz of the runway goes dark and, the fun of shopping and the Instagram likes fade.