François-Henri Pinault Says Fashion Should Not Exploit Art for “So-Called Respectability”
The billionaire gave the keynote at the NYT Luxury Conference.
For the 14th annual International New York Times Luxury Conference—a two-day marathon of keynote speakers and panel talks in the fields of art, fashion, and technology—the Grey Lady decided it was time to debut the event in North America. And what better time and place than during Art Basel in Miami Beach, an event that has become, in a way, the apotheosis of the union of art with fashion, luxury brands, and pop culture. As Stephen Dunbar-Johnson, president of the New York Times Company, playfully put it, “[Miami] is where neon goes to die. But it’s also where the Americas meet.”
The opening talk was with François-Henri Pinault, CEO of the retail company Kering (founded by his father François Pinault), which owns Gucci, Balenciaga, and Alexander McQueen, among many other high-end luxury brands. Pinault’s other holding company, Groupe Artémis, owns mega auction house Christie’s (which today announced its CEO Steven Murphy is stepping down). To hear Pinault, a man with deep knowledge of the luxury goods market, speak as the art fairs and events simmered around the city was, to say the least, fitting. We took notes. If you missed the conference, here are a few choice takeaways from his talk.
1. We should embrace innovation [in fashion] any time it meets one of these four criteria:
a) It must strengthen the quality of the sustainability of the materials;
b) It must offer a new area of expression in design;
c) It must improve the quality of the production process; and
d) It must create new functionality.
2. “We need to view technology with a critical eye…. In luxury we cannot jump on any bus for a concept for the sake of looking modern.”
3. “The creations of the best fashion designers speak to their time, in the same way that creation by painters and novelists do.”
4. “The conversation between fine art and luxury is not new, but there is one thing that is blurring the lines more: it is the fact that art and fashion now occupy the same physical space in society. Both art and fashion are now in the streets, drawing influence from and influencing contemporary lifestyles. But today, art has moved out of museums, where it used to be confined, and fashion has moved in.”
5. “We should not be fooled by modern strategies that sublimate luxury with fine art. The dialogue between art and luxury is natural and fertile as long as fashion does not exploit art to gain so-called respectability.”
6. “Luxury cannot be an industry driven by volume.”
7. “Clearly there is a bond between luxury and art, but they are very different disciplines.”
Pinault’s other love is watches. During the talk, he argued that watchmaking is the only instance where technology is at the heart of a luxury product. Right now, what we have on one end of the spectrum is the Google watch, which is only digital. And on the other end we have the traditional mechanical watch. The CEO is working on a project that is “converging the two worlds.” Gucci, Kering’s star brand, has also had a long-standing relationship with the film industry and this year the fashion label has partnered with LACMA to honor Martin Scorsese.
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