Empowerment, Homelands and Anime: A Conversation with Designer Joseph Altuzarra

With another Paris Fashion Week done and dusted, we sat down with Joseph Altuzarra to talk about how his Chinese-American-French background influences his designs, his fascination with Japanese cinema and New York's creative scene.

Look after look he brought together contrasting textures and styles that created a complex dynamic and added an air of coolness to the brand's identity. While in previous seasons the brand has established its timeless sophistication and chicness, this collection felt more current thanks to cropped babydoll sweaters paired with fishnet skirts and sleeveless summer dresses with fur vests. That's not to say it was too trendy or young; the designer struck a balance.

We sat down with Altuzarra after the show to talk about his background, thoughts on fashion, and the relationship between sexiness and female empowerment.

Why did you decide to leave NYFW and move your show to PFW?

It was very much a personal decision for me. I was born and raised in Paris, and while my mother is Chinese-American, I feel as French as I am American. We founded the company in New York in 2008, but showing in Paris one day had always been something that I had been thinking about; this season it felt like the timing was right.

Our last issue focused on homelands and the variety of places we call home. Do both Paris and New York feel like home to you?

Yes, definitely. Paris is where I was born and grew up - I associate the city with a lot of my childhood memories. I moved to New York after college and that's where I fell in love, started my business and got married. So I definitely connect to the cities differently, though both very personally.

How would you describe the difference in French and American fashion aesthetics? How are you inspired by each?

Through the French lens, I think there is a certain sense of sexiness and seductiveness that is both nonchalant and effortless. It's quite specific - this idea of "bobo" (bon chic bon genre) very much resonates with the neighbourhood in which I grew up. In terms of American, I find inspiration in a lot of classical workwear and motifs, whether it's the button-down shirt, the shearling coat or the cowboy's bull rope (the starting point for the Ghianda handbag collection).

What is your opinion on the creative scene in New York at the moment?

It's exciting. With the new crop of designers who are embracing uniqueness and individuality, building their brands through social media - from Gypsy Sport and Telfar to Brandon Maxwell.

How did winning the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund change your trajectory?

It was definitely a humbling experience - winning the CVFF Award was amazing in terms of the mentorship and industry support we received.

You talk a lot about sexiness. How does that relate to female empowerment?

I find a woman most sexy when she is confident and sure of who she is; her identity and her sexuality.

How do you understand fashion as a business versus fashion as an art?

Fashion is a business, but one that evokes emotion and feeling.

Can you explain the inspiration behind your SS18 collection?

I looked to Hayao Miyazaki's animated film Princess Mononoke and its theme of nature versus industry. The film centres around the conflict between the Gods of the Forest and the humans who consume its resources. This narrative and the rich, fantasy-laced world in which the story takes place was the starting point for the collection. It inspired an exploration of home knitting and sewing, of the handmade and the homemade, of the imperfect and the undone, of pagan rituals as documented by Charles Freger in his Wilder Mann series and of fantasy and dreams. At its core, this collection is about loss of innocence, growing up and embracing fearlessness.

What is your opinion on making shows theatrical?

I truly feel that every brand should do what feels right for them and their business.

How do you think Paris as a backdrop will change the reception of your collection?

It will be very interesting to see!

How will you wind down after fashion week?

I will have dinner with my closest family and friends.

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Making his Paris Fashion Week debut, Joseph Altuzarra showcased a captivating SS18 collection that spoke to his varied sources of inspiration, embodied his homecoming and highlighted his growth as a designer.

Prior to the show, guests received an invitation with a childhood picture of Altuzarra in Paris that set the stage before complimentary show notes furthered the conversation. In addition to creating a collection that iterated Altuzarra's American and French background, the designer added an additional layer to the story for which he drew inspiration from a Japanese anime film. With such diverse influences, it would be easy for the collection to feel disconnected, but this is not the case; Altuzarra pulled it off seamlessly.