Patrick Waterhouse and Luca Biondolilo on Benetton's new socially concerned exhibition at the Design Museum
Retailers Benetton isn't known solely for their work within the fashion industry. Instead they have spent the last few years generating a reputation for themselves as a label that is dedicated to social progress and change. Their conscientious ethos manifests itself in the magazine COLORS, a publication about social issues faced by people across the globe, and from 3rd – 13th April The United Colors of Benetton curate a COLORS-inspired exhibition which goes on display at London's Design Museum.
People don't think about shit, even though shit is a huge issue. More children die every year from diarrhoea than from AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Shit can also solve many of our fuel problems, and many of our agricultural problems
Dazed spoke to Patrick Waterhouse, Creative Director of COLORS Magazine and Luca Biondolillo, Corporate Communications Director of The Benetton Group, about the exhibition, the concept behind it, and how Benetton’s social conscience ties in with its stores.
Dazed Digital: What kind of pieces can we expect to see in the expo?
Patrick Waterhouse: United Colors of Benetton is exhibiting content from three issues of COLORS – the Survival Guide series – so there'll be photographs, typologies, and illustrated instructions telling you survival techniques for modern life, such as how to build a boat out of plastic bottles, how to sit on a toilet, and how to fall in love. We'll be exhibiting artefacts that appear in those magazines, too, such as a rickshaw-pulling robot from China.
DD: The upcoming exhibition has been inspired by the Colors magazine trilogy; happiness, shit and transport. What is the relevance of these three things and why have they been singled out?
Patrick Waterhouse: Everybody shits, uses transport and spends a lot of the rest of the time trying to be happy. 90% of our transport runs on oil, and researchers are all warning that the era of cheap oil will end in the next couple of years, if it hasn't ended already. We rely on our transport networks, and we're totally unprepared for what will happen when they stop working well.
Likewise, people don't think about shit, even though shit is a huge issue. More children die every year from diarrhoea than from AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Shit can also solve many of our fuel problems, and many of our agricultural problems, but people don't even want to use the word "shit".
As for happiness, the World Health Organization is warning that depression is going to be the biggest health burden in the world by 2030. It's an epidemic, and the industries grown up around curing it are worth billions. It's fascinating. So the linking theme for Transport, Shit and Happiness is that they're relevant, right now, to everybody.
DD: How does the exhibition link to what’s going on in the Benetton stores?
Luca Biondolillo: The exhibition at the Design Museum is immensely exciting: events showing the creative work from Colors have been connected directly to Benetton stores – not just in the City where the event is taking place, but in cities across Benetton’s international network. This is possible also thanks to “Live Windows” – giant digital windows now installed in some of the flagship stores – which can simultaneously show content from a single exhibition.
DD: Why is it so important that a visitor to a Benetton store is no longer just a customer but also a participator?
Luca Biondolillo: Benetton believes that a retailer’s physical location is the place where the consumer’s perception of the brand takes place – and this heightened digital experience is essential in engaging shoppers and inviting them to interact with the brand.
Happiness and Other Survival Techniques runs from April 3rd - 13th at The Design Museum, London