Event Innovators 2014: Etienne Russo

The founder of Villa Eugenie adopts a "nothing is impossible" attitude towards his events.

By Anna Sekula June 17, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT

Etienne Russo, founder, Villa Eugenie

Photo: Alex Salinas for villa eugenie

“Nothing is impossible; the sky is not the limit.” That’s Etienne Russo’s philosophy for events, and it’s served him well. The founder of Belgium-based production firm Villa Eugenie has been called a production wizard and is behind some of the most innovative events in the United States and Europe. He’s collaborated on jaw-dropping, ambitious shows, like one that used 1,143 blocks of ice to form a 230-foot-long wall, and another that involved a seven-minute performance by 160 dancers in the middle of a busy train terminal.

This year alone his portfolio includes a runway backdrop covered with 2,000 pounds of melted chocolate for Opening Ceremony and a raw space transformed into a churchlike setting filled with pews, burning incense, and illuminated oversize crosses for Thom Browne. “My goal is that people leave a show feeling somehow different, as if their emotion chords had been touched, having experienced something that inspired them, or made them ponder, forget the rush of time, and even feel a different sense of temporality.”

“I wanted the audience to go beyond the Instagram attitude and get into the show itself.”

That sentiment was definitely present at his production for Moncler Grenoble during New York’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in February, where nine singers and an orchestra conductor stood on oscillating pendulums that swayed as they sang. Behind the Swiss choir stood a stack of 60 illuminated boxes each containing a model wearing an outfit from the skiwear brand’s fall collection. “I wanted the audience to go beyond the Instagram attitude and get into the show itself,” Russo says, adding that he intentionally made the performance longer than a normal runway show.

But Russo wouldn’t have remained in the industry for more than 20 years if the spectacles he stages overwhelmed a brand or designer’s identity. “It is always a collaboration as we always start from the point of view of the collection or the product to present—they are the centerpiece,” he says.

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