unlikely obsessions: nicola formichetti and playing the piano
In an ongoing series of interviews, i-D talks to all manner of creative and interesting folks about specific things they love which you somehow wouldn't expect them to love. Here, we speak to Nicola about his love of tinkling the ivories and his...
In the latter half of the 90s, Nicola Formichetti was a platform trainers-wearing architecture student-turned-club kid, preferring the nightlife of London's West End to attending lectures at college. He became a shop assistant then head buyer for cult Soho clothing boutique, The Pineal Eye, and by the mid-Noughties had firmly established himself as an in-demand stylist and art director - creating editorial and overseeing the fashion sections for various influential magazines, while working with designers and brands including Gareth Pugh, Alexander McQueen, Dolce & Gabbana, Stussy, Uniqlo and Nike, to name a few.
Formichetti subsequently collaborated with and styled some of Lady Gaga's most gob-smacking looks, at the pinnacle of her mainstream pop success, prior to being appointed as the Creative Director of Mugler between 2011 - 2013. He simultaneously launched his own Nicopanda project - now a fully fledged fashion brand - and is the Creative Director of Diesel, which he continues to successfully re-shape for a today's digital-savvy audience.
Despite his relentless work schedule, multi-talented Formichetti manages to occasionally switch off from fashion and, in the privacy of his home, indulge a longtime love of playing the piano. An accomplished pianist, as his instagram links confirm, he now talks to i-D about tinkling the ivories and his admiration for the great composers of past and present.
Was there a piano in your home when you were a kid?
My parents loved music so they were always listening to opera music, like Maria Callas - Mom, and Pavarotti - Dad. So music was always around me, but at this time we never owned a piano. Around the age of 5 or 6 I used to listen to my aunt teach piano to my cousins. I was always memorised with the sound and it transcended me into some other world. I loved to just sit down by the piano and listen to the music all day long and one day I tried to give it a go. Ever since then it became my passion. I begged my Mom to get me a grand piano but it wasn't possible so she got me a small electronic piano. I also joined a boy choir so I was able to be around music all the time. I remember singing Pergolesi's Stabat Mater in church, singing about the suffering of Mary. I was 7 years old… I was a very dramatic boy! [Laughs].
When did you start taking proper piano lessons?
From this, I eventually started taking private piano lessons. I played all through my teens, music became my after-school activity, playing for the choir and theatre. I have kept playing until today. For me, it was very personal, I have never wanted to play professionally, it's always been for myself as I didn't really like others to listen when playing! I was always too shy!
What was the first song you were able to play, from start to finish?
I started with Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata - probably one of the first songs I played completely and loved and it is still one of my favourite songs. Technically, it's easy, so at an early age I could play from start to finish - but to this day I'm still trying to make it sound more emotional, as the song gets better and better with time.
Which piece of music do you feel you can interpret best, nowadays?
I love playing Chopin - all of his nocturnes and waltzes are my favorites, and also his Fantaisie Impromptu is so good! I only used to play classical music from the 1600's to the 1800's, but recently I also started to play modern day composers, too, like Philip Glass, his Metamorphosis series is so enchanting.
And which piece would you most like to be able to master?
I would love to be able to play all of Rachmaninoff. His music is considered the most difficult technically, and one day I am going to crack it.
Who are your favourite pianists of all?
I love all the old classic ones like Mozart, Bach, Chopin and, of course, Beethoven - their music never gets old. I can listen to them all day, everyday, and it still feels exciting. Also, new composers from today - I love Ryuichi Sakamoto, Philip Glass and Michael Nyman, but my ultimate favorite is Sergei Rachmaninoff. His music gets me every time I play and listen, it's so soft and aggressive at the same time. It's a pure music orgasm.
You spent a lot of time with Lady Gaga. Did she give you any piano-playing advice?
Gaga is also classically trained, like me, so we have the same love towards classical music. She was amazing at taking this influence and creating her own kind of music - she is an incredible composer. We created a tribute to Alexander McQueen for The Brits in 2010. She started the performance with a piano version for Telephone - mixing a classic, pop and jazz vibe on the piano, which was incredible. I was watching her by the stage, crying!
When did you buy a piano of your own?
Firstly, my parents got me a Yamaha electronic piano with headphones, so I could just play all night long without bothering anyone! Today, I own a Yamaha upright piano - it's my baby!
Do you write your own music?
Yes, I compose music. My mom always said - and still says - if you lose all your jobs, you have music, which is so true!
You obviously live a really busy life. So, when do you get chance for piano time?
I only play at home in NYC where my piano is. When I'm traveling, I organise my music sheets and my music library, so it's all set to go when I go back home. The new iPad Pro is the perfect size for playing the piano, so I don't need to buy any more music books, you just download it and play - it's so easy! Just swipe to turn pages.
When you recently uploaded some clips of yourself playing, on Facebook, what sort of feedback did you get?
I never used to play in front of anyone, as playing for me is such a personal time and I like to be alone. But one day I wanted to hear what I was playing, so I recorded myself and it sounded kind of good! I wanted to share it with my friends and people seemed to like it, so maybe one day I might be doing a big concert in the future [Laughs].
How do you feel when you play the piano, Nicola?
It's my meditation time, I play and forget everything. I love becoming part of the music.
Text James Anderson