Joseph Altuzarra Makes Clothes for a Cool Vampire — or Fashion Editor — for Fall

The designer nailed it again with a covetable collection inspired by Tilda Swinton in "Only Lovers Left Alive."
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The designer nailed it again with a covetable collection inspired by Tilda Swinton in "Only Lovers Left Alive."
A look from Altuzarra's spring 2016 collection. Photo: Imaxtree

A look from Altuzarra's spring 2016 collection. Photo: Imaxtree

Watching Altuzarra's fall 2016 collection go down the runway on Saturday evening, I knew I'd be seeing many of these items again on the stylish women in the audience — Kate Bosworth, Jenna Lyons, Caroline Issa — who were all breathless in their praise of the designer backstage after the show. The embellished knits, statement outerwear and easy scarf dresses are sure to be street style hits, as will styling elements he used (with the help of Vanessa Traina), like dresses over shirts and brilliantly mixed prints.

How, season after season, is Joseph Altuzarra able to strike that balance between wearability and distinctiveness? It's a result of his design process, the basis of which is thinking about what real women want to wear in their daily lives. A non-woman himself, Altuzarra looks to his employees, friends, family members and customers for feedback about what they want. "The women in my office are very vocal," he told us. "It's unrealistic to think that the women who are buying clothes are only buying them for the fashion. I think women want it to be comfortable and they want it to be versatile."

He's equally practical and business-minded when it comes to accessories, a growing category since he sold a minority stake to Kering in 2013. For shoes, he did an assortment of walkable, versatile and unassuming (but still luxurious) block-heeled leather boots, in both ankle and knee-high silhouettes. For handbags, there was more rope braiding and tasseling, seen in the new "Saddle Mini," which was exceptionally appealing. "The response has been really phenomenal," he said of the bags. "It's sort of different from clothes where you're able to jump around from season to season and do really different things, whereas I think with bags, you're creating a through-line that the customer and women are able to see and understand."

But the real reason he continues to be one of the hottest tickets at New York Fashion Week is that he doesn't sacrifice creativity for practicality and salability the way some designers might. His starting point for fall was, awesomely, Jim Jarmusch’s "Only Lovers Left Alive" and "the rich, patchworked world the central characters inhabit." He was inspired less by vampires than by Tilda Swinton's character's innate curiosity, and that came through in a collection that was truly a hodgepodge of prints, patterns and embroideries — with influences ranging from 19th Century textiles to Indian paisleys, Venetian pearls and Moroccan and Turkish folkloric costumes. "If you could see the studio when we were working on this collection... there was so much stuff," he said enthusiastically.

The struggle for designers, we hear, is staying commercially minded while allowing time to get inspired and replenish creative energy. Altuzarra seems to have figured it out. He said of the current (and perhaps evolving) fashion cycle, "Designers need to make really desirable product, so while I think the fashion calendar question is super-important, I think it's not more important than good product."

See Altuzarra's entire fall 2016 collection below.