With rumors swirling around him that he will soon be named the new creative director of Saint Laurent, Anthony Vaccarello sat down with Antidote magazine to talk about his signature brand and what it took, against all odds, to make a name for himself in fashion.
I’ll never forget the first time I was introduced to Anthony Vaccarello. It was back in 2010 when we were seated next to each other at the Sidaction charity fashion dinner. We had both been invited by the French fashion federation to sit at its table. At the time Jimmy Pihet, the communications director of the federation, leaned over and whispered in my ear, “He is very talented, you should get to know him, I think he is going to be big.”
Truer words have never been spoken. In just over five years Vaccarello, who launched his brand in 2009, has become one of the most promising designers of his generation. His work is instantly recognizable for its modern, minimal approach. But one that is always infused with a serious dose of sex appeal, a judicious use of hardware embellishments and a clear love of the female form.
I remember being so surprised, when I attended his second fashion show, to see such a clear sartorial vision, particularly as the collection was a celebration of strong, self-assured women who know how to wield their sexual power. All of this intensity on the catwalk from a man who had barely said a handful of things throughout the entire Sidaction dinner just two months before.
It didn’t add up.
“I am super shy,” explained Vaccarello over a casual lunch of steak and fries at a local bistro next to his home in the third arrondissement in Paris. “I am not very comfortable around people and I hide behind this appearance of looking cold and distant. But I am just super shy and very empathetic,” he said.
“I am not very comfortable around people and I hide behind this appearance of looking cold and distant. But I am just super shy and very empathetic.”
He might be shy, but Vaccarello knows what he wants. For example, at that fateful sophomore ready-to-wear presentation the music stopped right in the middle of the show. Vaccarello was able to spin this fact. “People thought it was a Belgian thing, that it was ‘cool to cut off the song in the middle’ but it was not,” he said with a smile.
Born in Belgium in 1982, the only child of Italian parents, Vaccarello grew up modestly. His father is a waiter in a restaurant and his mother is a office manager. During his formative years it wasn’t fashion that initially piqued his creative interest; it was photography. “I was passionate about the image. I collected all the old Versace images when Gianni was still alive. I surrounded myself with strong images that I liked. My first love was really photography,” he said.
However, like any dutiful only child, Vaccarello first tried to live a more traditional life by studying to become a lawyer to make his parents proud. “I didn’t want to disappoint them, so I did one year of law and my parents saw right away that it wasn’t for me. They saw that I was so depressed studying law that they finally let me do what I really wanted to do. They have always been very supportive of me,” said Vaccarello.
But instead of studying photography, because he thought he was a bad photographer, Vaccarello turned his attention to fashion design. He enrolled in the highly regarded La Cambre art and design school in Brussels. “By then I had discovered Comme des Garçons, I discovered Alaia, and I realized that what really interested me was the construction of the clothes. The architecture of designing,” he explained.
Anthony Vaccarello automne-hiver 2016
Vidéo : Nathalie Ganguilhem
During his time at school Vaccarello was obsessed with Tom Ford and how he was transforming Gucci, not just with his designs but also the clear story he was telling through his provocative advertising images. “I was impressed by how he was playing with the codes of the house and making them his own,” he said.
In 2006 he graduated from La Cambre with an honors degree and that same year he won first place at the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography. His winning collection was audaciously inspired by the Italian porn star La Cicciolina. The collection caught the eye of Karl Lagerfeld, and soon Vaccarello found himself working on the fur line at Fendi.
“It was a shock. At La Cambre, we were very creative. They wanted us to be individuals and to find our own codes and not be inspired by things already around,” recounted Vaccarello. “I remember school ended in June, and I started at Fendi in September. I was dropped right into reality. Commercial realties. It’s not very creative to find yourself in an office designing traditional fur pieces, with perfect shoulder lines and classic skirts. But I am not criticizing it. I had fun doing it. And it really helped to train me for what I am doing now. I am not someone who designs clothing that can’t be worn. I really want my clothing not to be a dream, something that is put on a pedestal. I want it to be worn and experienced,” he added.
In 2011 Vaccarello won another prestigious award, the ANDAM fashion award, which came with 200,000 euros in prize money. When I interviewed him at the time, he told me thathe did not plan to let the award affect how he would go about building his company. He said, “I am going to do what I always did, and that is to grow the brand slowly and steadily.”
There was never any question in Vaccarello’s mind that he would launch his own eponymous label. And almost immediately a number of cool “it girls” who know how to spot talent a mile away began wearing his clothing. Model Lou Doillon was a very early adopter. She became the face of the brand’s fall/winter 2010 collection. A gaggle of top models, including Anja Rubik and Karlie Kloss, actually called him up and asked to walk in his Spring 2012 show. In fact, look number 29 of that collection, the one that Kloss inhabited, made it onto the March 2012 cover of the newly revamped American Harper’s Bazaar. A golden-tressed Gwyneth Paltrow sported the body con black dress, showing a fare share of toned skin. And then there was the “seared forever in the mind” image of Rubik wearing a white silk dress by the designer to the 2012 Met Gala that left her hip bone exposed to the elements. It was the dress everyone was talking about the next day.
Cameron Russell @Oui Management
Robe asymétrique en jersey noir et métal doré, Anthony Vaccarello. Manchette en métal doré tressé, Poggi.
Photographie issue de The Romance Issue : Cuneyt Akeroglu. Réalisation : Yann Weber. Casting : Sybille de Saint-Phalle
Coiffure : Angelo Seminara. Maquillage : Akgun Manisali
Only months earlier Angelina Jolie, or to be more specific her right leg, had made headlines when she wore a black Versace dress to the Oscars that left most of her lithe limb uncovered. So maybe it was destiny that Donatella Versace would ring Vaccarello up so that they, two kindred design spirits, could meet.
“She played a big game,” recalled Vaccarello about the first time he met with Versace. “She sent a beautiful car and we met at the Bristol. Very diva, but in the best way. It was perfect. You know when you are someone like me, you come from Belgium, you are not from here, and you are not use to all that, it was really wonderful. Because you realize that anything is possible. That’s what is beautiful about this job, that even if it’s hard and there is a lot of work, you can be recognized. People can appreciate what you are doing. Meeting Donatella was one of those unforgettable moments in my life,” he said.
It wasn’t very long after this meeting that Versace asked Vaccarello to come on board and become the creative director of her Versus line. He gave the collection a new energy and tapped into the needs of a generation of consumers who don’t want to wait to buy what they see on the catwalk. He made a large portion of his Versus collections shoppable the day after the show. “I think it’s modern to be able to see the show, go to the store, grab the dress or the jacket, and not wait 6 months to have it. You need the structure to do that, to know how many pieces you sell, to produce. I think a young designer can’t do that. But if you’re a big one, that’s the future,” said Vaccarello about his strategy.
« Meeting Donatella was one of those unforgettable moments in my life. »
According to Versace, “Antony has captured the true spirit of Versus Versace. I love how he is pushing the brand that I love forward for a new generation.”
But how does a young designer like Vaccarello maintain the integrity of his own label when he must also design for another house? According to him there is no separation.
“I don’t think that I could ever separate them,” he explained. “Because I would never accept to work for a house which isn’t who I am. I don’t want to be schizo and try to have a double personality. For example, for Versus, its me, but with the codes of their house. It’s their team, their factory, I give my imput into something that is already very structured,” he said.
As for his own brand, Vaccarello sees his work as a continued exploration of who his woman is. A woman who he sees as feminine, urban and dynamic, who still has many facets he has yet to discover and explore. He uses his last collection as the starting point for the next, and never wants to be a designer that hops from one themed show to another. “I always want it to be modern, and make things never suggest any particular reference point, that they are distinctive and that you can really see the research and thought that has gone into the work,” he said adamantly.
Lindsey Wixson @Elite Paris
Robe asymétrique en cuir et volant en cotte de maille, Anthony Vaccarello. Boucles d’oreilles, collier et bracelet, Boucheron.
Photographie issue de The Night Issue : Miguel Reveriego. Réalisation : Yann Weber. Casting : Sybille de Saint Phalle
Coiffure : Alessandro Rebecchi. Maquillage : Alice Ghendrih.
Recently there have been a few designers who have closed their signature brands to focus their creative energies exclusively on their work for major fashion houses. It’s a concept that Vaccarello understands, even if at the same time it is not something he could ever imagine doing.
“I think it’s a choice and I don’t think they have lost anything by making it. I think their name is there, connected to the other house. No one forced them to make these choices. And if they do it, then they have really thought about it beforehand. That they do not want to work 24 hours a day for their own brand and a big house. They want to have their weekends, or go on vacation. It’s a life choice. When people say, ‘It’s a shame they closed their company,’ they don’t realize the work that goes into doing things right. If doing both means not being able to do both right, then it is better to stop. They can always come back to their brand later or do something else. I have a great respect for this sort of thing,” he said.
But by the same token, Vaccarello has a more difficult time understanding those designers who complain about how hard their jobs are. “It’s a dream to do this job. And I don’t understand the pressure designers feel. My father always wakes up at 6 to go work and come back late at night, super tired. That’s hard. Going to an office at 10-11 in the morning and working on dresses, that’s not hard. If you don’t want to it, go to be a florist. Do what you want,” he added.
« Going to an office at 10-11 in the morning and working on dresses, that’s not hard. If you don’t want to it, go to be a florist. »
When Vaccarello wants to relax, he looks to his close-knit group of friends to help him unwind. A bit of a homebody, he recently binge watched the series Narco with his boyfriend of 13 years Arnaud Michaux. “We don’t talk about fashion, we try to have a normal life, just stay together doing normal things,” he said, revealing that he makes a damn good pasta and tomato sauce dinner.
Even with all his success Vaccarello says little has changed in his day-to-day life. He can still walk down the street without getting noticed. He still works with the same small team he started with six years ago. “The way I am, the way I live didn’t change. Maybe I don’t have to worry about how many Ubers I am taking anymore,” he said with a smile.
As for goals, he has a new line of handbags arriving in stores with his spring/summer 2016 collection which he is very excited about. Although the idea of opening a brick-and-mortar store is not something he thinks makes any sense. “I have great stock lists, maybe an e-commerce site one day,” he said. He would also love to see Kristen Stewart wear one of his designs. Traveling more is also on his “to do” list. But to cities, as he gets quite bored when the energy of a metropolis isn’t buzzing around him.
As for those students who are probably now putting photos of his fashion shows and distinctive advertising campaigns on their walls and dream about one day launching their own label, this is the advice Vaccarello would like to give them: “Don’t believe people who tell you not to open your own brand. A lot of people told me that six years ago, that I should go to a house. I think it’s completely bullshit. If you have something to say, and really want to do something, just do it. The worst thing that can happen is that you go back to what you did before, but at least you don’t have any regrets.”
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