Thursday July 12, 2012
The Formichetti formula
By GRACE CHEN
Nicola Formichetti has been described as one of the most influential creative forces in fashion. Find out why.
WHEN Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta stepped out on the red carpet of the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards (held in Los Angeles in September 2010), she made heads turn with a dress made entirely out of raw beef. And because Germanotta, 26, was better known to the world as Lady Gaga, the meat dress became the year’s fashion statement. The stylist responsible for this fashion spectacle was Nicola Formichetti.
This is how the 34-year-old, who is of Italian and Japanese parentage, defines himself: “I hate the term ‘stylist’. I’ve always seen myself as an art director, someone whose job is to create moods, oversee an overall image. I love everything about fashion, so when I get labelled as a stylist and relegated to one tiny part of that world, it really (annoys) me,” he was once quoted in an interview.
At the moment, Formichetti has several starring roles within the industry. In addition to being known as “Lady Gaga’s stylist”, he is the new creative director of Mugler and fashion director for clothing company Uniqlo and Vogue Homme Japan. And being half-Japanese, he has also veered into the kawaii (cute in Japanese) arena with Nicopanda, his own line of accessories and clothing.
In the Lion City recently to headline the Audi Fashion Festival, access to Formichetti was restricted. But a day before the Mugler showing of its Fall/Winter 2012/13 collection, Formichetti sauntered into Front Row, a multi-label store at the Raffles Hotel Arcade. Front Row’s owner Ann Kositchotitana revealed that they are in the midst of working on a future collaboration, presumably involving Formichetti’s Nicopanda line. However, nothing has been cemented yet.
For this writer who was also at the store, it looked like a golden opportunity to land a one-on-one interview with Formichetti. But the response from the man who has been named as “one of the most influential creative forces working in fashion today” was disappointing.
“I am not allowed to speak to anybody,” said Formichetti, looking a tad embarrassed at the awkwardness of the situation.
It seems organisers had only allocated interview slots for official media with no room for wildcards. For someone who had not hesitated to spare gut and sinew with his dress of raw meat, and to have started at the bottom rung by cleaning store front windows, the man could have shown a little more courage in the face of a gag order, I thought.
An interview last year with fashion website Into The Gloss offers an insight into his personality. In the report, Formichetti openly admitted to biting his nails and finding the attention very hard to handle, mostly because of his tendency to say “just about anything”.
The fashion star has learned to be careful. At the end of the day, he admits to being very spiritual, a legacy of his Japanese heritage. Having moved to New York in 2009, he stays sane by priming his focus towards well-being. He goes for acupuncture twice a week, carries Chinese herbs bound in capsules when he is on the road, runs every day and practises meditation on a daily basis.
“I try to be really fit. It makes you feel normal because you have that 30 minutes or an hour to balance yourself,” he said.
Formichetti stands out as he is neither a fashion designer, model nor a celebrity. Trained as a classical pianist, he did not study fashion but traversed the path of the retail world, first as a shop assistant, and then, as a fashion editor.
Later, at a sit-down conversation with Colin McDowell, the creative director of the Audi Fashion Festival, Formichetti spoke of his humble beginnings.
“I started working in a cutting-edge store in Soho in London when I was 18 and that’s where I met everyone. Working in a store and being a shop assistant, if you don’t know what to do and you like fashion, I think it’s a great way of getting into the business because you do windows, cleaning, and everything. That was my school for two years, working in a shop and that’s how I met people in magazines and designers,” he said.
Having spent his childhood in Tokyo and Rome, Formichetti revealed to McDowell that he had lied to his mother about attending architectural school in London when in fact, he only stayed in class for two weeks and spent the next two years clubbing. During this period, Formichetti worked at The Pieneal Eye, a boutique in Soho, London, and later became the store’s art director and head fashion buyer. From there, he landed a monthly page in British style magazine Dazed & Confused, after which he was promoted to become its creative director in 2008. This soon led to stints with other fashion pages including V and Harper’s Bazaar, and ultimately to Lady Gaga.
“I was listening to her music three or four years ago. She was known, but not famous. I saw her in an outfit that looked like she copied it from Style.com. I wanted to do a shoot with her but many magazines declined. V magazine agreed, but nobody wanted to lend me clothes because she wasn’t cool and was too vulgar. People were really quite against her. Very few were supportive, like the late Alexander McQueen,” revealed Formichetti.
He does not hide the fact that it was Gaga who made his creations alive and gave it a voice. In March last year, during the premiere of the Mugler womenswear collection, she performed on the runway for Formichetti for free.
“It’s just friends helping each other. I think when you start talking about money, it stops the whole creative process for me.”
This is not to say that Formichetti is the type who would render his talents for free but as he tells McDowell, thinking about money too much at the very beginning is not a good way to start.
“We creative people should focus more on being creative and the money will just come,” he said.
It may be too early to tell if Formichetti will remain in the scene long enough to join the league of living legends like Karl Lagerfeld and Giorgio Armani.
At the moment, Formichetti’s obsession is with his Nicopanda line, a word that’s being swiftly spread through social media like Twitter.
“I love the whole digital world,” he said. This Twitter-holic finds the mass connection appealing.
Throughout his Singapore stay, followers got to see the mutton rendang and stingray in spicy tamarind sauce he imbibed during a quest to sample local fare. Also tweeted was his fascination with the Singaporean tai tais for their impeccable grooming, and his presence at a party at the Red Dot Museum on Maxwell Road.
In regard to what’s next, there are installations of his chrome Nicopandas in Hong Kong’s Crawford Lane.
Not only is this an indication that Formichetti has built a cult following, it is also a clear sign that he is no longer “just Lady Gaga’s stylist”.