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On breaking out as a young designer
I started Altuzarra in 2008 pre-Instagram, pre-social media. It was very different. I grew up in Paris and worked at Givenchy and a bunch of other companies before I started my own company. I decided to start it in New York partly because I love it so much, but also because it was impossible to be a young designer in Paris. There are so many big houses in Paris, and no one would really take you seriously, and there wasn’t really any support for young designers there. New York was so welcoming, and the community really embraced new talent, and that was really attractive.
I talk to a lot of young people today who want to start companies. Back when I did it in 2008, there was a very prescribed way of starting a company — you had to talk to the right people, get in front of the right editors and the right buyers. What’s kind of amazing — both amazingly hard but also amazing in its freedom and opportunity — is that there are no more rules. You can go on Instagram, have a great business that’s direct-to-consumer without ever relying on magazines or wholesale. It’s challenging because there’s no [single] roadmap, but there is a freedom there.
On reflecting his multicultural identity in fashion
I always had a little bit of an identity crisis because I came from a lot of different places. When you’re trying to build any type of business, people tend to want to put you in a box. You’re a French designer, or an American designer, or a Chinese designer. and you’re really supposed to speak to one idea. I was brought up with a very multicultural upbringing and with a lot of different traditions and ideas, and it was hard to try to constantly explain to people that I was American but also these other things, or I was French but also these other things.
The way in which it has translated into my work is that I’ve always been very curious about my own culture, and how identity can be made up of different things. When I work on my collections, the way I imagine the women I’m dressing is [based on] crafting identities from different points of view and different narratives and not from a single perspective. Being this multicultural person has helped me have that dialogue.
On the rise of seasonless fashion
The reality is the way designers and buyers were presenting collections to customers was so out of sync with how they were buying and wearing clothes. It used to be that 15 years ago, people were building their fall wardrobe in July and getting ready for the season. Now, that’s not the case. When it’s December you want to buy a winter coat, not July when [you’re in] sweltering heat.
We’ve done a lot of thinking around our collections — what we offer at what time and guiding stores as to how we want things to be rolled out. But the reality too is that our market has become bigger and more global. In December, we may be talking to someone who is living in cold-climate New York, but we’re also talking to someone who is living in Australia who may need a summery dress. Basically every season has become for every climate. Spring/Summer has winter coats because some of [the collection] is arriving as early as November, and we also have super sexy skimpy dresses because some of it is arriving in July. You’re having to account in every season for every delivery.
It’s difficult because people are conditioned to wanting to see new things all the time, so you’re really having to think about how [to] bring freshness and newness to the customer while speaking the same language they’re used to seeing. That tightrope can be really difficult.
On Altuzarra’s upcycled collection Recrafted
[Sustainability] has been at the core of our thinking over the last two years [for] a few different reasons. There’s a moral reason, which is we have all this deadstock fabric we never used going back to 2008, and how can we use it up in interesting ways?For instance, [for] the whole Recrafted initiative, we took old silks that we shredded into yarn and then we knit those yarns into sweaters. We’re developing a lot of new techniques around this idea of how [to] use old deadstock fabric.
And then to be totally honest, during the pandemic, we were trying to figure out how [to] make money. We had all this fabric sitting in a warehouse we didn’t have to pay for, so we [thought], “Why don’t we use this fabric and find interesting ways to reuse it?” So it’s speaking to people’s values and it also happens to be helping our bottom line as well.
We’re going to be [using] about 75 per cent either organic or recycled fibres in all of our fabrics and yarns. We’re also using a lot of natural dyes — dyeing is really the biggest issue in sustainability, so we’re using a lot of dyes that come from either minerals, or flowers, or insects. There is also a side to sustainability which people don’t talk about, which is [to] make less samples. Just be more decisive about what you want. Don’t launch 800 things knowing you’re going to cancel 400.
[Sustainability] was not something our core customer was necessarily looking for, but what we’ve seen [is that] through a lot of these capsules and innovations, we’ve attracted a new audience that is younger. They’re more focused on this responsible consumerism, and it’s really interesting to see a new, younger customer come to Altuzarra.
On the impact of Covid-19
I lost all creative inhibition during lockdown. I went into full survival mode. [My thinking] became, let’s get down to what we need to do and be really free in our thinking. This idea of using inventory fabric and deadstock fabric is not something I would have considered before because I would have [thought]: “ I don’t know if I want to put old fabric on the runway, what are people going to say?” [But] it became, if it feels right, and it feels interesting, let’s do it.
I also think the definition of luxury from 10 years ago, which we’ve all been working under, has changed. I think people’s values have changed. The idea of what is luxurious is different and what constitutes a luxury product is different. Maybe today the idea of thinking responsibly is a luxury. Maybe it’s material innovation. I don’t know if it’s even tied to the price point as much anymore as the thought process behind it.