Had the internet been around in the 1980s, Benetton's controversial ad campaigns would have broken it, Kardashian-style, on a monthly basis. From the infamous 'newborn' image, to the exploration of global health crises, political movements and interracial-relationships, the bold Italian fashion label made headlines with every new, scandalous campaign they launched.
But after years in the fashion industry wilderness, the Iegendary brand are undergoing a genuine rebirth of their own - and looking back to their most successful era as a starting point.
One of the first major steps for the label, following the return of Luciano Benetton as chairman of the group in January, is the appointment of one of France's most celebrated fashion designers to re-awaken the brand's core values - none other than Jean-Charles de Castelbajac. Tasked with bringing the struggling label back to the forefront of the global fashion consciousness, Benetton commented that the newly-appointed de Castelbajac’s “experience, charisma and ability to forecast tomorrow’s social and fashion trends will constitute a great asset for our brand.”
A totally new role in the company, the 68-year-old designer will be in charge of both men and womenswear for Benetton, and will present his first full collection for Spring 2020.
First launching Ko & Co with his mother in 1968, followed by the co-founding of Iceberg in 1974, then his eponymous label, which he left in 2016, Jean-Charles previously collaborated with Maxmara, Ellesse, Courrèges, Rossignol and Le Coq Sportif.
In addition to a long career that spans from design to painting, advertising and street art, the French designer has worked with everyone from Andy Warhol, Miquel Barceló, Keith Haring, Jean Michel Basquiat to M.I.A and Lady Gaga, with his creations displayed at New York’s Institute of Fashion and Technology, London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and the Galliera Museum in Paris, and he’s currently the artistic director at the Paris Biennale.
Blending punk and pop references, his style dovetails with Benetton’s signature strong colours and a whimsical and irreverent touch.
“An iconic brand, United Colors of Benetton envisioned the world of today: a pop, colourful, affordable and universal fashion, enhanced by Oliviero Toscani’s powerful images,” Jean-Charles revealed. “United Colors of Benetton and I have always had a similar take on fashion, characterized by the passion for knitwear and the love of pop and rainbow colours.”
Benetton’s Chairman, Luciano, who founded the brand with siblings Giuliana, Gilberto and the late Carlo, is behind photographer Oliviero Toscani’s unexpected return to the brand last year. The two men famously collaborated for years on the controversial ad campiagns in the 80s and 90s, before one particularly hard-hitting image prompted international outrage, leading Benetton and Toscani to part ways in january 2000.
Now back on board, famously provocative photographer Oliviero's first new campaign for the brand featured 28 school children from four continents and 13 different countries. In a time of such giant fashion flux, where embracing diversity is the industry's unifying focus, the combination of two of the world's most artistic visionaries looks set to catapult Benetton back into the fashion limelight. We can't wait to see what the two of them can do together.