with sansovino 6 luxury has never been so easy
We step into the luxurious knitwear world of Edward Buchanan’s Sansovino 6 and find out his thoughts on the lack of diversity in fashion, Milan’s 90s party scene and reclaiming the word chic.
If you're ever after some easy luxury, then you can do no better than check out Edward Buchanan's "extravagant, strange knitwear project", Sansovino 6. The American designer made a name for himself in the 90s when he bagged the job as Design Director at pre-Gucci group Bottega Veneta as a post-Parsons 26-year-old whose only fashion experience had been interning at Michael Kors. Now 44, Buchanan is 10 years deep into his own personal project, which started off as a showcase for his favourite factory's technical skills. Its address, Sansovino 6, became the label's name. He'd developed a mother-son relationship with the factory owner, Silvana Galbusera, and was given total creative freedom to experiment with materials and methods. For Buchanan, "glamour has always been about craft from the inside out, not just appearance or a look. I'm from that Bauhaus school where if you're going to build something it needs to be well-crafted and last for a long time. I want you to feel good, and I want you to have it for a long time."
Your work is very different, but looking at Olivier Rousteing - who started at 25 at Balmain - it's a very different fashion landscape now. He has this huge social media following. Can you imagine taking on all that too?
It's a very different time. I struggle with the bombardment of social media. I am adamant about speaking about workmanship, quality, and all of those things you have to feel in touch with. I'm just from a different school, I come from a different angle.
Was it a privilege to be able to learn your craft without the pressure of all that?
Absolutely. When we were showing Bottega Veneta, it took a few days to even load images online. As important as the presence of social media is, we have to be careful, because it's going bonkers right now!
Grace Bol is in your lookbook. I heard that you found it hard to find a black model in Milan for the shoot.
It was really interesting. A lot of the black models don't come to Milan. Some of them are represented via agencies here, but I was calling asking, "Are you coming to Milan?" And they were like, "No I'm not coming to Milan, because it's a total buzz kill." Your agency send you to all these castings and the people, without even looking at the lookbook, have already decided, "No that's not what we want." Or they feel that they're battling with the other models of colour, because there are only a few spots. It's really shocking.
Not that the other fashion capitals are perfect, but why do you think Italy is so far behind?
I really don't know. These are large companies, international businesses and they've just been accustomed to this robotic way of working. With that said, with all these major houses, you have English stylists, American casting agencies, so there's really no excuse. I don't understand what's happening. It's a battle. That active integration - even if it is not a new thing in Italy - seems like it started happening yesterday. A lot of people think it's an aesthetic decision, but I think it's absurd. I had a stylist who once said, "Why can't we have four black girls in the middle of the show, and then you have the rest of the girls?"
That's quite weirdly common - sending out girls in colour blocks.
It really disturbs me, and a lot of people do it. You'll see the line up and all of the sudden a change to black skin and three black girls come at the same time.
At what point do you think it will it become satisfactory?
I cannot imagine a diverse runway happening if you don't have a diversity of people in your surroundings. A lot of these companies don't have black or Asian people working for them. If you look at the top stylists and photographers, there are very few people of colour working in those positions. So if you have a room of people working on the casting and 99.9% are white, you don't have anyone to say, "Maybe you should consider this!"
It's the same with this year's Oscars nominations. People focused on there not being enough black talent up for awards, but really the deeper issue is that there aren't enough black people working in the film industry, full stop.
Absolutely. The end result is that they don't even view that as a racist. You look at design houses and their creative directors: you can count the people of colour in luxury goods on half of one hand. What kind of power do they have? I'm one of few working in Milan that I know. This season I didn't see one buyer of colour come in to see the collection. And these are buyers from all over the world, from boutiques or large-scale department stores.
Can you tell us about your friendship with Lea T?
Yes, we've collaborated for many years, and many times. She's always there when I need her and I'm always there when she needs me. In Milan, in the late 90s, you have to imagine there was me, there was Riccardo Tisci, Marcelo Burlon, Neil Barrett, Dean and Dan, and we are all at the club together, and we were all in our little places doing fashion things.
What was the big club? Plastique!?
Plastique was there, but there was this club called The Base. Milan at that time, even in the 90s, was major. Also a club called Magazzini Generali was a major hub where Marcelo Burlon use to promote nights. There was so much shit going on! There was a very interesting, very specifically Italian youth culture that was really nice. As things became so global in terms of media projection, at some point you started to see people that could be in London or NY and we lost that really Italian feeling.
Who do you admire among your contemporaries?
I admire a lot of people but I love what Christophe Lemaire does. He's a brilliant, very quiet and sophisticated designer. I've always loved Dries Van Noten, and the Japanese, the creativity, the ability. I'm a big fan of Yohji. I like the girls - it's very chic - like Phoebe Philo. There's a lot of people that I admire and that have an honest language, which is what I really appreciate. I don't like a wham-bam designer.
I like that you and your friendship circle are reclaiming the word chic!
I still think in my old world, that the individual wears the clothing and the clothing doesn't wear the individual. Everyone has their own personality and style, so when you take ownership of something that you buy, you make it work for yourself. I'm not a dictator. I would be freaked out if I saw someone walk down the street with four sets of Sansovino 6 items. I don't dress in that way and I don't think other people dress in that way. It's more about taking these elemental things that you love and mixing them together and you move on like that.
Text Stuart Brumfitt