Brussels’ La Monnaie kicked off its new season just a little while ago and for the occasion it released a stunning and innovative video which offers an exciting visual experience mixing up opera, photography, fashion and painting. Inspired by the so-called seven deadly sins and against the backdrop of Rachmaninoff’s Francesca da Rimini it breaks with the traditional dusty opera image. The creative minds behind it are Base Design’s art director Pierre Daras and Belgian-born international photography star Pierre Debusschere whose work has been published in renowned lifestyle magazines such as Dazed and Confused. Here, the dynamic duo talks about their unusual collaboration and why Belgian opera beats Beyoncé.
How did the collaboration come about?
Daras: I have been doing campaigns for La Monnaie since 2007, but for the previous campaigns we always used already existing images. Now there is a new communications director and he had the idea to produce original images. It was obvious for me from the start that if I had to do images I would do them together with Pierre.
Debusschere: I directly said yes. It was a great opportunity to work together again and I really liked the previous campaigns Pierre did for La Monnaie. Plus, I loved the idea of doing something in my home country.
You usually work in high fashion and even made a music video with Beyoncé – isn’t that much sexier?
Debusschere: No, actually it is just different! When I work in Belgium it’s always a family affair. I love that. And La Monnaie is a very renowned Belgian institution.
La Monnaie is not your first collaboration. What brought you two together?
Daras: We already collaborated in 2008 for the runway show and lookbook of La Cambre. And last year we got to know each other better because we have a lot of friends in common. Plus, we have almost the same age, come from the same Belgian town, Tournai, and have a very similar vision when it comes to aesthetics.
Debusschere: Exactly. We like the same music and have the same views when it comes to images.
Daras: Yes, we like the same artists, have the same references….each of us has his very own universe but somehow these complement each other very well. And we are both attracted to quite radical approaches.
Debusschere: Yes, it has to be raw and beautiful at the same time. And pure…the final campaign images are very pure.
What is your relation to opera? Was it difficult to work for such a classical art form?
Debusschere: We are not opera experts but have both been to a few shows.
Daras: We definitely aren’t opera experts, but this is not important. It is actually helpful to look at it with a fresh eye. For example I never asked for a detailed briefing from La Monnaie but rather for three key words incorporating the spirit of the season. It doesn’t matter what the detailed program is; if they play Carmen or not. Once I worked with only one key word: “no”. This style of working gives you a lot of freedom.
What was the brief for this campaign?
Daras: They only gave us the theme “The seven deadly sins”.
The video takes a very fresh, contemporary and original look at opera and speaks to an audience beyond the classical operagoer…
Debusschere: Indeed. La Monnaie really has positioned itself as a modern opera house with a rather unusual program including the likes of Nick Cave. They are very up-to-date and really don’t fit the classical image of a traditional opera house.
Daras: It is a very modern opera house that is in sync with its time. The imagery we have used in the last years is very different from what other opera houses are doing. And there is a fashion element to it, something very rare in this environment. I have already used pack shots of beauty shoots for their campaigns. It is great to be able to do something so unexpected and out of the ordinary for this kind of institution.
Debusschere: They are very open-minded.
What were your inspirations for the video? How did you develop the concept?
Daras: We cannot tell you what was on the mood boards but while doing research on the seven deadly sins we discovered that each sin is assigned to a specific color. We loved this idea and took it as a starting point. And we didn’t want to represent the different vices in a too obvious way, just through objects, gestures or a certain make-up.
Did you have a clear, preset plan for the shoot or is it something that evolved on the go?
Daras: Even though we give ourselves a lot of freedom it was very well prepared and we knew exactly what we wanted. One week before the shooting we did some simulations with the both of us as protagonists. When you look at these tests as well as the mood boards, it is crazy how close they are to the final result.
How would you describe your way of working together?
Daras: It is very organic.
Debusschere: Yes. No one has specifically assigned roles: we basically do everything together. And as I already mentioned: working in Belgium always means to work in a kind of family setting, surrounded by friends, which is really nice. It doesn’t even feel like work.
Daras: Exactly. All the people we used as models are friends and acquaintances. And the pieces we used are from labels and artists we feel closely related to, as for instance Maison Martin Margiela and Edith Dekyndt. It was all very intimate and informal.
How is working with friends different from working with pros? Wasn’t that a risky choice?
Debusschere: It is just so much more fun!
Daras: We created a little cocoon in a way, which enabled the protagonists to lose their inhibitions and show real emotion. We wanted an atmosphere of serenity and trust for the shoot, something that was only possible by working with people close to us.
Debusschere: It was all very intimate. And I think the audience can more easily identify with the people in the video if they are real and authentic. A model knows its job and probably does everything more mechanically, meaning it will feel less real.
What do you like about each other’s way of working?
Debusschere: I love that he gets me. I don’t have to say much and he understands what I mean.
Daras : We don’t have to discuss or talk much because we understand each other so well. It’s very fluid and organic. We have the same tastes, the same references…everything is very natural.
What kind of things do you disagree about?
Debusschere: It’s very rare that we disagree about something. And when it happens we just talk it out. We tease each other but we never argue (laughs)
What were the biggest challenges for you when working on this project?
Debusschere: The casting was probably the most difficult thing. It takes much more time to find people without the help of a model agency. But we are super happy with the result.
What was the most fun?
Debusschere: There was a certain moment during the shoot which was very special. It’s the bit where you see a girl covered in a blue blanket. It was so beautiful. Pierre, you almost cried!
Daras: Yes, almost! It was magnificent. She was on this moving podium, only covered by a gorgeous blanket, with the opera music playing in the background…a very intense moment.
Debusschere: These kind of moments are very rare and when they happen it’s very moving.
How do you get laymen actors to display this kind of emotion?
Debusschere: You have to talk to them and make them feel comfortable. And you shouldn’t push them too much. You need to find the right balance.
Daras: That is something I really like about Pierre. I love how he directs people. He has this very human and sensitive way of dealing with them, which puts them at ease. That’s why he is able to create these emotionally powerful images. This is really one of his biggest strengths.
Debusschere: And if my approach doesn’t work, Pierre steps in.
Daras: Yes, we are each other’s safety nets.
How happy are you with the final result and the feedback you received?
Debusschere: We are very happy. Even lots of blogs outside of Belgium published the video and it was generally very well received.
Daras: Looking back on my time at Base, this is really one of my favorite projects ever. It is sincere, poetic, radical and modern and expresses many profound things in a very simple way. It’s both contemporary and timeless.
With thanks to La Monnaie’s director Peter de Caluwé and its director of communication Krystian Lada for a long and fruitful collaboration over the years as well as giving us the creative freedom to make such a project possible