A constant presence in the fashion world since the Eighties, veteran press officer Kuki de Salvertes, cofounder of the Totem agency, has decided to bring together a collection of photos, videos and objects that have marked his career in his first exhibition, “Kuki de Salvertes: La Vie dans la Mode” (or “Life in Fashion”). It opens Wednesday at the Joyce Gallery in Paris’ Palais Royale.
After graduating from ESMOD in the early Eighties and working through that decade in public relations for Moschino, de Salvertes created Totem with Patrick Girault in 1992 and was integral to the launch of a number of avant-garde designers of the Nineties, including Raf Simons and Jeremy Scott.
“I have been asked several times over the past two or three years to do an exhibition that would retrace, not my memories, because they are not really of any major interest, but moments I lived through with certain designers who have become key,” de Salvertes explained.
“The Belgian designers among others are today back in fashion thanks to brands like Vetements and Y/Project, who are very interesting and take their inspiration from their elders like Walter Van Beirendonck, Raf Simons, Veronique Branquinho or A.F. Vandevorst, who at the end of the Nineties and early Aughts imposed their rather harsh, Protestant codes,” he continued.
De Salvertes explained that at the time, the creative energy of the fashion world with a new generation of designers, buyers and stylists emerging and fashion institutions like France’s Chambre Syndicale opening up to this, was not just a profession but a lifestyle for those working in it.
“The exhibition is a sort of retrospective of moments we lived through, with photos, fashion show photos but not just, photos of people who marked the era — designers, models, journalists, stylists, makeup artists, hairstylists, backstage atmospheres…” he said. “There is a mixing of the personal and professional worlds, meaning the story gets more interesting, and that is the meaning of the title of the exhibition, life in fashion.
“I was in the middle of all these personalities. I was a press officer, a best friend, a babysitter — for six years, I was nanny to Suzy Menkes’ son, I looked after him while she was traveling — and even lover,” de Salvertes mused. “I loved what I did and the people around me and I think looking back today it gave off a lot of energy that stimulated and encouraged them and that’s really the story the exhibition tells.”
After meeting and working with Van Beirendonck, one of the original Antwerp Six, in 1990, they stayed in touch, and the designer was one of Totem’s first clients. “In 1991, he very quickly imposed new codes, linked to youth, techno music, new materials, latex, vinyl, fluorescent colors, really interesting prints, etcetera. There was an incredible buzz,” he said.
It was through Van Beirendonck that de Salvertes met Simons, he explained, then a young design intern in his mid-20s.
“There was a young man in the showroom who was putting a table in place, he had a beautiful silhouette, a great haircut…it was Raf,” he said. “He was studying at the Antwerp Academy, but not in the fashion department, in architecture and design. He created furniture for the showroom and things like that.
“He said, ‘I like fashion, but it scares me. I’m not a designer, but I’m interested, especially in men’s fashion.’ I asked him why he didn’t create a little capsule line of T-shirts and sweatshirts, and I would try to get a few journalists to come and see it, and see what happened. And he did it,” said de Salvertes. The rest, as they say, is history.
De Salvertes is considered to have also been instrumental in the careers of other leading fashion designers of the era, including Olivier Theyskens, Bernhard Willhelm, Haider Ackermann, Iris van Herpen, Manish Arora and Richard Quinn. He continues to collaborate with many of them.
The exhibition, which will open with a cocktail Wednesday evening, runs until Jan. 31.