On a quick visit to London to allow a you-had-us-at-hello smitten UK press a closer, touch-and-feel view of his stunning AW10 collection that’s just become available at Liberty, Joseph Altuzarra is serene, extremely polite and just so really lovely! The intricately constructed and fearless collection hanging on the rails - inspired by dark, tragic and oddly-endearing film characters like Edward Scissorhands and Dracula - would seem an odd fit with the, yes, lovely Paris-born and New York-based designer were it not so beautiful and made-to-flatter women of all ages. We’ll have to thank his mum for that. And for his loveliness too!
Kiki Georgiou: You’re here with your AW10 collection, which has received an amazing response since the show back in February. That must feel very rewarding, right?
Joseph Altuzarra: It does and it’s been, in a lot of ways, a breakthrough season for us. It’s really the first season that we allowed ourselves to have an international presence. We still are fairly small but because we were so small we wanted to make sure we controlled everything quite well but it’s great to be in London and it’s great to meet everyone here.
KG: This is your fourth collection and there’s already so much attention and enthusiasm around the label, which is great, but does it ever get overwhelming?
JA: It gets scary because it happened quite fast and I think that you want to make sure that you’re not overexposed. There are so many factors in building a long-term success, a lot of it having to do with stores and delivering on time and having a good, beautiful production so a lot of that is something that we had set up from the beginning. But it does get quite overwhelming!
KG: You’re regarded as the next big thing from New York and the hot designer to look out for! Do you ever think about that while creating or do you completely shut yourself away from it all?
JA: Yeah, I don’t. The thing is, a lot of where I design is in Paris, and I don’t really see anyone. I’m based in New York but I draw in Paris, I’m from Paris and the stylist, Melanie Huynh, is from Paris and it’s just a lot easier. It’s also a place where I don’t have to think about the expectations, which I think is better for me!
KG: In just a matter of a few seasons a real aesthetic has already developed that people can identify as yours; was that intentional from the start or something that grew organically?
JA: That was very purposeful. I would never have started the label if I didn’t have something specific to say, which I felt wasn’t being represented on the market and it was very purposeful to work on the idea of tailoring. I felt like there wasn’t very much really really good tailoring or any brand that focused, really, on tailoring for women. And I was interested in the idea of women of all ages being seductive and sexy. I think there is so much emphasis being put on the idea of brands rejuvenating and going for a younger customer. I felt like there was nothing for a woman who’s in her forties or fifties, and wanted to be sexy and seductive. The way women are aging is changing a lot, with the way they’re eating healthily, exercise, even, in some cases, plastic surgery, and the idea that you can only be sexy when you’re twenty is something that’s really antiquated. But dressing someone who’s twenty is very different from dressing someone who’s fifty; there are different areas that maybe women feel uncomfortable about so I think all of these are things we’re taking into account in the aesthetic of the brand and the image of it.
KG: There’re so many good examples around, like Carine Roitfeld!
JA: Exactly, she really embodies a lot of what we’re trying to say, definitely.
KG: Vanessa Traina always looks fantastic in your designs too. Do you have a muse or muses or do you design for an imaginary woman?
JA: No, they are very real the people I design for. Carine is definitely someone who really inspires me and who’s always guided me really well but also the stylist I work with, Melanie Huynh, is like a muse as well and Vanessa, obviously. And then there are people like my mother. I think women today, as shoppers, have very practical needs like how is something going to fold in your suitcase. There’re things you don’t necessarily think about as a man designing for women like, is your bra strap going to show, or is your panty line going to show? Having women around that tell you these things is really important.
KG: And do you surround yourself with a lot of women who tell you these things, in your design team and your family?
JA: Yes, and there are definitely always consistently the same women and sometimes you don’t want to hear it! Like, ‘my God, you can’t wear that if your boobs are too big because you can’t wear a bra!’ But it’s true that having that feedback is really important.
KG: What is it about women like Carine and Vanessa and Melanie, and your mum, of course, in the way they dress and carry themselves that you find so attractive and inspirational?
JA: First off, there’s a certain innate quality about their love of clothes. I think that they’re very primal about what they desire and like and they’re both very aesthetic and practical, really important qualities to have and as a designer to surround yourself with people that are like that is very helpful.
KG: With suede playing a big part in your last collection for SS09 and leather dominating this one, your use of skins is becoming something of a signature for you.
JA: Definitely, the leather, the suede, any type of skin really, has been something we’ve always worked a lot with. I think there’s a versatility to those garments, they’re almost season-less. Even though, both SS09 and AW10, were quite different in terms of theme, technically and in terms of style it’s the same woman and it’s the same vocabulary; the detailing in the seams, the silhouette and the idea that you can take a classic tailoring construction, break it up apart and put it back together. Those are things I work with every season.
KG: There’s more tailoring here, more daywear…
JA: Yes and it’s something we’re developing more for next season, the idea of daywear, of pieces that you can use all day long. I think we came from a luxury market that’s very geared towards cocktail and evening and that’s really changing a lot. Maybe because there are less cocktail parties to go to thanks to the recession!
KG: Are there any specific pieces that you feel represent the collection well?
JA: Yes, there’s a black coat with leather panelling to the sleeves (available at Liberty), that’s a very Altuzarra piece. It’s a good example of the tailoring in terms of flattering the waist, having quite a strong shoulder, a very small sleeve but then it has this really beautiful bustle on the back and just the volume of construction, it’s very worked. And a lot of the material this season has a little bit of stretch in it because it just fits better a lot of the time, and it’s also more comfortable. For the suiting, we’ve used a lot of quite traditional couture materials but reworked in a way that a little bit tougher.
KG: The AW10 collection is primarily black but then there’s this fantastic red velvet that just shines through – where did that come from?
JA: It really came from the darker, pretty tragic characters, Dracula really, it came from that movie. And yes, it kind of shoots through and we used it on this acid-washed velvet, which is done for us, and it has a really beautiful quality to it in terms of light and how it picks up the light.
KG: I notice there’s a small shoe line as part of the collection. Are there any plans to expand the accessories side of the brand further?
JA: We did these with Gianvito Rossi, the son of Sergio. And yes, of course, in the future we’re definitely interested in really developing a strong accessories language but really, we’re trying to look for the right collaborators to work with and as with everything, we really wait till the right moment.
KG: You must be working on the new collection now that you’ll be showing in New York in September. I know you can’t say much about it but what should we expect from it?
JA: I think we can say that it is definitely the same woman but it’s a much lighter palette, it’s much less focused on one inspiration, it’s a lot more cross-referential.
KG: You worked with Ricardo Tisci at Givenchy in Paris right before you started your own label. He’s such a creative and talented designer, how was working with him?
JA: I learned a lot more about the French way of researching and developing new ideas, and I think you also learn that everything is a team effort, you can’t do everything on your own and that was a big revelation.
KG: I noticed you always say ‘we’, as a team, rather than ‘I’, which is very sweet.
JA: Because it is a team and I couldn’t do everything by myself, without my team.
KG: I find it interesting that you’ve worked with designers like Ricardo at Givenchy and Proenza Schouler as well starting at Marc Jacobs as a design intern when all of them, at one point, were in the same position you are now; a young, next-big-thing designer with a lot of attention on them.
JA: I think you do learn an important lesson; to be true to yourself and to have your own voice, whatever people think about it.
KG: You were recently announced as a finalist for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in America, congratulations!
JA: We applied and the application process is quite gruelling because you really have to stop and look at your brand, and what you’re about so it’s pretty intense. It was a surprise; it was a really great surprise! And a lot of people that I know are doing it with me so it’s almost like building this community.
KG: So, do you know whom you’re taking with you on the night yet?
JA: I don’t know yet!
KG: But that’s the big ticket, right?
JA: Oh, yeah!
By Kiki Georgiou