01 February

Who is Kuki De Salvertes, the man who discovered Raf Simons?

 

From discovering Raf Simons to his collaboration with Vivienne Westwood, the Kuki De Salvertes story is sprinkled with legendary encounters. The famous director of the Totem press office caught up with Numéro at an exhibition-homage to his life in fashion

By Chloë Fage

  • Kuki De Salvertes and Raf Simons
  • Kuki De Salvertes, a legend for anyone who knows about fashion, made his mark as a press officer at Moschino aged 24. His love for the milieu and a desire to unearth great designers, like Raf Simons and Jeremy Scott, saw him opening his own press office, Totem Fashion, in 1991, a small business that would introduce the crème-de-la-crème of fashion designers to the world. He would become the spokesperson for Walter Van Beirendonck, Veronique Branquinho and other talents from the Belgian school as well as consultant for Jean-Charles de Castelbajac. A rich and unusual career unveiled at this exhibition-homage entitled "La vie dans la mode" [“Life in Fashion”] at the Joyce Gallery in Paris. For the occasion Numéro invited this talent-scout to look back at the 5 biggest anecdotes of his career. 

Walter Van Beirendonck autumn-winter 2006-2007 © Totem Fashion

“The first Walter Van Beirendonck catwalk show, 25 minutes of complete chaos followed by an incredible ovation.”

 

The first time I met Walter was in 1988, when I was working as a press officer for Moschino, based between Milan and Paris. I was 24 and very curious; I was always looking for something new in the milieu. And I came across this collection on the Italian scene that was quite extraordinary, a sportswear collection with sweatshirts in luminous colours with jacquard and animal prints. The brand was called Rhinosaurus Rex, I did some research and found out that the guy behind it was a young Belgian designer called Walter Van Beirendonck. I asked to meet him but was working under an exclusive contract with Moschino so I couldn’t do much to promote him at the time. We had to wait until 1991 when I started my own press office, Totem, a little business that represented a dozen designers. The intention was always to unveil the best designers to the best fashion magazines. It was the ideal moment to work together because he’d just launched his own brand “W&LT”, a line destined for a younger tech-savvy generation, with incredible visual codes: bright colours, neoprene, latex, clothes borrowing from the sports world like cycling t-shirts. In one word, revolutionary! His first show at the Lido was a triumph; a hoard of 40 models walked the runway to screaming techno music before the journalists - Suzy Menkes, Hamish Bowles – had even had a chance to sit down. It was 25 minutes of total chaos and then an incredible standing ovation. Walter’s career was launched. 

Raf Simons © Totem Fashion

“Raf Simons, a pretty boy with diaphanous skin, tall, slim, with crazy style.”

 

That was what I thought about Raf Simons the first time I met him at Walter’s studio. He was wearing a pair of vintage 70s flared trousers, white sneakers, and a very tight black sweater with an architectural cut. He was the intern and took care of designing the showroom. For that event he’d created furniture under Walter’s direction and was also studying architecture at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. With his sense of style and clear attraction to fashion, I asked him to do a capsule collection of 4 sweatshirts, 2 shirts and a pair of trousers. We presented the collection to buyers and journalists and it was an instant success. The strong image of the garments seduced everyone straight away: it was like a rebellious teen, a boy from the wrong side of town with a nonchalant allure all while being incredibly well cut and well-conceived. On the strength of that success he did his own show and began the career we all know him for today! I am delighted to see him at Calvin Klein; I think he’ll be very happy there. He can use his architectural streak, his sense of scenography and above all that aestheticism that defines him.   

Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and Kuki De Salvertes © Totem Fashion

“Jean Charles de Castelbajac, an enthusiast, a cultivated designer bursting with literary and artistic references.”

 

In 1989 Jean-Charles came to see me because he was in something of a trough. For him and other designers like Thierry Mugler and Claude Montana, the 80s hype was starting to evaporate. I was touched by this crazy fashion guy, and I just loved him from the moment we met. He’s an enthusiast, a cultivated designer bursting with literary and artistic references. We just need to rejuvenate his “old France” codes so that a younger fashion scene could rediscover his work. That’s why we decided to use the monogram J.C.V.D combined with an edgier casting and we were off! 

Vivienne Westwood © Uscha Pohl

“Vivienne Westwood and I never quite got off the ground.”

 

Back then I saw Vivienne Westwood as the English Comme des Garcons, a super-creative and totally over-dressed designer. When she launched her own brand without a penny in her pocket, she asked me to be part of the adventure. How could I say no? I was totally seduced by her baroque punk style inspired by 18th century paintings with those pompadour dresses topped with a splash of trashy English sauce. It was clearly set to be such an exciting and stimulating project but happened at a time when I was completely broke. It was all very well Vivienne telling me over and over that the money was coming but I couldn’t even pay my rent in London and it all just got very complicated. So I had to end that short but intense collaboration, such a beautiful project that sadly ended too soon!

Isabella Blow © Shoji Fujii

“A loving friendship with Isabella Blow.”

 

For a press officer the heart of the job is made up of relationships with fashion editors, who, when they have talent, become true sources of inspiration and motivation. And sometimes they become our best friends; we establish really loving friendships with them. That was exactly what happened with Isabella Blow. I met her in London at the 3rd Alexander McQueen show. She was seated in the front row dressed head-to-toe in Alexander McQueen embodying her fantastical and funny character, living 1000% for fashion. She was adored by everyone and courted by the press no end, but she loved it. She sought reassurance in catching everyone’s attention, and she was quite fascinating. She showed interest in my work straight away and in particular an American who had no money but such incredible energy and imagination, who was offering something completely different. It was Jeremy Scott. Isabella became his spokesperson along with Babeth Djian and Carine Roitfeld. These three women really supported Jeremy; they loved his work and went against the rules of the advertisers by imposing this young designer within their fashion shoots. That clique goes to every show, animated by a genuine curiosity towards the designers. 

 

"Kuki De Salvertes, La Vie dans la Mode" at the Joyce Gallery, 168 Galerie de Valois, Ist Paris. On until January 31st 2017. The exhibition catalogue can be bought here

 

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