Joseph Altuzarra is perhaps the hottest designer working in New York City right now; his clothes are downright sizzling, with va-va-voom lace-up velvet-and-leather sheaths and skirts slit up to there. So it’s a little funny to find out that he started his insouciant, sexy label for … his mom.
“Twenty years ago, if you were a 55- or 60-year-old woman you were confined to wearing your Chanel tweed suit,” the 30-year-old explained at a recent talk at the French Institute Alliance Francaise in Manhattan. “But I was witnessing through my mother that women in their 50s and 60s still want to be the main characters in their lives, and still want to be seductive and sexy.”
Indeed, it’s that sort of surprising, almost counterintuitive thinking that has made Altuzarra such an exciting voice in fashion. We met up with the soft-spoken, sweet-natured designer — don’t let his saucy leather pants fool you! — backstage before his talk, where he revealed a few more surprising facts about his life.
He took ballet for nine years
Altuzarra not only studied dance from the time he was 5 until he turned 14, he credits the ballet with sparking his interest in clothing. “My earliest fashion memory is going to the ballet when I was 5 or 6,” he tells us. “The most exciting thing was going backstage and seeing the costumes. There was a piece of tulle lying on the ground, and I took it with me. I still have it in a scrapbook somewhere.”
He didn’t study fashion
Altuzarra actually majored in art history at Swarthmore College, outside of Philadelphia. “It was sort of through art history that I became really interested in fashion imagery,” he says at the talk. He learned design on the job, first as an intern at Marc Jacobs and then apprenticing with a pattern maker, before moving back to Paris to work at Givenchy. “I know they had asked an intern to alphabetically organize the resumes,” he says when asked how he snagged the Jacobs job. “So I was at the top of the pile and was the first one called.”
He was born in Paris but prefers the States
And, unlike everyone else in the world, he doesn’t think American women are hopelessly frumpy in comparison to their European counterparts. “French women can learn from Americans’ ease and pragmatism,” he says. “And American women wear a lot more prints. I love that.”
He canceled his first appointment with Anna Wintour … and has lived to tell the tale.
When Altuzarra launched his label in 2008, he got a rare opportunity to show his first collection to the Vogue editor. One problem: “I was flying back from Paris with a suitcase full of my first collection … which got lost the day before I was supposed to meet her.” He had to call and postpone, but met up with Wintour a week later. “I was totally terrified.”