Thursday, December 1 2022

“A French entrepreneur uses young punk talent to reinvigorate declining fashion houses and become the richest man in the world. What could go wrong?” IMDb’s synopsis of “Kingdom of Dreams,” the documentary series which debuted in the UK on Monday, with other markets to follow, makes the rise of Bernard Arnault’s LVMH and the Gucci Group of rival François Pinault (now Kering) a bit like a gothic fairy tale, an impression that is soon confirmed by the lush visuals, dramatic soundtrack and a title sequence that’s straight out of the “Game of Thrones” playbook. “.

The show’s cinematic quality will be familiar to anyone who enjoyed producers Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui’s previous deep dive into the fashion industry, the BAFTA-nominated “McQueen.” But this time, their canvas is much broader, their cast of characters much more complex as they tackle the 90s and 2000s. superstar designers John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs, and built empires for their payers, Arnault and Pinault. The four episodes of “Kingdom of Dreams” intertwine the rivalries, the triumphs, the tragedies of these men with increasing intensity, culminating in a final part where dreams turn into nightmares. Marc Jacobs’ last show for Louis Vuitton in October 2013, an all-black summary of his career at home, goes like a funeral. Truly the end of an era.

When I spoke to Bonhôte and Ettedgui for the latest episode of The BoF Podcast, which comes out later today, they confirmed that they aim for a gripping sense of drama with all of their documentaries. “Peter and I are documentary filmmakers, but we borrowed a lot from the tools of fiction,” Bonhôte said. “So these are stories, not just information itself. We like that there is a narrative and an emotional narrative. Still, he thought the ‘Game of Thrones’ analogy was a bit of a stretch, even though Ettedgui admitted the power of fashion was once concentrated in the concept of ‘houses’. It’s a sign of a more corporate era that we’re now used to calling them ‘brands’.

“Kingdom of Dreams” goes a long way in clarifying how this corporatization happened. Bonhôte describes the basic theme of the series as “this constant struggle between commerce and creativity”. The real drama that draws audiences in, however, is the human toll this fight demands, and the show is unwavering – even shocking at times – in its depiction of collateral damage. And, remarkably, it’s all said in the voices of its protagonists (alongside a cast of industry talking heads, which I’ll fully disclose, including myself), their words providing the emotional beats, the thematic beats that work almost like dialogue in a movie. “An endless voice-over”, the producers call it.

This feat was accomplished through four years of research by Dora the Archive Explorer. “From the start, we thought the hardest people to cover would be Pinault and Arnault,” Ettedgui said, “so there was always careful consideration trying to find every interview recorded with them.” The pair were old friends turned bitter rivals over their battle for control of Gucci, and there’s a priceless moment in Episode 2 where Arnault complains about Pinault. “He knew I wanted Gucci, but he didn’t even call me.” Pinault’s response momentarily follows. “Well, you don’t tell your enemy just before you’re about to attack when you’re going to attack them.”

The editing is crisp, even arching at times in the way it showcases such moments. On the soundtrack, Dana Thomas, whose book “Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Lustre” was an urtext for producers, describes Anna Wintour as “the voice mogul” in footage of her leaning on Arnault during a a fashion show, looks extremely confidential . A few sequences later, Wintour’s protege, John Galliano, is designated golden boy at LVMH d’Arnault. There is the sense of a Renaissance court in the maneuvers for position, the climbs, the falls.

Throughout the series, period fashion presentations hark back to the creativity that got the ball rolling in the first place: Tom Ford’s velvet collection for Gucci, McQueen’s robots spraypainting Shalom Harlow, Galliano at the ‘Opéra Garnier, the swan song of Jacobs at Vuitton. . “One thing we learned from McQueen is that putting a fashion show into a story is almost like having a musical number,” Ettedgui said. “It drives the story forward and sets the stakes. It’s visually spectacular, resplendent in itself.

The beauty of such “numbers” offers a stark counterpoint to the personal and professional struggles of the designers who created them. Bonhôte often refers to a Faustian pact between creativity and commerce. The jaw-dropping series he and Ettedgui pulled off is pretty clear on which one comes out on top. For the creators themselves, the moral of the story is age-old: be careful what you wish for.

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