Nicola Formichetti is the architect of Lady Gaga’s fashion identity, which is almost to say that he built Gaga entirely. He’s a hotly sought-after imagemaker for alt-fashion bibles like Dazed, i-D, and Vogue Nippon. He’s the director of women’s fashion for Uniqlo, and, more recently and majorly, the creative director of the revamped (emphasis on “vamp”) Mugler line. And, because that’s not enough! He’s also the proud owner of a new pop-up shop, Nicola’s, in Soho, as well his own line of Nicopanda t-shirts and little accessories; these are kind of like band merch for his superfans. (It seems he has no other kind. Even here in Toronto, at the Royal York, he had ’em lined up outside his door, holding stuffed pandas–his spirit animal/trademark–in their arms.)
Fashion is to this generation what rock-and-roll was to generations before it; if they ever make a movie about Formichetti, it’ll be bigger than Almost Famous. This guy parties hard, works harder, and pisses off A-list fashion editors while making a boldface name out of Skeleton Boy; all of it makes him a role model for this new generation of anti-chic fashion workers. He, moreso even than the grotesquely silly Rachel Zoe, has given “celebrity stylist” two meanings. Now he’s doing the same with “celebrity designer.” Talking to “Nico” at The Room at The Bay, where he appeared Wednesday to promote Mugler, I understood why so many “fashion kids” these days want to be him–because, by the looks of things, being him means being it all.
So, how does he do it? Herewith, a few not-impossible guidelines to follow (right after you conveniently make friends with a mad pop star who’s about to take over the world).
Surround yourself with youth and beauty. Formichetti has one tattoo, an ancient Japanese symbol for “the centre of the world.” This seems like the true stamp of an egoist, but no, he swears his world revolves around everything but him. “I’m so blessed to working with such cool people,” he says. “All my team, they’re a bunch of crazy kids. Sometimes they’re, like, they don’t even show up in the morning, but they’re just so passionate about the way the look that I get inspired.” One of these kids is with him, a buzzed, bleached and bekilted boy who looks like a hotter young Jean-Paul Gaultier. When I say so, Formichetti says, “well, that’s why I hired him!” and only seems to be half-joking. In this industry, one man’s suspect hiring practices are another man’s first source of inspiration.
Live on the internet. Unlike so many creative personalities, Formichetti gives back to the internet, rather than just using it to get hits and attention. He interacts giddily with fans on Twitter and Tumblr and has thus earned an outsize following (to be sure, it also helps to have @LadyGaga as your #1 client). And, of course, he keeps two fingers on the culture-web’s racing pulse.
“When we’re on shoots, we’re always alone in the hotel, in the bedroom, so what you do is just go on YouTube and watch stupid movies,” he says. “Where else would you get inspiration? I wish I could go out more, though.”
Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. I’m beginning to ask whether people might have been skeptical of his trajectory from stylist du jour to designer of a major fashion-legacy revival, and Formichetti interrupts with an emphatic “I would be!” And, he’s hasty to add, he’s not the designer. Sebastian Peigne, who got schooled in tailoring by no less than Nicolas Ghesquiere at Balenciaga, is the designer.
“I was always the one that was kinda like, you know, just giving designers my opinions, not really knowing the construction,” says Formichetti. “That has’t really changed. Not that I don’t do the work, but it’s not just my vision. It’s a collaborative vision and that’s what I do with all our projects, from designing to marketing to merchandising. I’m just really lucky to be surrounded by all this amazing talent. That’s why I can multitask.”
This might seem totally obvs, but it’s rare in the world of fashion for the head designer or creative director to acknowledge the genius of anyone but him/herself. Formichetti’s there’s-no-I-in-TEAM spirit is what makes all those crazy cool kids want to work with him so badly.
“I could take it myself and hide everyone else, but I’m not like that,” he says. “I want to communicate to to people that everyone is part of something bigger. Otherwise, you lose your passion.”
Walk in your own shoes. Formichetti put a literal nail in the coffin of the chunky-heel trend, showing insanely pin-thin stilettos for this season. They looked like something he’d DIY for Gaga, and I wonder who but her could strut in them. Could he? “I did try them on,” he laughs, “but they were too small.” Hey, it’s a step.
Make everything “wearable and cool.” That’s more a stylist’s job than a high-end fashion designers, but as those lines are blurring (see also: Alexander Wang, whose talent is more styling than tailoring; Opening Ceremony for Kenzo), Formichetti’s distinctive acumen has served him well in his first year as Mugler boss. When Peigne talks about the archives and the architecture of Mugler, Formichetti interrupts to say that, yes, there’s a lot of intricate tailoring, but it’s not the first thing you see. “That jacket or that skirt looks effortless,” he says, “until you look inside.” And while on the runway, the clothes looked sometimes too fierce, too stage-y, in person they are softer, sexier, highly photogenic and surprisingly layerable: ergo, what every stylist (and his/her swish client) wants.
Don’t be a bloody snob. Formichetti cares intensely about what sells, what people (even, or especially, people who aren’t rich) want to wear, and what people are saying about his work. It’s a good thing, he says, that bloggers sit front-row and we’re no longer treating designers with such reverence or honouring the traditional hierarchy. “We’re all on the same level,” he says (from his perch at the top). “I know hairdressers who could do an amazing job designing fashion. I think a journalist can design a collection.” Really? “Totally.” Careful what you wish for, dude.