PARIS — French department store Samaritaine Paris Pont-Neuf is celebrating the 10th anniversary of accessories incubator Au-delà du Cuir with an exhibition curated by Olivier Saillard.
Alaïa Foundation director Saillard, who also serves as artistic director of J.M. Weston, created an airy, open space full of raw wood to display the wares in natural light. Shoes, bags, belts and accessories from among 50 brands showcasing ADC’s program laureates are the focus of the “Beyond Leather” exhibition. They include Cahu, Destree, Eugène Riconneaus, M. Moustache and more.
Fashion historian and former museum director Saillard set out to make a minimalist art space that puts the focus on the brands’ craftsmanship, and each young designer selected a star item to display. All are in monochrome shades of black, white or gray, as Saillard wanted to create a unified palette for the space.
“Like black-and-white photography, I hoped these talented accessory designers could reveal themselves with timelessness,” said Saillard. “Two-tone, or monochrome out of time, they are the manifestos and portraits of those who imagined and dreamed them. On white easels, like the silver portraits of a chosen era, the creations are presented unpretentiously.”
Saillard looked to a wide range of inspirations, including theater director Peter Brook, Bauhaus style and “The Shadoks,” a French animated series about a group of chubby birds from the late 1960s. The result is spindly legs topped with wide, sloping shelves in whitewashed and raw wood, as if to represent canvases flying away from their frames. Other pieces are propped on easels like works of art.
The pared-back staging lets the objects shine. “Each piece has a moment,” he added.
“It’s very intentional. There’s nothing superfluous,” said Virginie Trento. “The aesthetic is a bit ‘atelier,’ like an artists studio.”
Trento serves as chief executive officer of ADC, the incubator backed by the French leather industry.
The program offers individual and collective coaching, as well as showroom space in Paris. In the decade since its launch, ADC has supported 92 companies, with 76 still in operation. That’s a success rate of 82 percent, which Trento proudly chalks up to the community building and collective creativity.
The exhibit is designed to put that sense of support on display as well.
“It’s an opportunity to rediscover some of the greatest brands that have passed through our program,” said Trento. “It’s a chance to reconnect the community, to show these talents to customers and also to focus on the product — not in a commercial way, in a more artistic way.”
Shoes on display at the ADC exhibit at Samaritaine Paris Pont-Neuf.
Kim Webr / Courtesy
While being accepted into the ADC accelerator is not an official prize, the participants are selected by jury. The ADC mark can become like a calling card or a seal of excellence for the fledgling brands, Trento noted.
She emphasized how the ADC program supports young entrepreneurs who are facing myriad challenges in today’s political and economic climate.
“You need of course to have talent in design, and to have the capacity to develop the brand and the spirit of your concept. It’s also a term [of three years] to learn good business practices,” she said. “So this exhibit is a good way to promote these independent brands that have a lot of passion and to propose these brands to the consumer.”
All the brands are made in France and use French materials, and are offered at a variety of price points. The exhibition brings together handbags and shoes, as well as other accessories such as belts and luggage.
“In their DNA they are all very different. You have 50 brands but you have one spirit, thanks to the exhibition,” said Trento. While the brands come out of the industry-supported incubator, Trento said she wanted to showcase that there are young, emerging designers behind these products, and give the items a human touch.
The exhibition came together organically with Samaritaine Paris Pont-Neuf, she added, as the department store has a history of showcasing small brands and creating unique exhibits. It coincides with the Paris à Poil(s) exhibit from hair artist Charlie Le Mindu, which is on display along the main stairwell of the store.
Trento added that the leather theme meshed well with Le Mindu’s mane-based artworks, which is about the natural fiber of hair in all forms.
Cahu now makes products in recycled PVC, while Eugène Riconneaus’ ER Soulier uses reclaimed fishing nets and oyster shell soles, showcasing the possibilities of expansion to other materials and business models through the program.
Geraldine Guyot and Laetitia Lumbroso-Revenu’s Destree, which launched in 2016 and brought Beyoncé and Rihanna on as investors in 2022, is one of the incubator’s biggest success stories as it went on to launch ready-to-wear.
The exhibit will run until May 7, 2023.