Here’s a riddle for you: Michelle Obama is to Jason Wu as _____ is to Joseph Altuzarra.
Curious who Altuzarra himself credits with “putting [him] on the map” by putting his clothes on her back? So were we, especially considering how very, very much on the map Altuzarra is right now.
Altuzarra’s CFDA nomination this week (the label’s second in its two years existence) further bolded a big red X on the grid, and to no one’s surprise.
His feminine but not precious collections (think Alaïa and Tom Ford) have become fast favorites of socialites (LSD), celebs (Rihanna), and some very discerning critics. We caught up with Joseph at his Barneys trunk show yesterday to chat about his success so far, what’s to come in the future, and yes, to fill in the blank of that riddle…
Fashionista: We know we have a lot to see from you down the road, but at this very moment, what would you consider the highlight of your career?
Joseph Altuzarra: Thus far, I think the highlight was when Carine Roitfeld wore the fall/winter 09 white coat to a show in Paris. That more or less put us on the map at the beginning. So yeah, that was a pretty good moment!
What designers are undercover influences of yours? No props to Tom Ford or Azzedine Alaïa allowed this time.
Martin Margiela, definitely, and also Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons. I’m very attracted to the deconstruction and the slightly more—I wouldn’t say more “intellectual”— but maybe something a little more “thoughtful” about their work. So it’s not as sexy or as feminine necessarily, but there’s something really interesting about their approach.
A lot of our younger readers are contemplating what type of college and major to choose for a career in fashion. You didn’t go to design school, which you’ve said made you feel a bit inferior as you were starting out. On the flip side, what from your liberal arts education gives you an advantage over designers who only went to design school?
When you go to a liberal arts school, you learn to be curious about a lot of things, which is really important for any job. You have to find inspiration in different places. Yes, I never went to design school, but maybe the liberal arts education teaches you to develop yourself in a way that’s less directed than fashion school does, which I’ve always appreciated.
Looking at your Current/Elliott denim collaboration, I have to wonder: if someone asked you right now to design something else out of your normal repertoire, what would it be? What’s inspiring you now?
I honestly would love to do furniture! But it’s also a little selfish because I also want furniture. But I think that would be amazing, and actually, I look at a lot of furniture as inspiration. Again, selfishly, I’d love to design any kind of home product. Dishware I would love, because I would love to have it!
Can you see yourself doing a more affordable diffusion line, or does that go against the luxe nature of your brand?
I mean, today the person who is buying the $58 t-shirt and the $2,500 dress is sometimes the same person. If you just look at the Givenchy rack over there, you have the $3,000 jacket but you also have the $200 skirt. I think it’s becoming more and more interesting today to build everything within the label. Also, it’s so easy for a Zara or H&M to copy what you do really quickly–and for a much better price. So it’s just easier to develop it all within your own label. Not like knocking yourself off—but yah, pretty much.
What’s one thing that every woman should have in her closet?
I always said a really great jacket, but I’m going to switch that! I’ll say a really good pair of pants. A good jacket is easier to come by, while you really have to look for a good pair of pants. When I find a good pair of pants, I’ll buy three of them and wear them on rotation for a while.
And what about things women should not to have in their closets? Are there any recent trends that you hate?
I’m not big on minimal. In general, it’s not as much my thing. There are parts of it that I like, but I just don’t like minimal for minimal’s sake. There needs to be a purpose. With Céline, for example, it’s really interesting because it’s more of a way of life, and you can tell the product is part of that way of life. But for people who are just doing minimal because it’s “in” right now? I find that’s not as sincere.