PARIS — At the Cannes Film Festival, what happens behind the scenes is as important as the action on the red carpet — and for 20 years, one woman has been the organizer in chief for the wheeling, dealing and carousing of the industry’s A-listers.
PR honcho Albane Cleret’s Terrasse by Albane lounge, on the rooftop of the JW Marriott hotel, has become an institution, hosting press junkets and industry lunches by day and glamorous soirées organized by major film studios, or luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Dior, by night.
More from WWD
During that time, Cleret has weathered her share of challenges, from the 2008 financial crisis, which almost shuttered her agency, Albane Communication, to the coronavirus pandemic, which compelled her to cut her team by half.
Now operating with just three full-time staffers, she’s nonetheless forging ahead with plans to build her 1.1 million euro temporary club in the sky, which this year will also host a special party for her 20th anniversary.
“I’m proud that I’ve managed to hang in there for 20 years, having started from nothing. In hindsight I have to admit I’m a little surprised by this success,” Cleret told WWD in an interview at the bar of hotel La Réserve in Paris.
“On the other hand, I feel the same stress, the same anxiety each year at this time, when I wonder if I’m going to be able to make my budget, because I’m still 200,000 euros short with one month to go before the festival,” she said.
Indeed, Cleret’s attention span is challenged by a stream of text messages, emails and phone calls. She bandies about names like David Cronenberg, who will be competing for the Palme d’Or award with his latest feature, “Crimes of the Future,” in rat-a-tat conversations that bring to mind the Netflix series “Call My Agent.”
In addition to jockeying for the hottest film after parties, she represents a roster of French actors including Benoît Magimel, Hafsia Herzi, Céline Sallette and Isabelle Adjani. The latter will star in “Mascarade,” a riff on the scam comedy genre filmed in nearby Nice, which is screening out of competition in Cannes.
A self-made woman, Cleret clearly drives a hard bargain. “I started working at 16. It’s nuts. I’ve had 1,000 lives, 20 different jobs. I was a sales associate, a receptionist. I gift wrapped for stores, I worked in fashion for years. I made jewelry with my own hands, working with welders, with glass-blowers,” she recalled.
Jean Picon/Courtesy of Albane Communication
In the weeks leading up to the Cannes festival, which runs from Tuesday to May 28, she was negotiating with contractors — and finding that inflation has made a complex project even more challenging to pull off.
“Since the pandemic, the cost of wood has increased tremendously. Raw materials are rare and complicated to source in several sectors,” she said, noting that production costs have risen at least 5 percent since 2019.
“You have to secure financing for this pharaonic structure, which is stressful, but also enjoyable — no one’s forcing me to do it. But once you’ve created the setting, the cake has to rise, so you need the content, and the content is having the best movies, or beautiful fashion dinners. It’s about doing my job as an event planner, with my signature French touch,” she said.
Cleret prides herself on her attention to detail, which has earned her the trust of clients including Chanel, L’Oréal, Pathé and Vanity Fair, among others.
“I work with florists well ahead of time on creating the best harmony. It’s about testing the food so that the chef and the menu are on the same page. Everywhere you look has to be pleasant on the eye. The guest list should be a mix of young and old, different generations and styles,” she described.
Her venue overlooking the Boulevard de la Croisette has been through different incarnations, starting out as Le Jimmy’z and variously known as Heaven’s Floor by Albane and Club Costes by Albane — though one thing that’s been constant is the strict door policy. Above all, she wants her VIP guests to feel right at home.
“They tell me they feel protected. That word comes up a lot. And I think I’ve never forgotten where I come from, this little village in Picardy, and that I’m tremendously lucky to be able to work in the film and fashion industries,” she said. “And I think that because I have a certain humility, my events don’t feel pretentious, but always pleasant.”
Asked to name some high points of the last 20 years, Cleret is the consummate diplomat. “There are many and I can’t name them, because in fact, there are high points for each festival,” she demurred.
But she conceded that one of her proudest achievements was the after party for 600 people she hosted with Sony International for Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” in 2019, which drew the film’s stars Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, as well as Timothée Chalamet, Marion Cotillard and Adrien Brody.
Cleret hung on to the “thank you” email the studio sent her afterward. “Sometimes I look at it when I’m feeling down in the dumps,” she said.
Stephane Feugere / WWD
Just don’t call her the queen of nightlife. “I’m more of a daytime person,” she insisted. “Nightlife doesn’t interest me, because it’s not in my DNA. What happens at night is extra. What really interests me is watching film crews at work, and hosting business lunches where I can also get a little work done.”
Right now her focus is on rebuilding her company, which ground to a standstill during the pandemic as her three core activities — public relations, event planning and talent management — were severely impacted.
Cleret survived thanks to government-backed loans, which she’s working to pay off, but her turnover has plummeted from the 3.7 million euros she recorded in 2019. She won’t disclose last year’s figures, which she qualifies as “indecent,” despite a busy second half of the year.
“It’s unreal. You wonder, how could it come to this? And you have to roll up your sleeves and challenge yourself and have the courage to start again after these two years, which have also been psychologically extremely hard on everyone,” she said. “It’s hard to get back in the race. You can’t act like nothing happened.”
Still, it’s hard to imagine Cleret throwing in the towel, even though she hinted she might be ready for a change of venue. Hauling up materials to her rooftop perch requires three cranes and a permit from the city authorities, not to mention the 200,000 euros in rent she pays for the space.
“I think sometimes you need a change of habit,” she said. “It’s something I’m thinking about. I’ll see.” Whether she’s bluffing, or is really ready to pull the plug, no doubt Cleret will keep drawing the in-crowd wherever she pitches her venue. “After 20 years, my name has become a brand,” she said with pride.
Best of WWD