News & Runway

Catching Up With Designer Rafael Cennamo: The Cannon Canon

American couture designer Rafael Cennamo's attention to detail and his designs are truly amazing. We caught up with him at Soho House to chat about his life, his Mom (who is his biggest editor) and his first memories of fashion.

Cannon: How did it all begin?

Rafael Cennamo: Since I was a kid, everybody knew that I wanted to be a fashion designer, that I loved fashion and that I loved to draw. My teachers from school would say to my mom, “I don’t know how he’s going to study because he’s not writing down anything, not taking notes, anything…could you check his notebooks?” And my mom was like, “Okay let me take a look,” and everything was sketches. I would sketch every single thing that was in my head since I was a kid. My mom was pissed about that — anyway, she’s happy now!

I started in Venezuela, my brother had a modeling agency there. That was my way of kind of getting into something related to fashion.

C: And do all the fittings?

RC: Exactly. I was like, “Oh well, let me show you this and that!” I’m the youngest of four brothers.  I started in Venezuela as I said, then I moved to Miami and then I opened my company there, and 4 years ago moved the company to New York. 

C: Tell me about how you design a dress from the inside out, what’s your design process?

RC: One of the most important things for me is the fitting. The fit of the whole garment is very important, and I don’t know if you have noticed, but some of them have a lot of corseting and boning. One of the things I’m proud of about my garments is the construction, the fit, how comfortable you feel…

I think about what my customer would like to have in their closet, what I have done in other collections that makes them come back to my studio to keep buying from me, and it’s very inspiring.  Of course, I follow trends, I look at things, I work with different materials, I always try to mix a little bit of novelty and try to create my own stuff. It’s very important for me to follow the trends and still keep using the fabrics that identify me as a designer so I cannot always go for all the trends.

C: Do you remember your first time sketching?

RC: I’m telling you, I was really young…young! I don’t remember if I was doing it at 3, 4, or 5, but I liked to draw faces all the time so my mom put me in painting classes and art classes. Every time she would look at my sketches, she would see everything with hair, a mouth, lips, and earrings because I could not do something without all of this.

C: Do you remember the first time seeing a dress you made on someone?

RC: Yes! It was my brother’s best friend’s graduation gown—that was funny. I was like 14 or 15. I found someone to make it. For it being that time, at 15, it was pretty decent. I didn’t sew it, of course, I just sketched it and selected everything for her. I didn’t have a studio at that time so I had to find someone else to do it. But she was so excited and she looked great. 

C: What is your inspiration for S/S 2013 and moving forward?

RC:  Asia. I’m doing Japanese inspirations. It’s not something so literal, but the inspiration comes from the crops and the details of the kimonos and all these very specific parts of the culture that is very lineal but at the same time very sophisticated in a way. 

I think it’s more about the culture in general. There’s this mysticism behind it. I’m a person that believes in energy and like what she can get from different cultures and things like that. I think that the Japanese culture, in this case, it’s so specific and minimalistic, but it’s so mysterious in a way that you want to know more. 

C: When is your editor, your mom, coming in to view the collection?

RC: I sent her some stuff already by email. I showed her some when I went to Miami, and she said, "I think you need more stuff." I was like, "Mom there are 55 pieces there already, do you want to just leave it there? I think that I have enough!" (laughs).

C: What advice would you give to a young designer who is just starting in this post-recession kind of craziness?

RC: The most important thing for someone who is starting is to really believe in themselves and to be surrounded by the right people. Do things with love and with a lot of tenacity and perseverance. You have to believe with everything that you have that you can make it happen. I feel that I have been very lucky to have the support from my parents and my family in general, all of them have always been behind me and helping me. I think that the most important thing is to pay attention a lot to the things they have to say.

C: I think that’s such a beautiful thing to say, to have the ability to listen to other people.

RC: Definitely. It is so important just to feel yourself and your energy, and your everyday, by these people, friends, family, and people in the industry that want the best for you. You know that you will always find someone that is not in that position, but I think the most important thing is to pick and choose who is best to work with, and what gives you a more comfortable feeling to work and to make it happen.