Fresh off his spectacular pre Spring 2020 collection showcase in Hong Kong, New York-based designer Joseph Altuzarra addressed a room full of journalists and young fashion students at a ‘trend talk’ event, of which I was a part too. It was a welcome change to see a young and talented designer throw light upon fashion in its real essence. Be it launching his label, adopting ethical measures or catering to practical luxury, Joseph bared his heart out which speaks volumes of his love for the craft. And, to come across a man who ‘understands’ woman, we had to delve deep into his journey in an exclusive interview. Edited excerpts…
How did you get started in the fashion industry?
I didn’t go to fashion school. I studied art and its history, but always had a passion for fashion. After college, I interned for Marc Jacobs, and from there, went on to work at Proenza Schouler, and then Givenchy, before starting my own brand, Altuzarra.
Do you think the different facets of your cultural background–Chinese, French and American have impacted your design language?
Absolutely. I think that growing up in a multicultural household, with different traditions, and perspectives has deeply impacted how I design and what I like. My collections often explore the idea of identity and culture. I am fascinated by crafts of different places, and how you can interweave different traditions and ideas to create something truly modern.
How do you think fashion has evolved since the launch of Altuzarra in 2008?
Social media has had the biggest impact on fashion and our industry. I’ve seen the industry open up, and fashion become much more democratic. Fashion is speaking to a much bigger audience now, and isn’t confined to a small group of insiders. It means designers have become much more scrutinised, but it also means that we have more power to speak about important issues through our work, and enact change.
The design ethos of Altuzarra revolves around the concept of ‘modern wardrobe for women’. Where and how do you seek creative inspiration from?
Much of my inspiration comes from films I watch, books I read, or exhibits. But a lot of it comes from lived experience and observation. I think a big part of being a designer is being a sociologist, and being mindful of how women’s lives are changing, and how we as designers can speak to their needs and desires better.
Your designs unapologetically combine seductive aesthetics with modern and feminine silhouettes. Please take us through your creative moodboard?
I have never shied away from seduction and sensuality. I think there is strength in femininity. Women used to dress like men to be taken seriously, but today you can walk into a board room with a slit in your skirt, and demand to be respected. This really drives a lot of my design process.
How would you describe the quintessential ‘Altuzarra Woman’?
The ‘Altuzarra woman’ is polished, sexy, confident and seductive. She has a real life - a job she needs to get dressed for, an active social life, and children. She is based on a lot of women I know and love, who juggle the demands of their personal lives with those of their professional careers, without ever sacrificing fashion.
The worldwide fashion fraternity is finally embracing the winds of change when it comes to ethical and sustainable concepts. How are you taking measures for the same?
Sustainability and ethical processes have become incredibly important to me, and to our company. We have spent the last couple of years educating ourselves on how we can do better, both in terms of raw materials and production. We are now using recycled fiber and dead-stock fabrics and thinking more creatively about design to lower our carbon footprint, and create less waste. For instance, in the most recent show, the multi-colour dresses were made of dead-stock fabrics which we combined to create beautiful and desirable garments.
How do you balance the commercial and artistic aspects of your work?
Being a designer means balancing artistic expression and the commercial reality of a business. I also believe in this new era of awareness about sustainability. My design team and I are constantly thinking about what we are designing, and whether it is modern and new, but also wearable and desirable. We don’t want to design clothes that will just end up being product on a rack that don’t sell, and end up in a landfill.
What does it take to stay relevant amidst cutthroat competition in fashion?
Authenticity is an over-used word, but I think having a point of view, a core belief, and sticking to it, make all the difference. Don’t follow trends; follow the beat of your own drum.
Tell us about your latest collection. What are the trends you are betting big on?
Suiting has always been at the core of Altuzarra message, and I think it will be making a big comeback for spring. We showed a slightly 70’s silhouette, with a wider leg pant that elongates your legs, and a narrow tailored jacket. We also designed some beautiful handkerchief hem dresses in mash-up polka dots.
What can we expect from the house of Altuzarra next?
Big things; I am excited for some very exciting projects coming up, including new product categories and collaborations. I am also judging a new television show on Amazon Prime called Making the Cut, which is coming out in early 2020. Stay tuned.