Last week, I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing one of the most lovely menswear designers in the business. His name is Antonio Azzuolo, and he is the master behind his 3-season old namesake brand, Antonio Azzuolo. Italian born, his early career was quite illustrious, working for the likes of Hermes and Kenzo in the City of Lights. He then started his own little Atelier in a small two-roomed apartment, originally used as maid's quarters...how chic and how Parisian. After being offered the Creative Director position for Ralph Lauren Black and Purple Labels, he decided to have a go in the American market and has since decided to go it alone...
When he first came to the USA, he realized that there was a lot of underrated craftsmanship here and thus decided to produce at Primo in Brooklyn, Thom Browne's old factory (you know how I love made-in-our-own-backyard). Like several young designers today, he just felt that he wanted to be close to the product. What has resulted is one of the most beautifully tailored menswear collections in the market that continues to evolve and grow. Details Magazine recently named him a "Designer To Watch" and I absolutely agree!!!!
Nancy: So lets talk about your time at Ralph Lauren. Has it influenced your collection?
AA: I definitely think it influenced me, primarily the overall aesthetic. I think that it is something I had even before I started working there however, and is in line with a basic premise I have had for a long time (even back in my Hermes days), which is this love of classicism. That said, my collection is quite different from Ralph Lauren in that it has a younger, hipper, cooler perspective.
Nancy: So the line is less about an American classic point-of-view and perhaps has a more European sensibility?
AA: I think that is pretty accurate. There is a strong European influence, though more so in the cut and the fit.
Nancy: Are you influenced by any designers that are in that more hip, cool zone?
AA: Yes, there are designers who have influenced me, like Yves St. Laurent in the 70’s; how he revolutionized womenswear and with classic tailoring. This "French chic" in his work also influences me. I love designers like Margiela, with their understated, pure simplicity. I appreciate designers like Raf Simmons and the balance he finds between tradition and art...more experimental, but not in a too in-your-face way. Perhaps experimental in a more wearable way. Though some of his things aren’t always so wearable; but he doesn’t just do it for just for provocation. We’re not in a period of high fashion, though the designs are creative, experimental, but in a more controlled way. So there’s imagination and fantasy but it is restrained.
Nancy: When you started to develop this line, did you feel there was some void in the menswear market that you felt you could fill? Did you look at it that way or are you just designing for your pure love of design, things you really love?
AA: Probably both. I think that definitely the first things were, this is what I really would love to do because I wasn’t able to do it at Hermes, Kenzo or Ralph Lauren and it’s been a part of me for a long time. Some people were doing it, other labels were maybe doing some of the same elements or some of employing some of the design aesthetic that I feel close to.
Nancy: Can you elaborate?
AA: I feel like when I look at something, a tailored garment I always feel like I want to change it. When I go shopping for myself and for other people, I can't find what I want. So, in that way, I think there is a void. Not that I necessarily look at it as a void but a more like a niche I want to create. I feel like creating a brand is not only filling a niche or a void, but creating that desire for something. When truly creative brands create, sometimes they do it overtly and sometimes its very subtle. My work is more subtle and is going to take a little more nurturing. One buyer described it as subtle, sophistication.
Nancy: Let me try to reposition this Q&A a little bit; so lets make this less about a niche you want to fill and talk more about the person you are. Tell me a little about you, less about your designs. Is there anything you want to share.
AA: I have a twin brother, and my parents were in the fashion industry. I grew up surrounded by that Italian culture; my dad always wore Bespoke Italian suits. So fashion was part of growing up. Being a twin, there’s this kind of duality in me...in my experience and in my life and I feel like that comes through in my designs. So I feel there’s this strong, grounded person who sees things in a real way and also this imaginative person who sees things the way he would like them to be. Balancing those two opposing worlds is a strong aspect in my life. I feel like it’s the cause of a lot of conflict. I have always felt like I have to balance these two personalities. I think that this duality is part of my work and over time I think have played with it and accepted it. It’s a major source of inspiration.
Nancy: Interesting, I think I can really see this in your designs..Is this the Chuck Bass (Gossip Girl) thing? I read he is your muse.
AA: I love it when editors decide that Chuck Bass is going to be your muse. When the editor wrote the article I knew about the show, but I’ve never seen it. The stylist who worked on my Fall 2009 presentation made a reference to it and said we should get the guys (Gossip Girls) in and so it all escalated. That said, I do feel like there are movements happening in fashion. People see things, feel things and all of a sudden you belong to that movement and your in sync. So it’s kind of a parallel process.
Nancy: So you do feel some kinship with the Chuck Bass character, from a fashion perspective? He has this type of youthful, quirky, preppy style. Would you say your brand is youthful, kind of quirky?
AA. I think that there’s a youthful aspect to it, but less quirky, more eccentric.
Nancy: Would Chuck Bass be your customer in real life?
AA: Yeah, is he a nice guy?
Nancy: Hmm...not really nice, quite complicated actually.
AA: Complicated and complex is good.
Nancy: I also read that music influences you profoundly. Tell me about this.
AA: The inspiration really comes from Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in 1965/1966 and their kind of bohemian, eccentric, Bespoke obsession. I think that’s a strong reference. It more about the person being a musician and artist and who they are and less about the actual music. Of course, I love the music too so I used it at all of my presentations. I played everything from the Rolling Stones to the Kinks.
Nancy: OK, so who is your actual guy? Your customer?
AA. My customer base is very specific due to the luxury pricepoint and overall fit of the garment. I design for a certain body type; trimmer, smaller. I use a Bespoke factory so that the clothing has a custom feel. I definitely have a musician following; musicians in their late 20’s early 30’s that want something that stylish, that has a point of view and a perspective that applies to them across the board. My customer also has a classic, European sensibility so I can visualize him living in the UES, West Village and even Tribeca.
Nancy: Now lets talk about the actual product. I love your knitwear. Tell me about it?
AA: Knits are a core part of my collection. Every season I add classifications designed to build a man's wardrobe. Last Fall it was all about tailoring (shirts, blazers, trousers and vests). The second season I added knitwear and the third season I made a strong outerwear statement. It’s just the natural development of the line.
Nancy: I also was noticing lots of frayed edges…
AA: I have been trying to find the balance between wearable versus work in progress, high craftsmanship versus raw stages. Too much equals too conceptual. I like to see the difference, so there are elements of both in the line.
Nancy: You also play with details. I love the feather lapel pins.
AA: Accessories for men are important. The first season I used tie pins and flower pins, boutonnieres.
I grew up in a family where Sunday dinner was mandatory for the family. You dressed out of a respect for one’s self, which also stressed the importance of celebration. “Sunday Best” is always an aspect in my line. I love it when people make the effort to dress. People feel like they’re too cool to dress up. My mom always went to work looking impeccable, very Upper East Side. On the subways in Paris, you would see people that wore tailored clothing with a V-neck, tie, shirt, etc. and looked impeccably put together. Old school attitude towards dressing is so inspirational and a huge part of my background and culture.
Nancy: Tell me what we can see in the future.
AA: I do want to make my collection a bit more accessible, so I intend to loosen up the fit, slightly and to also introduce some lower pricepoints. That said, I won't walk away from my overall aesthetic. You have to always have passion for what you do...you have to love it.
Antonio Azzuolo is available at Kesner in the West Village.