Amanda Brooks; Joseph Altuzarra (right) on the 5th floor of the Barneys New York flagship
He may not have been formally trained, but working under Marc Jacobs, Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler, and Givenchy's Riccardo Tisci has proven to be enough for wunderkind Joseph Altuzarra. At the age of 27 and with only five seasons under his belt, the designer, already a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund nominee, is well on his way to becoming a household name with an ever-growing list of devotees. On a recent morning, Altuzarra took the time to sit down with Barneys new fashion director, Amanda Brooks, to discuss his career thus far, how conceives his collections, his low points, and more, as a group of bloggers and online editors eagerly listened to what this promising talent had to share.
Fashion isn’t something you’re taught
The designer started off by remarking that he doesn’t have any formal training in fashion. All of Altuzarra’s training came from working at Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler, and later at Givenchy, the last brand he worked for before branching out on his own.
I’ve often wondered how designers handle working for other designers when they're young and still trying to define their own aesthetic and Altuzarra did say that was a challenge because “when you’re working for other people, you’re always thinking about what the designer you’re working for would like." “Mostly, I learned what I don’t like” stylistically and in terms of working.
Dressing the real woman
Brooks and Altuzarra were sitting in front of three mannequins dressed in some of the designer’s boldest spring 2011 looks, so it was interesting to hear that the affable designer is most interested in “dressing the real woman.” While he realizes that his customers go beyond the 25-year-old with the model body, he said that he still wants the women he dresses to feel sexy and seductive. More so then anything, however, he’s inspired by movies, most recently watching Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep films (think Something’s Gotta Give). “I think it’s very interesting to see these women have more success now, later in their life, and becoming role models. Older women want to be sexy and date too.” He later singled out Carine Roitfeld as another professional woman he has been inspired by for her unique ability to stay true to herself in a consistently seductive manner, no matter her age.
Construction follows function
While there have been exceptions (think cone-shaped busts), for the most part when designing his pieces, construction follows function. Altuzzara also remarked that in the early stages of conceiving each collection, he works a lot in 2-D, doing extensive drawing work, which explains why his samples tend to deviate very little from his flat drawings.
I consciously seek out inspiration
While Altuzarra shared that, to a certain degree, each new collection is a reaction to the previous one, he does seek out inspiration. Adding that he’d otherwise “be sitting around watching Glee all day” – yes the designer is as adorable and approachable as he sounds!
For spring 2011, Altuzarra was inspired by the internet and how you can instantly see completely unrelated things one after the other – from the abstract, to the futuristic, to the tribal, and beyond. He pointed out that this led to him combining a multitude of elements and references to make up the collection, which recently hit sales floors.
Hearing criticism can be very difficult
When asked about his career low point, the designer looked to his mother, the brand’s CEO, and said that she’d probably be the best person to ask! He then shared with us that when he comes across something written about himself he can’t help but read it, which can sometimes result in “moments of intense self doubt.”
Thus far this season, knits and the stronger statement pieces are selling the best. Altuzzara also told us that he pays close attention to which pieces sell well and which ones don’t and that he puts great weight on the feedback he gets from retailers.
No H&M or Target diffusion lines in the near future
As of now, it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to get any $49.99 Altuzarra dresses in the near future, but the designer did say he is working on incorporating lower price point buys into his collection.
Runway photos: Vincenzo Grillo, IMAXtree.