Alessandro Dell’Acqua on creative cocooning; Covid-19’s aftermath and self-absorbed influencers
Few designers were busier than Alessandro Dell’Acqua when coronavirus cruelly claimed its first victims in Milan and Paris, at the same time as the women’s ready-to-wear seasons in Europe. For the simple reason that Dell’Acqua staged shows in both cities, right when the realization of how dangerous the pandemic really is first began to hit the world – and the fashion industry.
Dell’Acqua staged the 10th anniversary collection of his own house, N°21, in Milan on February 19. Four days later, on Sunday, Feb 23, amid the first media reports of deaths from Covid-19 in Lombardy, Giorgio Armani announced he would hold his runway show behind closed doors, as the streets of Milan and supermarket shelves rapidly emptied. By February 26, when Alessandro presented his final collection for Rochas inside the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, scores of people had already died.
At the time, Armani was criticized by some for insufficient esprit du corps, especially after all but two designers on the official French calendar went ahead and staged their shows. With hindsight, it seems remarkable given the widespread medical opinion (which states that social distancing is essential to stop the growth of the virus) that literally hundreds of editors, buyers, publicists and models all rubbed shoulders, sitting side by side at scores of shows just five weeks ago. Meaning only two months after the first news reports about coronavirus came in from Wuhan.
“Perhaps we would have had to be more responsible and act more quickly. I think the best example is Giorgio Armani, who, before anyone else, bravely decided to show behind closed doors,” said Dell’Acqua.
Many people are already predicting that the pandemic will leave a lasting mark of fashion, to which Dell’Acqua responds: “I think we will need to concentrate on less collections, smaller collections, but more quality and creativity. We will all have to focus on local talents and local production.”
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“Nothing will be the same, our life will change drastically. Generally, I think that we will all have to take more responsible and ethical behavior on all levels,” said the designer in series of email responses from Milan.
Since returning to Italy, Alessandro has been in lockdown with his partner in Milan.
“I am at home in self isolation with my partner and my dog Gringo. The rest of my family is in Naples, I miss them terribly, especially my nephews but luckily they are all well,” adds Dell’Acqua, who was born in the charming Chiaia neighborhood of Naples.
N°21 is based in Milan, and him and his team connect regularly via video conferencing, although Alessandro clearly yearns for the daily interaction with his tight-knit team.
“All my team is currently safe and healthy. We are all connected with each other from home in smart working. As a creative director, I am really missing the relationship with the production team, especially with pattern-makers and seamstresses. I lack a personal and continuous exchange with my style office and my press office,” he revealed.
Given the current context, with death’s ugly hand taking thousands worldwide daily, it seems odd to note that Dell’Acqua is often described as one of fashion’s great survivors.
After studying advertising graphics at Istituto d'arte Umberto Boccioni in Naples, he took an eight-hour train journey to Milan in 1982. At the age of 18, he landed his first job as a junior designer in Brera. In a remarkable apprenticeship, Alessandro worked for Gianni Versace and Donatella Girombelli before launching his own brand in 1996. After immediate critical acclaim and growing commercial success, his initial investor fled to Mustique, and Dell’Acqua struggled on until losing control of his name in 2009. Therefore joining a club of lauded designers who also lost their own names – Halston, Roland Mouret and Helmut Lang, to name but a few.
However, within a couple of years, he found a white knight in Paolo Gerani of Iceberg, and together they have grown N°21 into one of Italy’s most happening brands. A style noted for its blend of the perverse with the sensual, along with a touch of torbido, meaning torrid in Italian. The brand now retails in 500 stores worldwide.
No wonder he is impatient to get back to work.
“As an entrepreneur, I keep up with the updates in terms of regulations and cannot wait to be able to have all the employees back in the office with me,” he says.
Inevitably, the isolation has begun to affect his creative ideas. Plus, the decision of the main continental menswear organizers to postpone the June salons and runway seasons in Florence, Milan and Paris, means Alessandro will have to radically reorganize his company’s schedule.
“I managed to deliver the pre-collection and the men’s collection. In terms of production, we will prioritize the pre-collection, which will be more of a focus. The men’s collection will be smaller too and hopefully, if production timing will allow, it will be integrated with women’s show collection in September,” he explains.
The lockdown has also allowed him time for something that was almost impossible before – talent spotting.
“I spend most of the time in a long day dedicating myself to the search for emerging international designers, which - alas - in normal times I have no time to do. And I am going through my personal archive, photography books and old fashion magazines to get inspired,” he notes.
During cocooning, Alessandro’s Instagram is a blend of sketches; work in progress ideas; archive photos such as a marvelous Juergen Teller image of Stephanie Seymour in bourgeois underwear on a five-star hotel bed; and, curiously, a 1998 WWD news story announcing that Helmut Lang would become the first designer to present a show just on the Net.
“I am in fact spending a lot of time on Instagram. I feel like being closed to my community through my passion for fashion. I have been posting many images of my recent and old work, of designers that I have always loved such as Helmut Lang and of young and upcoming designers such as Nensi Dojaka,” says Alessandro.
February also saw the end of his tenure at Rochas, after a seven-year stint where he injected a much-needed dose of classy Italian panache into the Paris house. Which was when he first began to comprehend the scale of the pandemic.
“The news of increasing number of contagious people in Italy really affected me. Fortunately, nobody from my family, my staff or my close circle of friends has be affected” adds a relieved Dell’Acqua.
The sheer brutal enormity of Covid-19 has also sparked an enormous Internet debate about the self-absorption of influencers and how it now looks passé and selfish.
“I think that really few influencers have been taking a real position in this difficult situation. In the future true and honest content will be key to survive,” he argues.
Looking ahead, he sees an era where, “we will all be more distant but digitally connected at the same time…. We will keep the passion and the love for what we do. But we will have to discard anything that it is not essential, unnecessary and excessive.”
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