From the fac­ulty of mis­fits

Neue Luxury - - News - By Hung Tran

Ni­cola Formichetti never met Andy Warhol—their life­spans over­lapped by ten years— but refers to the Amer­i­can artist as his “dream teacher”. Their post­mortem union tran­spired when Formichetti launched the Diesel World Ex­hi­bi­tion in Mel­bourne in March of 2016, where Warhol’s high-gloss al­beit chilled paint­ings of cul­tural icons were hang­ing in a ma­jor gallery. The pair’s par­al­lels are sim­ple: chil­dren of work­ing class par­ents whose imag­i­na­tions fought to keep up with the prodi­gious rate of artis­tic out­put. Warhol made his first self-por­trait in 1964, while Formichetti ap­pears on so many so­cial me­dia plat­forms one might be con­vinced there are at least ten of him. Formichetti’s cam­paigns for Diesel, star­ring rel­a­tively anony­mous mod­els cast through guer­rilla tal­ent scout­ing (he loves Tum­blr), re­dis­tribute Warhol’s prover­bial fif­teen min­utes of fame by mak­ing peo­ple fa­mous fif­teen times a day.

Formichetti was born in 1977, to a Ja­panese mother and an Ital­ian fa­ther. His mother was a stew­ardess and his fa­ther a pi­lot. Formichetti grew up be­tween Tokyo, where his usual haunts in­cluded Bud­dhist shrines, and Rome, where he im­bibed the florid ex­cesses of cathe­dral ar­chi­tec­ture. “My work is the fric­tion be­tween the two,” he says. “I was in a boy choir when I was su­per small, and just in awe of these crazy, in­cred­i­ble sculp­tures and paint­ings in Rome.” Here, Formichetti dis­cov­ered the work of Car­avag­gio, whose shadow- drenched oils pro­vided a hid­den fire es­cape for young souls ablaze. The de­signer’s in­spi­ra­tion would be solemn if it weren’t so feath­er­weight. “I don’t think about it too much,” he ut­ters, blithely, be­fore at­tempt­ing to in­hale the uni­verse. “I get in­spi­ra­tion from ev­ery­where.” Formichetti con­vinced his par­ents to let him study ar­chi­tec­ture in Lon­don, where he “at­tended one class and went club­bing for three years”.

Tokyo in the seven­ties had not yet be­come Asia’s first hotspot for lux­ury, and many women still pa­tro­n­ised a lo­cal tai­lor for their clothes. Formichetti was still a child when the starry names of the French fash­ion elite en­tered Ja­pan over the next decade. Backed by swelling con­glom­er­ates, they spear­headed the gen­tri­fi­ca­tion of pro­vin­cial en­claves into farms for glass and steel bou­tique nests. The de­sign­ers Rei Kawakubo and Yo­hji Ya­mamoto soon ce­mented their pres­ence in Paris, where they re­viled the West­ern canons of tai­lor­ing and beauty. They be­came mag­nets for women weary of Ver­sacean sex and Ar­manic drudge. Kawakubo’s sig­na­ture sil­hou­ette was that of a biped mar­su­pial—nar­row shoul­ders and bul­bous legs—whereas Ya­mamoto, who holds the fur­rowed face of a shaman, wrapped his mod­els in wing-like gath­ers of a moult­ing estuary bird. Alexan­der Mcqueen was one of few de­sign­ers in the West to hear their whis­pers of a new, hy­bridised beauty.

“He was one of the rea­sons I moved to Lon­don,” Formichetti re­mem­bers. Mcqueen’s de­signs had al­ready ap­peared in The Face and i-d, and the young ex­pat was de­ter­mined to move closer to his or­bit. “One day I was walk­ing with my friends in Shored­itch, East Lon­don, when they pointed at a build­ing and said, “Hey, that’s where that fa­mous de­signer Alexan­der Mcqueen works.” There was a bin bag sit­ting out­side, which we opened to see what we could find.” (There was noth­ing of note). Formichetti sup­ported him­self by dress­ing the win­dows at The Pineal Eye, which The In­de­pen­dent de­scribed as “crammed with one- off fash­ion items from cut­ting- edge de­sign­ers, sec­ond-hand Comme des Garçons and Yo­hji Ya­mamoto sourced from Ja­pan, cult ac­ces­sories and mag­a­zines”. There, Formichetti met the stylist Katy Eng­land from Dazed and Con­fused, who of­fered him a monthly style page in the mag­a­zine, which he called Eye Spy. Ten years later, he be­came the mag­a­zine’s cre­ative di­rec­tor.

The supreme al­le­gor­i­cal truth of be­ing a mis­fit—as Dis­ney has dis­cov­ered— is that dis­sent is heroic, and storm­ing the king­dom is the fi­nal tri­umph of the base­born. “The idea of lux­ury is very old-fash­ioned, very snob­bish,” Formichetti re­flects, “and I don’t come from that.” He is most of­ten noted as the stylist and con­spir­a­tor to Lady Gaga, whose deliri­ous cos­tumes trans­formed her into a holy ter­ror with seis­mic cul­tural power. Seem­ingly orig­i­nal and sin­gu­lar, her style in fact drew from a long fem­i­nine tra­di­tion that made fash­ion seem de­ific and au­thor­ity seem blasé. Dis­ney’s sugar-spun lead­ing ladies, like Cin­derella; its changelings, like Ariel; and its hero­ines, like Mu­lan, all re­fused to sub­mit to over­ar­ch­ing pow­ers and, when threat­ened with re­proof, sus­tained them­selves with fear­less self-pos­ses­sion. Formichetti stud­ied them well. “When I style some­one, it’s not to make them beau­ti­ful,” he says, “I like to push the idea of what they could be.”

Formichetti now works closely with Amer­i­can rap­per Brooke Candy, who he first dis­cov­ered in a mu­sic video by Cana­dian singer Grimes. “I thought, “Who is this crazy look­ing per­son?” I tweeted her and then we started chat­ting and do­ing shoots,” he re­calls. Formichetti ar­ranged the fash­ion for her Op­u­lence mu­sic video, re­leased in April of 2014. In the clip’s belly, Candy zooms down a tun­nel as lights race and re­cede be­hind her. As each frame flick­ers she adorns a dif­fer­ent piece of head­gear: stud­ded horns, hys­ter­i­cal mops, be­jew­elled antlers, and then, most im­pres­sively, a crown fluted like a pil­lar, which glis­tens ob­scenely. In Septem­ber of 2014, Formichetti styled Candy for the cover of Paper mag­a­zine. Her hands, folded as if in prayer, emerge from a leather sheath ex­cres­cent with jew­els. She ap­pears to as­sume the role of a cat­a­comb saint: a con­duit and pa­rade float with fleet­ing beauty and eter­nal van­ity. “I hate the word ‘styling’. Any­one can style. My mum can style,” Formichetti says. “It’s just me cre­at­ing—i hate that word, too!”

As the artis­tic di­rec­tor of Diesel—a ti­tle he also says he hates—formichetti pur­ports that his main vis­ual con­cern is rep­re­sen­ta­tion. “It’s very im­por­tant to rep­re­sent dif­fer­ent races, dif­fer­ent body types, dif­fer­ent beau­ties,” he muses. “For me, that’s a must, and for Diesel, it’s some­thing we have to do.” His first Diesel Re­boot cam­paign, wide­spread on so­cial me­dia with an ac­com­pa­ny­ing hash­tag, fea­tured mod­els that ran­kled the roy­al­ists whilst preen­ing the in­dus­try’s feath­ers of self-con­grat­u­la­tion. “I love to em­power peo­ple who are not nor­mally be­ing sup­ported in the in­dus­try,” he states. Among those fea­tured was Jil­lian Mer­cado, a model and writer with mus­cu­lar dys­tro­phy, who Formichetti used to see in clubs be­fore she ap­plied, on Tum­blr, to be cast in the cam­paign. That sea­son, Formichetti also re­leased an im­age of a tat­tooed model wear­ing a denim burqa, which was sub­se­quently scorned as an af­front to Is­lamic piety. He evinces fash­ion’s surest truth: that celebrity and con­tro­versy will em­balm you.

Diesel has al­ways toyed with the junc­tion be­tween fash­ion and sex­u­al­ity. In 1995, Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­pher David Lachapelle cap­tured what is ar­guably the brand’s most con­tro­ver­sial ad­ver­tise­ment: two lip-locked male sailors. The im­age was su­per­im­posed in the fore­ground of a litho­graph ti­tled Vic­tory! (1945), de­pict­ing sailors dis­em­bark­ing a ves­sel in ex­ul­ta­tions af­ter serv­ing in the Sec­ond World War. The im­age was widely re­garded to be a cri­tique of the Clin­ton Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ pol­icy, which banned openly gay, les­bian and bi­sex­ual Amer­i­cans from serv­ing in the mil­i­tary. In 2011, when Pres­i­dent Obama abol­ished the pol­icy, Renzo Rosso, the founder of Diesel and owner of the OTB (Only the Brave) con­glom­er­ate, made a dec­la­ra­tion on his Face­book page cel­e­brat­ing one of the land­mark po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions of the 21st cen­tury. “Six­teen years ago peo­ple wouldn’t stop com­plain­ing about this ad,” he wrote. “Now it’s fi­nally ac­cepted legally.” Kiss­ing Sailors is cur­rently owned by the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum in the UK.

These ten­sions— schol­ar­ship and sub­ver­sion, art rein­ter­preted for po­lit­i­cal ges­ture— is what strums Formichetti’s own artis­tic tune. In Fe­bru­ary of 2016, he styled trans­gen­der ac­tress Hari Nef, who stars in the award-win­ning se­ries Trans­par­ent, for the cover of Won­der­land mag­a­zine. “She’s the most in­cred­i­ble per­son,” he says. “And one of the most in­cred­i­ble look­ing.” Un­der Formichetti’s reign, Diesel cam­paigns have en­no­bled mod­els with vi­tiligo (Win­nie Har­low), for­mer Olympic swim­mers and cur­rent an­drog­y­nes (Casey Le­gler), and Hara­juku street style main­stays (Hi­rari Ikeda). “The motto at Diesel is that we want to be the al­ter­na­tive to lux­ury,” he starts. “We want to be be­tween lux­ury and con­tem­po­rary and street and high fash­ion— some­thing that feels more modern for to­day’s world.” His sub­jects seem to cir­cum­vent the agenda of tra­di­tional ad­ver­tis­ing. If you don’t want to be them, you at least recog­nise them. Formichetti’s work abrades our sense of what be­ing young means, and our par­ents’ mem­ory of ever hav­ing en­joyed it.

Formichetti’s oeu­vre rep­re­sents the un­der­dog and the newly-hatched. “I’ve al­ways been drawn to mis­fits be­cause I was al­ways one,” Formichetti says. “When I was liv­ing in Ja­pan I was a for­eigner, when I was in Italy I was a for­eigner, and when I moved to Lon­don I was a for­eigner.” The pri­va­tions of his child­hood equipped him with in­stinct, if noth­ing else, and he found friends in louche neigh­bour­hoods where club kids and die-hards sported fash­ion like bat­tle scars. “I think mis­fits are tak­ing over the world,” he beams. “We cling to­gether and have a weird posse.” Just as Warhol as­sem­bled and lev­i­tated a coup in The Fac­tory, where they laughed at the so­ci­etal tremors be­low, so does Formichetti in­sist on fash­ion go­ing “bananas”. Raf Si­mons re­con­sti­tuted the ven­er­a­ble house of Dior. J.W. An­der­son brought Loewe out of the palaces and into the prov­inces: leather crafters to the Span­ish royal fam­ily now have bus ads erected in Cam­den. Formichetti’s friend Demna Gvasalia, the Ge­or­gian fash­ion de­signer be­hind Vete­ments— a subter­ranean de­sign col­lec­tive— had re­cently shown his first col­lec­tion for Ba­len­ci­aga. Like an hour­glass, fash­ion in­verts its own sys­tem when the source of sus­te­nance tires and its mis­fits de­tect the sub­se­quent baro­met­ric change.

Formichetti and Rosso share a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship that, as with many creatives and their bil­lion­aire pa­trons, you gen­er­ally dis­cern from hearsay. “Renzo is be­hind me, and I didn’t have that kind of re­la­tion­ship with any­one when I was at Mu­gler,” notes the de­signer. “He in­vited me into the head­quar­ters in Italy, where he main­tains a shrine full of old-school Diesel from the 1980s and 1990s. He was like a kid, telling me the story of ev­ery gar­ment, how he made it, how he had gone trav­el­ling and dis­cov­ered this and that. I saw the work and told my­self that I didn’t want to erase the his­tory of what he had done.” In an ef­fort to make Diesel the “coolest” brand in the world, Formichetti will con­tinue de­vel­op­ing pre­mium denim and then, in the near future, re­leas­ing one cu­rated global col­lec­tion that re­in­forces a sin­gle vi­sion of Diesel. De­spite cel­e­brat­ing two years with the brand, Formichetti laments that he hasn’t “done any­thing yet”. Work­ing from the in­side out has en­abled him to plant his most el­e­men­tal creatives in the com­pany’s de­sign stu­dio, mar­ket­ing depart­ment and retail sec­tors.

Formichetti in­tends to pur­sue a chaotic sched­ule of con­sumer fac­ing events af­ter our con­ver­sa­tion. “I like peo­ple watch­ing,” he grins. For a mo­ment, though, I sus­pect he means peo­ple-watch­ing: con­crete sa­fari tours where mis­fits, wreathed in cig­a­rette smoke and groggy with en­nui, are beg­ging to be dis­cov­ered.

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