You might know Antonio Azzuolo's name since he received a nod from the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund last year (his subsequent appearance on the web series about the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, The Fashion Fund, is worth a watch) and is a nominee for the Swaravski award for menswear for this year's CFDA awards--but you should really know him for his meticulously tailored and exquisitely made menswear.
I met with Azzuolo as he was preparing for the Met Gala, where he dressed Daniel Radcliffe and Prabal Gurung, to discuss how someone who focuses his business on high-end quality and luxury products can "make it" in today's fashion world of H&M collabs and lower prices lines. Fashionista: So how did you got started as a designer? And what inspired you to go into design as a career? Antonion Azzuolo: I decided I would go into international relations in university and then after a year I thought, “What am I doing?” and so halfway through it I took art classes, I prepared a portfolio and I went to Toronto and I studied fashion. I’d always been in that environment--my dad was a tailor, my mom was a seamstress, but it’s not something that they encouraged. They encouraged me to be a doctor, an engineer, an accountant, a pharmacist. When did you start your own collection? For me, I see it as on ongoing process. I started while I was in school, a couple of retailers wanted to carry the line and I did it but I didn’t want to stay in Toronto so I shipped my last collection and I went to Milan. I stayed there a year and then I went to Paris. In Paris after having worked for Hermes and Kenzo, I started my collection again and then when I came to New York I knew that it was something that I wanted to do more seriously. The luxury market in New York is bigger now than it was before. This time there’s no way I’m stopping or taking a break. Why did you choose to go into men’s fashion? I think that I’m just fascinated with tailoring, and it’s true that I love tailoring for women, but I don’t know, maybe because it's because I love to wear tailored clothing [that I went into menswear]. I’m probably a little bit more daring in menswear; I think there’s more ambition in my intent and in my vision in menswear than there is in womens. I want to push the boundaries in menswear because it’s a little stifling.
Who is your dream customer? It could be someone living or dead or imaginary. I think that some of my clients are my dream customers and I should say all of them, but some of them in particular inspire me, like Cassius [that would be Cassius Marcellus Cornelius Clay, Kanye's teen wunderkind stylist] and some of my custom clients. I would have loved to dress like Saint Laurent in a suit, too, but you know he doesn’t need my help. I think that inspires me when like someone understands my aesthetic and the process that goes into it and they want it-–they really want it.
What’s a typical workday like for you? I work out of my apartment studio for now, so everything is sort of centralized in the studio. All our fittings, the whole development process happens at the factories. We work with different factories because it’s a menswear collection, so each factory specializes in their respective product categories. You have your shirtmaker, your tailored clothing, your sweater guy and then the outerwear guy, and you have one more. It’s true they’re my friends Do you work with a small team? I have a small team: one girl, who works on a part-time basis, and two interns. It’s a very small infrastructure but it exists. We’re growing slowly and I’m happy about that. What would you say is the most challenging part of your job? By far, the challenge I think would be the financial restrictions. There was a time when nice clothing, good aesthetics and good craftsmanship were enough for people to buy clothing but it’s not enough today and especially in New York. Brand image, brand visibility, credibility, are all important factors, and that takes time, and more importantly, it takes money, and it takes financing. The challenging part is not only the financing part, but it’s finding good financial partners. It’s important to find the right person and make sure that they understand the context of where you’re coming from, your intent, where you want to take your business What is the most fulfilling part of your job? When you come up with a good collection and you know that the results are what you wanted them to be. But then again, that’s not enough, it’s never enough. You need to sell it and you need to make sure you communicate the message to the editors and buyers, and then you need to make sure that once it’s in the stores is that the sell-through is good and that the customer understands it. So there are different things that I find fulfillment in: When the collection comes out well, when it sells at retail, and when the sell-through is good. I think I’m doing a lot more custom now and that’s very fulfilling. What’s a risk that you’ve taken to keep your design business going? Everything else. [Laughs] So I think the biggest risk is understanding at what point will you get to that threshold where not just financially, but sometimes psychologically, or morally, you can or can’t do something. You have to trust your intuition. What do you feel like you gained from being a part of that CFDA fashion fund experience? I think everything. It doesn’t define me, it just makes me part of the New York dialogue. When you work really hard and you believe in what you do and you sacrifice a lot of things in your life, to have that exposure and recognition is nice, is a fulfillment.
And you’re nominated this year for the Swarovski Award in Menswear. Are you nervous? No, because I’ve got a great PR office that’s going to make me win! [Laughs] When did you feel that you had made it in fashion? I can’t answer that question. It’s an exciting time for me, and it’s the first time in my whole career there are times of real satisfaction and of accomplishments. How do you hope your brand will grow in the future? I think that the plans are for the brand to grow with specific demographics in mind. We are really catering to multi–label stores, specialty shops, department stores that carry luxury brands and fine designer menswear. Right now I’m focusing on the high end with some opening price points in the collection and eventually want to grow the business on a second tier and get into accessories, but that would be with a financial partnership so until that happens I think we really need to grow the business in the way we’ve been doing it and go from 10 stores to 15 to 20 stores to 25 stores...