Nicola Formichetti is a man comfortable living la vida loca. As Diesel’s newly installed artistic director, the virtuoso behind Lady Gaga’s most unforgettable looks and one of international fashion’s most feted image-makers, the devil’s certainly not making work for his idle hands. Indeed when we meet on the 52nd floor of Tokyo’s Park Hyatt hotel – famed for its starring role in Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation – Nicola is struggling with acute jet lag, now a permanent feature of his multi-continental lifestyle. Since taking up the mantle at Diesel five months ago, he’s been on an endless hopscotch between his NewYork apartment, Diesel’s Italian HQ and his hotel pad in Tokyo. ‘Wherever I am, I’m waking up at 4am. It’s great, but it’s full-on crazy,’ he says.
Also crazy are his plans for the brand he’s been hired to refresh. ‘I’m going to break all the rules, just wait for it!’ he grins gleefully. Before his fully fledged debut show for Diesel next March, which will present outside the normal catwalk schedule, Nicola has been dedicating his time to refocusing the denim label’s vision. ‘Why would we show on the catwalk in Milan or Paris? We want to create our own rules and move forward, to talk the language of the young generation. I don’t want to be stuck in that old-fashioned system.’ This has meant creating a series of visually arresting ad campaigns and commissioning photographer Nick Knight to shoot the ad for his capsule ‘Tribute’ collection – on his iPhone. ‘We were completely open about the iPhone and which apps we were using. So really you could just copy it. Maybe next season we’ll do it with some young kid who has been inspired by what we’ve done.’
(Diesel's Tokyo Accessories Launch Party)
This democratic spirit is central to Nicola’s USP. ‘When I was doing high fashion [Nicola was previously creative director at French luxury brand Mugler], my other foot was always somewhere else. I’d always wear jeans when I wasn’t supposed to. People have always been trying to get me to turn the volume down. Renzo [Rosso, Diesel’s founder] just tells me to be even more crazy – it’s incredible to have that support behind you.To be honest, I was always high and low. But that’s me, half Japanese, half Italian, the glamorous life mixed with the energy of the street. A little bit of this and a little bit of that.’
It’s also meant bringing back the outre appeal the Diesel brand was once known for. Here in Tokyo we got a suitably scandalous glimpse of Nicola’s attitude at a party thrown to celebrate Diesel’s new accessories collection (in stores now). Complete with a sex store, latex-clad Japanese dancers and an erotic girl-on-girl fight club, if he’s looking to ruffle some denim-world feathers, he can be assured of success. And then there’s his unconventional campaign stars, discovered through his obsessive social media trawling on tumblr and Instagram. ‘We’re building a new community online – one which appreciates alternative beauty. It’s like the new Diesel army,’ he smiles. His recent find is Brooke Candy, a former stripper turned rapper with costumes as profane as her expletive-laden lyrics. Casting her as the face of Diesel’s new Bondage bag, inspired by Japanese shibari ropes, Nicola names Brooke as his new muse. ‘She really inspires me. She has that thing – like when I first met Gaga – that very raw feeling. People hate her or love her – it was the same thing with Gaga at the beginning. So many people said to me “Why are you working with her?”’
(Left- Gaga's infamous meat dress, Right- Her red latex dress to meet the Queen)
As for Lady G, Nicola has passed the Haus of Gaga styling baton on to his former assistant Brandon Maxwell, but he remains devoted to the church of the Mother Monster. ‘She’s going to become a legend – I mean she is already a legend and she’ll keep doing it,’ he says. As for that infamous meat dress, Nicola reminisces about how he had to throw out a whole outfit’s worth of top-drawer steaks to nail the look. ‘The expensive cuts didn’t work so we had to go and buy a load of cheap stuff and a freezer to go with it. For me it was something that is history. It was the first time something I’d worked on was more than fashion.’ Another cherished memory was Gaga’s performance in front of the Queen. ‘That red latex dress was incredible. Miley Cyrus was next to us backstage and she was so sweet. She was a massive Gaga fan and so excited to be there. I love Miley, she’s just really hot. People are just so tough on her – sometimes I just want to say, just leave her alone.’
Nicola has also felt the sharp edge of the Twitter trolls’ sword – a depressing consequence of his success and following of nearly 200,000. ‘I never wanted to be in the limelight or in front of the camera and suddenly people are having all sorts of opinions about me and criticising me,’ Nicola recalls. ‘I was being tweeted all this stuff and I hated it in the beginning. You think, “Who the hell are you, talking about me?” But you know now I see because of my small fame, I have the chance to inspire people and that makes it worth it. Now I just try to focus on that.’
While Nicola recently sold his Kingsland Road flat, London, he says, remains in his blood. ‘For a decade I never used to have any money, I just did the job for love. I really learnt to wing it and do all this crazy stuff without sleeping. In a way, London was my school, now I can do anything – on any budget, on any deadline. But after 10 years, I was like, you know what? I’ve got to pay my rent.’
As for ambition, Nicola isn’t one for modesty. ‘I want to make Diesel the coolest brand on the planet and blow everyone’s mind and we’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen. And as for me – I just want to keep doing what I’m doing today – but maybe I’ll stay in one place. I just hope the jet lag doesn’t get to me first.’
See Gaga's greatest looks in the gallery below...