WKND Interview: 'Glamour comes with great contrasts' says creative director of Roberto Cavalli Maison, Fausto Puglisi

Mariella Radaelli/Dubai
Filed on June 17, 2021

The fashion designer and connoisseur speaks to us about why fashion is fuelled by disruption and how his future collections may be inspired by Dubai

Like a modern-day alchemist, designer to the stars Fausto Puglisi is re-distilling, reshaping and reinventing the vocabulary of the luxury house Roberto Cavalli that, for five decades, has been contributing to the history of fashion through flamboyant, sensual clothes.

Puglisi, 44, was appointed the new creative director of Roberto Cavalli Maison last October. The historic Tuscan fashion house was bought in 2019 by Hussain Sajwani, the founder and president of Damac Properties, through his private investment company Vision Investments. “I am so thrilled that Roberto Cavalli now has the backing of the DICO group and Mr. Sajwani to give the label what it needs to do what it does best — setting fashion trends and epitomising luxury apparel,” Puglisi tells wknd. The Italian fashion designer who has dressed top celebrities ranging from Whitney Houston to Madonna, from Jennifer Lopez to Kylie Minogue and Rihanna, speaks about his new mission at Cavalli’s by revealing his zestful vision.

Q: How are you going to refresh Roberto Cavalli’s identity and heritage?

Just by being myself. But at the same time, I’ll respect yet twist out of shape the unique codes of a fashion house that made women and men around the world dream…

Q: What are the key concepts to focus on in this new chapter of Cavalli?

The core concepts that represent my creative direction are inclusion, richness, Italianness, sexiness, all resulting into a vivid, vibrant, and fearless aesthetic. I will keep developing my messages of inclusion and beauty. I want to amplify the dialogue between cultures, diversity and multiplied aesthetic. Dialogue and multiculturalism are the real riches that can save us.

Q: You said you want to “amaze” Roberto Cavalli himself, the Florentine designer who founded the house in the early 1970s “because he deserves it.” So, will you magnify Cavalli’s identity in its stylistic audacity and anti-minimalism?

The DNA of Cavalli that has made history can only be valued and celebrated. We want to interpret that DNA and speak the future’s language by breaking habits and offering new content and aesthetic codes. Like Frank Sinatra, another Sicilian, said, I will do it “my way”.

Q: Right, because you were born in Messina, Sicily, an island at the crossroads of history. Is there a link between your designs and the aesthetic, artistic culture of Sicily?

Sicily has been a cultural melting pot since antiquity. Think about the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Byzantines, Normans, Spaniards and more. Many different cultures had an extraordinary impact on our identity, from Arab architecture to baroque art. All that contrast is in my DNA and forges my aesthetic vision.

Q: Does the city of Messina represent for you what Florence meant for Mr. Cavalli? To create, he needed to breathe the art of Florence, which his family history was also imbued with, being the grandson of a Macchiaioli painter whose work is in the Uffizi Gallery.

My hometown Messina is inside me, but I need the world to create.

Q: Messina’s history is tragic. Anthropologically, it affirms the suffering of humanity. The 1908 Messina earthquake was the most destructive ever to hit Europe. The local population — 150,000 — was reduced to hundreds; survivors had to emigrate to other Italian cities and America. Going back in time, also the Black Death arrived in Europe in October 1347 through Messina when Genoese ships from the Black Sea docked at the Messina port. From there, the bubonic plague spread throughout Europe. And Messina was also the last European city to recover from the successive waves of the pestilence that plagued the pre-industrial world. All that pain clashes with the idea of glamour written in the Cavalli DNA. You need to keep up with the sense of glamour, but what is your renewed concept of glamour?

I believe that only difficult places can generate a modern, bold vocabulary that breaks the patterns of boredom. Only those places are capable of speaking like Rock’n’Roll or Hip Hop to the new generation. I believe glamour comes only from great contrasts and suffering. Everything that comes from hard situations can generate beauty and glamour itself.

Q: What is your relationship with painting or sculpture? Do they have an impact on your work?

Yes! The essential artists for me are Caravaggio, Jeff Koons, Pablo Picasso, Jacques-Louis David, Damien Hirst, and Giotto. For me, art is everything, exactly like music!

Q: At 18, you moved to NYC, where you first worked as a waiter in Robert De Niro’s restaurant, the Tribeca Grill. Your cousin was a cook there. You were already designing clothes, weren’t you?

Yes. After my high school diploma, I yearned for new experiences. I was a young Sicilian boy who dreamed of America as the best place to learn. And in that restaurant, I had the chance to meet Whitney Houston’s stylist, Patti Wilson, who believed in me from the very beginning.

Q: You consequently met and dressed the American singing sensation of the 1980s and ’90s who died a tragic death in 2012. Can you please share a personal memory of Whitney Houston?

I remember her extraordinary strength and when she told me, “I want to support you.”

Q: Then you lived in California for years. There, the influential boutique Maxfield picked up your early designs. But one day, visiting Italy, you met the Sicilian design duo Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, who endorsed your artistry, so you got your big break.

Yes, it was pure causality that I stayed. I was about to go back to the US again when Domenico Dolce made me an indispensable proposal that marked the rise of my career…

Q: You began to sell your clothes in the Dolce & Gabbana boutique in Milan and be part of their new-gen retail project, Spiga 2. The creation of your brand, Fausto Puglisi, followed naturally.

Correct. Then, in 2013, I had my first runway show at the Milan Fashion Week. The “almighty” Anna Wintour and Ed Filipowski recommended it. They believed in me from the start.

Q: Who is the new Roberto Cavalli woman?

The women around the world. My Cavalli collections include extremely sophisticated abayas and sexy Hollywood frocks. I interpret the needs and desires of women and men with strong personalities. I take the opportunity to tell you that we will be implementing the accessories segment and expanding the menswear. I will showcase my first Roberto Cavalli Men’s collection, the Spring Summer 2022 Men’s collection, in June.

Q: Last February, in your “Zero” Roberto Cavalli collection that signalled your debut with the label, you revisited Roberto Cavalli’s signature animal prints. Will animal prints remain an indispensable Cavalli classic together with the avant-garde leather processing Roberto invented in the 1970s and his rock ‘n’ roll denim?

Animal prints are a style statement. They epitomised glamour for centuries, from the great emperors to the divas of the 1950s. They were a symbol of wealth and a source of inspiration. Cavalli made them his own through his amazing creations. Lush zebra and tiger stripes, leopard spots express a sense of freedom that will be the protagonists of my following collections. Those graphic patterns were already in my Zero collection, and I will indeed continue to define them, evolve them more and more.

Q: Roberto Cavalli said he used animal prints because he copied nature, which, in his words, is “the closest thing to God, the best designer, so I started to copy God”. Is nature the supreme beauty?

Definitely. And in the natural world, respect for differences is evident. Some orchids offer an unexpected colour combination. They are masterpieces because of that mix. There are tropical fish of clashing colours and of such unusual beauty as to convey a fantastic harmony.

Q: How about the desert?

It gives me a sense of absolute freedom, the same feeling the sea gives me. I can’t wait to go back to Dubai to relive that sweet emotion.

Q: As an independent designer, you were the first to collaborate with Madonna. In 2015, you designed her Rebel Heart tour costumes and then her cult coat with black fur collar.

I was so honoured… Madonna also chose me for creating her look on the cover of Elle magazine. Not only do I have enormous respect for her, but I am also grateful to her. I can’t wait to dress her in Cavalli! I was once attending the Madame X Tour rehearsals in 2019. One night, in Brooklyn, she sang Like a Prayer repeatedly, over and over. We were there till 6 am. I was so exhausted but decided I should have something to eat at a Mexican grill nearby.

Q: Finally, are there any aesthetic motifs from the Emirates that could inspire a collection?

I find the Emiratis extremely sophisticated, chic, and international. I love their aesthetic sense, their approach to beauty. Their traditions are fascinating. I am very charmed by Dubai. I like this mix of technologies that look to the future but are harmonised with their heritage. Many elements could inspire my collections. For example, all those beautifully wrought iron gates of the many Dubai villas. The sense of decor is so stylish and inspiring.

wknd@khaleejtimes.com