We’ve been around awhile now, and we know a lot of our readers might not have had the opportunity to experience our earlier issues. So we wanted to give you the chance to discover one of our favorite stories from our archive every Friday. Some of them feature actors, musicians, or artists who eventually made it big, talents we are proud to have tapped early in their careers. Some have brilliant writing, and some have beautiful photography. Some have both. But all of them are so great we thought they deserved a second chance. This week we present Alisa Gould-Simon’s Spring 2009 profile of then-newcomer Joseph Altuzarra on the eve of presenting his second collection.
SINCE DEBUTING HIS EPONYMOUS COLLECTION AT NEW YORK FASHION WEEK LAST FALL, 25-YEAR-OLD JOSEPH ALTUZARRA HAS BEEN DUBBED A “WUNDERKIND” AND “ONE TO WATCH” BY A FEW FASHION HEAVYWEIGHTS. THE PARIS-BRED, SWARTHMORE-EDUCATED DESIGNER PRESENTED A TIGHTLY EDITED PREMIERE COLLECTION FOCUSING ON STRUCTURAL ELEMENTS SUCH AS FOLDING, EXPOSED CONSTRUCTION, AND UNDULATING SEAMING, AS WELL AS THE PLAY BETWEEN MASCULINITY AND FEMININITY.
Altogether it provided a springboard from which Altuzarra, who honed his craft at the likes of Marc Jacobs and Givenchy, has approached Fall 2009. “I wanted a collection that was very hopeful,” Altuzarra says of the new collection, which draws inspiration in equal parts from both the ’40s and ’80s. “I was looking at periods of recession, or periods of war where there was this underlying culture of hopefulness.” In tones of white, lavender, silver, and charcoal gray—“there’s no black; I took it all out,” he says—the collection channels the strong shoulders, body consciousness, and glamour of both decades. “It sounds a little trite because we’re in a recession, but I really do think that optimism breeds optimism. You can wallow in self-pity, or you can fight it, which is always the harder thing to do,” explains Altuzarra, who is seated at his desk in his former Chelsea studio. To his right hangs an image from the his latest look book—one of stylist Vanessa Traina, a close friend who likewise plays model and muse to Altuzarra, sporting the same python dress Stephanie of Monaco donned in French Vogue’s December/January issue (and subsequently ordered).
“I want to make women feel comforted, but very beautiful, a little bit cocooned and protected,” says Altuzarra of his upcoming Fall 2009 collection. This transformative potential of fashion is central to Altuzarra’s creative process. “That’s the desire: to make clothing have that power,” he says, citing his experience as a nerdy teenager in Paris as having sparked his sartorial aspirations. “I was really not popular in school, and I attributed a lot of power to the way people dressed. I thought that clothes could transform someone from being an unpopular nerd.” Altuzarra, who credits Helmut Lang and Jil Sander as influences, has since shifted his focus from social acceptance to flattering a woman’s figure. “What I would like my clothing to convey is a little more of a baser instinct,” Altuzarra says. The impulse parallels Altuzarra’s overall approach to design. “I have trouble understanding designers who have a more conceptual approach to clothing. Comme des Garçons is amazing; so is Margiela. But it’s not where I come from. The way I design is much less brainy.”
Despite having majored in art history, Altuzarra says his inspiration comes from music, a strong passion for which he’s maintained since childhood (though the former a cappella singer has given up singing). “I’m a very obsessive person,” Altuzarra admits, offering his listening to the Knife for “six months straight” while designing Spring 2009 as evidence. For Fall 2009, it was all about Danny Elfman. And, as for his latest sonic obsession: Sergei Rachmaninoff.
So, should he tire of the fashion world, would Altuzarra ever consider returning to his a cappella roots? “No,” he says emphatically. “If I couldn’t be a designer, I would be an incredible personal assistant to another designer. I’m so organized; I think that was my true calling.” Fortunately for his steadily growing fan base, business seems to be doing just fine. Altuzarra’s only concern on a particularly cold mid-December day: finally launching a website. While the designer’s lack of an online presence has no doubt produced an air of mystery around his fledgling brand, Altuzarra doesn’t intend to keep it that way. “It’s like you don’t have an identity if you don’t have a dot com. But I’m not in it because I want to be in magazines. I’m interested in making clothes.”