Recently I sat down with fashion designer Antonio Berardi and to say that my conversation with him was fascinating is an understatement. Here’s the results of our chat.
Tod Hallman: Tell me about your inspiration for Fall 2013.
Antonio Berardi: For Fall I went slightly architectural and I was looking primarily at the architect, Niemeyer. If there were an architect that I could pull from that was similar in aesthetic to me, it would be him. I find his work to be modern, sensual and sexy architecture and I think it’s withstood the test of time. For me, what I do is not necessarily perceived as being right now, but it is in a subtle way and hopefully it has longevity. I try to design clothes that my customer can buy and wear longer than 6 months. At first glance the pieces seemed very flat as they moved down the runway but as they got closer, you could see the flourishes and shape of each piece. It’s nice when you’re able to discover the nuances and that’s my thing as well. I want women to see it, pick it up, fall in love with it and once they get home they’ll be able to really discover the details.
TH: What is your typical day like as a designer?
AB: My day starts with coffee and taking out the dog then I check the news on the Internet and read the English papers. My design team is very small and there are only five of us (including the PA) and we do everything. Twice a week we sit down and compare notes because I want them to feel like they’re part of the process. I don’t want them to feel like I’m the person that just says, “Yes or no!” We all do whatever is needed. We typically start the day at 10am and end at 7pm. At least my team ends the day at 7pm because they have a life and I have less of one. Certain days, I may have a fitting and I drive to Impruneta (in Italy) where the factory is. I tend to spend a lot of time there tweaking and adjusting designs. I’m extremely hands on.
TH: As a top-tier fashion designer what are the pressures to conform to the latest trends and is this something that concerns you?
AB: I don’t believe in the idea of trends. What happens is, you may take a handful of designers and they happen to do something in red and so red becomes a trend. A handful of designers do something that’s very 40’s and the 40’s become a trend. Designers look to what they want to do. We can listen to a piece of music one day and the next day we hear something different and that’s the trip we’re on. Or we see a movie and suddenly that inspires us. I think things can fit in if they need to fit in and that’s also the nature of our business. You can pull things under an umbrella, but when you sit and talk to people individually, things may appear similar, but the ideas behind them are most likely worlds apart.
TH: What inspired you to become a designer?
AB: My parents were from Sicily and they moved to England. My siblings and myself were all born in England. The idea for my parents was that the four walls we lived in were a little part of Sicily; all of our traditions were upheld. We spoke the dialect in the house, never English. And it was very much those things, which once upon a time I guess you did and it was your way of showing people who you were. My parents were very much about that we had to look a certain way; we had to dress a certain way because other people would perceive us in that way or in the way they wanted us to be perceived. It was about how we dressed and the wardrobe we had.
AB: When we would go to Sicily for the summer, you had to dress for the airport because you didn’t know whom you were going to meet. You also had to dress for church and you couldn’t wear the same thing for church each week. I have three sisters, if they went to a party they had to have the best dress and they couldn’t have the same dress as someone else; my parents would drive for hours looking for the perfect dress.
AB: Plus, I had an army of aunties and my grandmothers who would embroider, crochet, and make bobbin lace. It was a process. One did some form of embroidery, one was a dressmaker, another one would do the lace edging and it was something I grew up around.
AB: And then of course, I was quite brainy. Like any good immigrant parents, they want their sons to be a doctor or a lawyer. I was studying to go to University and major in medicine. Then one day, I thought to myself, this isn’t really what I want do and I changed the course of everything. I enrolled in Art School and then from there I went to Central St. Martins. But before, St. Martins I had a job with John Galliano and once I got into St. Martins I continued working with John in the evenings. I was doing production and it was an extremely hands on job, knowing that the clothes needed to look a certain way. I ended up working for him for four and a half years; even when I was at school and took a year off from school to go to Paris
TH: So today at this moment in time, how would you describe your success as a fashion designer?
AB: I’m really a regular person. For me it’s really just a job, but a job that I love and I think I’m lucky to be able to do what I love. I’m sure it’s envious for most people. But success is very relative and it can be a flash in the pan. I’m under no illusions, that one-day people like what you do and tomorrow they don’t. I just strive to do things slowly but surely and I continue to move forward. In the beginning, you can take leaps and bounds and people become aware of what you do (even journalists become aware) and what they expect from you. Eventually, you find your niche, which makes it very difficult to chop and change from season to season. For me, I’ll be working on one thing, one season and it doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll throw that out the window and start something fresh for the next season; it’s a progression.
TH: So if you weren’t a fashion designer, you would have gone into medicine?
AB: Probably, if not I would have loved to be a DJ. I actually used to DJ a lot. As a kid, my father had lots of people that worked for him and it was during a time in the UK when we had mods, rockers and then it turned into punk. But, on the other hand I lived in a part of England that was very much into soul music. I grew up around everything from The Beatles to The Rolling Stones, to soul music from Motown and then it went into jazz funk and eventually house music. What I love is that you can go back and see where all of the comparisons came from. In India, I was listening to old Bollywood music from the 70’s and I swear it was like listening to Chicago house music. I think we live our life to a beat and on the journeys that we take and the countries we may visit.
TH: Who is your muse?
AB: I like strong women because I grew up around strong women. I grew up around an army of Sicilian women who were incredibly feminine but at the same time they wore the pants. I like a woman who is feminine and can be in control all at the same time; kind of like the Madonna-whore complex, but in a good way. A muse for me is a woman who is confident, in control and I like hot women, I have to be honest. I like a woman who knows who she is.
TH: How would you describe your own personal sense of style?
AB: I’m really boring. I mostly wear jeans and sneakers and that’s it. Today, I made the effort, but it still has to be a part of me, otherwise I would feel like an idiot. Eventually, as you get older you fit into your skin and I’ve come to realize that this is good for me. I’m lucky in the sense that, doing what I do I can wear dirty sneakers and it’s fine, it’s allowed. Today I wore a clean pair (that I purchased in Japan) because it still has to feel like it’s a part of me.
TH: So any plans for a footwear or handbag collection?
AB: I’m actually doing a collaboration with Rupert Sanderson. He has a factory and it’s a collaboration in the sense that he lets me do what I do and then he makes the shoes. I source everything and everything that I want. We still have discussions, but the nice thing is that he is incredibly magnanimous. He’s a very nice man and the great thing is that he loves what I do and I love what he does and never the two shall meet because what I do doesn’t look like Rupert Sanderson and what he does doesn’t look like what I do.
TH: What about a menswear collection?
AB: I would love to one day. I would love to see a Givenchy show for men. I think Ricardo has done amazing things that have filtered down and he is so brilliant. But I also think a lot of menswear shows can be really boring. If it were up to me to do menswear, it would most likely consist of ten pieces each season of items that I can’t find as well as shirts and jackets that do have the right proportions, along with the perfect pea coat and the perfect V-neck sweater that’s not too high at the neck and doesn’t look like it belongs to my father; just ten pieces of things that I would want in every color.
TH: We’re living in the age of designer collaborations, would you ever consider designing a capsule collection for Topshop or H&M?
AB: That’s a difficult question to answer. I design for a certain type of woman and I wouldn’t want to water it down for her. You can do those collaborations, but I think on one hand it’s a good thing because it’s for everyone, but on the other hand you’re watering down the essence of who you are as a designer. Right now, I would probably say no because I wouldn’t want my customers to feel cheated. If it were something completely different by Antonio Berardi then I would consider it.
TH: If I looked on your iPod what would your top five songs be?
AB: What I’ve really been listening to strangely enough is “Holy Grail” by Jay Z and Justin Timberlake. A track called “Ya Rayah” by Rachid Taha. I went to Morocco a few years ago and heard it at a friend’s wedding. It’s an amazing track, you would love it actually and it’s definitely a sexy track. Then there’s a DJ called, Late Nite Tuff Guy, he’s an Australian DJ that does amazing remixes, by adding great beats and drums and extending tracks. He recently did a remix of “The Beautiful Ones” by Prince and it’s absolutely amazing. I’ve also been listening to, “Back To Love” by The Brand New Heavies simply because it brings back memories and I’ve been listening to it a lot. Those are literally on constant rotation right now. The fifth top song on my iPod is a new track by The Artic Monkeys and the lead singer sings in a Northern accent and obviously I’m from the North of England and I love any Northern accent.
The fall 2013 Antonio Berardi collection is available at www.s5a.com