Paris born Joseph Altuzarra is part of a new generation of young American designers staking their claim. Since 2008 he’s imbued his designs with an effortless sense of downtown cool, whether it’s in the nomadic embellishments that defined his breakout AW12 show or his most recent collection, which steered more towards the minimal and was simply inspired by ‘the streets’. We caught up with the designer in New York to talk about interning, French women and Girls, whilst Dazed's Emma Wyman styles a shoot of archive looks.
Dazed Digital: What’s your earliest memory of being attracted to fashion in any shape or form?
Joseph Altuzarra: I remember seeing this French movie when I was young with Catherine Deneuve called Peau d'Âne. It’s about a princess that’s forced to wear a donkey skin but she also has these three incredibly beautiful dresses; one is made out of the sun and one is made out of the moon and I can’t remember what the third one is made out of. But I think from there, I was attracted to the transformative power of fashion.
DD: You’re not a formally-trained, you’ve assisted a lot of amazing people. What lessons have you learnt from these experiences?
Joseph Altuzarra: When I first started, I was interning for Marc Jacobs in the studio and I really didn’t know anything to be perfectly honest. It was a very small studio and I was basically helping Marc and the design team, which were two people at the time. They were just amazing. They taught me a lot about how to bring a collection together and they were incredibly generous with their time. I went to work for Jack and Lazaro from Proenza Schouler after and there I learnt a lot more about how a small company is run. Then I went to Givenchy and that was really where I learnt how to cut and honed my design skills technically. It was really incredible and Riccardo was so generous with me because I was so eager when I got there. He gave me huge responsibilities for my age.
DD: Having grown up in Paris, you often refer back to your aesthetic as being a little bit French. Do you think the France is less fearful of being sexy than America?
Joseph Altuzarra: French women have more confidence with their bodies. I always say that American culture is a culture of correction. There’s the fitness culture, the nutrition culture, the culture of plastic surgery – it’s all about honing in on your flaws and correcting them. In France, it’s more about embracing your body, and definitely over time embracing your age as well. If you look at French movies, going back as far as the 40s or the 50s, women who were over 40, were still considered very sexy. I just don’t think it’s something that’s as prevalent in the U.S. but I think it’s changing.
DD: In the past, you’ve cited Tom Ford as an influence for you. What about his work appealed to you? Is it still the case?
Joseph Altuzarra: It wasn’t so much the clothing that was an influence. When I was a teenager I didn’t necessarily have such a happy high school life. I was a little bit of a loner. Tom Ford was a bit like the Gianni Versace of my generation. He represented this world where you could be gay and you could have a fabulous life and I think that was always something that was enormously inspiring to me. He was doing Gucci and YSL and was incredibly successful, with Carine [Roitfeld] setting the tone for an entire era in fashion, the era I grew up in. Similar to the way people in their late 30s talk about Gianni Versace is the way my generation talks about Tom Ford.
DD: Speaking of your generation, it seems as though there’s a new generation of young American designers making their mark such as yourself, Alexander Wang, Prabal Gurung. How does your generation differ from past generations of designers?
Joseph Altuzarra: I’m very close with Alex, we’re very good friends. I think there was a bit of a paradigm shift in how the fashion system was operating. It sort of started in London and in New York at similar times. Instead of all of the focus being on these really big houses, a lot of designers were starting their own houses and building it from the ground up. In New York, it began with Jack and Lazaro and Zac Posen. In London, it was Giles and Christopher Kane. There’s an important distinction that makes young designers like myself and Alex work differently than other people, in that when we started our own companies, we had to be very business minded and think not only about the clothing but also about sales. We have limited budgets so when we design collections we have to design for the runway and make sure it’s exciting and challenging but that it’s also something that buyers can buy. That’s a very different discourse from the bigger houses because they have bigger budgets and they can have runway collections that are completely different to what they’re showing in the showroom. But I do think that after the recession there was this sense that people wanted to buy what was on the runway. They wanted the runway to be wearable.
DD: That makes a lot of sense. Your clothes are definitely wearable – Allison Williams from Girls has been wearing a lot of Altuzarra recently. Are you a fan of the show?
Joseph Altuzarra: Yeah, I am a fan of the show. I think it’s incredibly funny and it’s incredibly clever as well. It’s interesting to see a generation portrayed with such rawness and realism. She’s lovely and talented too. I’m very flattered that she likes the clothing.
DD: You’ve said ‘I’m comfortable with the idea that I’m the flavour of the month and in a couple of years people might not think I’m cool anymore.’ What’s the trick to staying relevant and not just being part of the hype machine?
Joseph Altuzarra: I’m not a very press hungry person. I’m very comfortable doing what I do and not going to parties. I think being overexposed or constantly seeking out press can be one’s downfall sometimes. I’m always careful about that. Part of that is also having a very balanced life. You have to realise that this is a part of my life, but not all of it. I have a wonderful partner and a very happy personal life. My happiness doesn’t depend on my professional success only.
Photography Brandon Wickenkamp
Styling Emma Wyman
Hair Dana Boyer using Oribe
Make-up Kanako Takase using Mac
Model Kayley Chabot at Next
Photographic assistant Kelsey Rose
Casting Noah Shelley for AM Casting
Get updates direct to your inbox with the Dazed bi-weekly newsletter