And so it begins. You knew it was coming from the moment you first saw Louis Vuitton and Supreme’s logo-orgy in January that others would soon follow. The template for Luxury Brand x Streetwear label had been forged and, really, the only question that remained was just how far it would go. Gucci x Huf weed socks anyone?
On the surface, the recently announced collaboration between Parisian street-inspired label Pigalle and storied Italian fashion house Missoni fits perfectly into that paradigm. Speared by Stephane Ashpool, the former is comprised of a gang of Robin Hoods-about-town – they collaborate with the rich and give to the needy, setting up Nike-sponsored basketball tournaments for the local kids of Pigalle, Paris’s answer to a red-light district. They also throw the best parties at fashion week, which usually follow an evening fashion show where the same kids from their neighbourhood typically take on the role of models for the evening. Missoni, on the other hand, is the venerable Lombardy-based brand whose colourful and coveted knitwear rakes in millions each year. On paper, this is a collaboration that is of the similar ilk of Supreme’s with Vuitton, or any of the others that we will soon see, as the lines between traditional “streetwear” and “luxury” dissipate.
But the two brands actually have more in common than you might think. Family, for a start. Despite its standing in the world of fashion, Missoni is still very much a family-owned enterprise. “Missoni is a big name but we are in fact a small company, we are really reachable,” explained Angela Missoni – daughter of Rosita and the brand’s current creative director – last week. “It's easy, you collaborate and you talk. The fact that we are not the corporate means we can make decisions very fast.” Rosita, the Missoni brand’s co-founder, passed the role of womenswear designer onto her daughter in 2008, like a cherished family heirloom, after losing interest in fashion. And amidst all the luxury conglomerate owned brands that dominate fashion’s landscape, there’s something reassuring, charming even, about a brand that is still family-owned – where Sunday lunch effectively doubles as a board meeting. It’s not uncommon to hear a fashion insider fondly recall dinner at the Missoni house – a warm, Italian affair rather than a formal press reception.
“But the two brands actually have more in common than you might think. Family, for a start”
For Stephane Ashpool, founder of Pigalle, a similar desire to keep thing “familial” is at the heart of his label. His mother still occasionally works in the brand’s retail store in Paris, with Ashpool at describing his vision for Pigalle as being like “a good handmade bakery.” There are, of course, few bakeries that can count both A$AP Rocky and Rihanna among its customers, but, according to Ashpool, celebrity co-signs matter little to him. “I never capitalised on t-shirts sales for a million dollars,” he says, reflecting on a time around five years ago when Pigalle’s simple logo t-shirt first blew up (thanks to the likes of Rocky and Rih) to become the hype product of 2012. “I knew that if I did that, we were just going to be a single hit. Like a music hit over summer, you know, it would follow you everywhere and then people move on the next one.” Instead, Ashpool went in the opposite direction, scaling back his operation and doing away with the wholesale side of his business to focus on the brand’s two stores, in Paris and Tokyo, with plans for one or two more at most, he says.
So not exactly the kind of Hypbeast-chasing attitudes you’d expect from brands trying to capitalise off an oncoming wave of Hype x High fashion collaborations. In fact, the two parties first opened a dialogue about working together several seasons ago, Angela Missoni explains. “I noticed Stephane when he won the ANDAM award, and then he invited me to his show a few seasons ago because he probably realised that we have certain common points. For example, my father was a sportsman, like he used to be, so there is a common starting point in sport for Missoni and Pigalle.”
Prior to founding Missoni with his wife Rosita, Angela’s father Ottavio had previously been an Olympic hurdler, representing Italy at the 1948 London Olympics and coming sixth. Ashpool, meanwhile, is a former basketball player, whose love of the game still heavily influences his work – both in the collaborative shoes he has created with Nike and in the establishment of the court in Pigalle where he still regularly coaches a team of local kids. “It came very naturally from my side,” says Ashpool of the collaborative capsule collection. “For a long time I’ve been following what Missoni do, and I’m a huge fan of the colour in their work. I read the story of Ottavio Missoni maybe ten years ago and I was really impressed by it, being a man into this industry having a past in sport. I could relate.”
As such, the collection (shot here by David Uzochukwu, who recently captured FKA twigs for Nike) includes a decorative basketball with woven Missoni fabric panels which draw from the Japanese art of Temari, acting as a nod to both brand’s respective heritages. The rest is sportswear of the kind that isn’t likely to ever see a basketball court or a running track, with woven of interlocking Missoni-fabrics creating a patchwork of bold colours. The result is a collection that seems to subconsciously mimic the richness of Pigalle’s namesake neighbourhood – one of Paris’ most diverse, it’s a melting pot of Arabs, Africans and Europeans – as colours and styles are clashed with fervour. “My father used to say that 1500 years ago up on the Andes they were copying him already,” laughs Angela Missoni. “What you can always expect from both of is a lot of colour,” adds Ashpool.
“My father was a sportsman, like Stephane used to be, so there is a common starting point in sport for Missoni and Pigalle” – Angela Missoni
On the subject of collaborations devised by cold, calculating marketing executives, designed to rake in cash, both parties refuse to give their opinion. Their silence is perhaps telling enough. “I cannot judge what the others do because I don't really know what happens in other ateliers,” says Angela Missoni. “I can only tell you how it works with me.” This, she says, is not one of those types of partnerships, admitting that any exposure or new audience reach that would come from working with a brand like Pigalle is merely an afterthought. It is said in a way that you can only assume was accompanied by a shrug, seemingly bemused at why anyone would chase the idea of being cool. For Ashpool, you sense that he is truly a Missoni-aficionado, relishing both the chance to work with a brands that he has long admired and the validation that comes with it; not everyone gets to team up with fashion’s most storied houses.
At various points during our conversation, Ashpool and Missoni interject to finish each other’s points. Not even the most calculated of PR people could have coached such convincing synchronicity – as if they had practised this for years over family dinners and at encounters at the occasional sporting event. They are from quite different worlds, Pigalle and Missoni, but share many of the same values. There will undoubtedly be more collaborations to come this year which follow a simple formula of luxury-meets-street, but this, it would seem, certainly isn’t one of them.
Missoni X Pigalle will be available later this month exclusively in Colette in Paris, Dover Street Market in Ginza and in Pigalle stores.
Follow Calum Gordon on Twitter here @calumtrc