'Always expect the unexpected' (Gilles Assor)
Gilles Assor (b. 1975) is a senior executive, entrepreneur and a recognized expert in the fashion industry.
Currently based in Los Angeles, he devotes his time between his enthusiasm for iconic brands and his taste for Street Art, which he shares with his daughter Romy. A Frenchman from Marseille, he has been evolving in the fashion industry for more than 20 years, driven by a motto: Also expect the unexpected!
While Repetto, the French ballet shoe manufacturer, has just closed its US branch (in 2020), Gilles Assor, Managing Director Americas, seems to be surfing on the crisis. He just launched 1.1.100, a crisis control management consulting startup that aims to offer expertise to the fashion industry top executives. 1.1.100 both refers to its business model (1 question, 1 hour, 100 Dollars) and as well to the 'Crisis Text Line', an algorithm-based sms-hotline, founded in NY to respond to people at imminent risk of suicide.
At Repetto, Gilles Assor succeeded in integrating the ballerina Brigitte Bardot, emblematic of the brand, into the permanent MOMA collection. Previously, he worked at top-notch fashion brands such as Robert Clergerie, Jean-Paul Gauthier and Margiela. Gilles Assor also acts as an expert on talks and conferences. He participated in the fashion & style conference launched by the LAFF - L.A. Fashion Festival, an innovative showcase blending together fashion, lifestyle and technology to create a future of visionary experiences. The films in selection, produced by brands, designers, storytellers, or artists, are approached as a hybrid artistic genre. It is within this framework that Gilles - nominated for his short film for Repetto in collaboration with the Grlswirl collective - has been invited to express himself on the role of fashion in the process of questioning identity, the anthropological observation of fashion as a tool for researching and expressing identity, and the ways in which we build a community around fashion.
In your opinion, what is the mission of contemporary art and what is the role of artists in society? What influence can art have on social change? Can artists stimulate personal and social change?
The role of artists is not defined. The art world is so little in evolution. Street art is a bit the equivalent of the Livre de Poche... a trivialization of art. What I mean is that contemporary art hasn't really been able to evolve. In particular, on digitalization. Museums are still a must. And how many people go to them? About 50 million people a year, which is very few on a global scale.
That's why street art has a fundamental mission for the world. For example, Brian Donnelly, one of the most bankable artists at present - with a painting that sold at auction for nearly fifteen million US dollars - has found his way, through pop art and street art, to address the general public while blurring the lines with fashion and advertising.
Today, the message of art has changed.
We see it with Coachella or Art Basel, art is taking a very "business-oriented" turn. More and more artists are collaborating with brands such as Fendi, Dior and Nike. The duel between Arnault and Pinault is a good example of this. Competitors in fashion, they are also competitors in art, with an opposite vision of their role as collectors and patrons of the arts. The former is speculative, not hesitating to invite Murakami or Jeff Koons to revamp the Vuitton bags. The other, owner of Christie's, did not even finance his foundation with government money, he has always been a well-informed amateur.
Given the disasters and crises that characterize our world today, is it even possible that we dare to hope for and imagine a better future? What role does narrative play in times of great crises and upheavals?
In times of crisis, artistic expression is all the more important. But I think there should be many more webinars, zooms, and live artists. It's like in fashion. And this shift to digital should allow us to better understand the artists, whether they are prominent or emerging, and to discover them in their studios. But here again, there is a space of dilution. For example, the Brazilian Eduardo Kobra, whom I discovered in Sao Paulo, immediately fascinated me with his monumental murals, with a formal expression derived from American graffiti and Mexican muralists. He started very young on the streets of Sao Paulo at a time when there was no access to culture. He has since transformed the urban landscape with a work that conveys messages that are both political and historical.
What form could a dialogue between art and other disciplines take in order to promote social change and shape the future? What other disciplines would you like to interact with? What new impulses and ideas might emerge?
There is a lot of cross-merging between art and other creative disciplines, I think of music and fashion, of course. How many designers have been inspired by Rothko, Modigliani, or Picasso?
The phenomenon even becomes visible in the culinary world, where starred chefs are inspired by master paintings. I'm thinking of Thierry Marx, Guy Martin, Pierre Gagnaire, and even Chef Dominique Crenn in San Francisco, who has a very artistic and poetic approach to cooking.
Assuming that a better world could be built on the ruins of the old world - what would it look like in your opinion? What do you personally wish for a better future?
An ideal future world? It would be to eradicate cancer, coronavirus, AIDS...
Art would be one of the most important disciplines there. Art is fundamental to our societies. Even the worst dictators knew how to reappropriate art for propaganda purposes, imposing 'official' art forms. Read 'All the money of the world' on J. Paul Getty*, the oil billionaire, friend and admirer of Hitler, who was also a great art lover. My silver lining is that I had great hope in Street Art, but this hope is dissolving today, and I fear, contemporary art remains restricted to the elite.
[*Editor's note. J. Paul Getty supported Nazi Germany. He founded a museum of the same name which today holds in its collections works of Greek, Roman and Etruscan art from the Neolithic period to the end of Antiquity, from the Middle Ages to the beginning of the 20th century, and photography from its creation to the present day].
It is often said that the special power of art lies in the courageous and fearless pursuit of the new and always starting from scratch on a blank piece of paper. What strategies, rituals or techniques do you personally use to find your way into a new work and start from scratch with a new project?
We all have our tricks: going to church or synagogue, getting an energy coach... For me, it's a mixture of meditation and anger, energy and hate. I can't stand injustice, so I use that as fuel for creative ideas.
The interview was conducted in April 2020
Translation from French: Cécile Nebbot