anthony vaccarello is not your stereotypical "sexy designer"
Bringing sexy back since 1982, Anthony Vaccarello is giving the kids of the 90s generation what they want. Just don’t have a one-track mind about it.
Anthony Vaccarello's bedroom is modern and stark, a black bedspread covering his king-size next to a Barcelona chair under the slanted walls of his top floor apartment in the Vaccarello building off Rue Saint-Martin. "It's my Mariah Carey way of doing an interview. We should be lying there," he glints, gesturing at the bed from his sofa corner. It's the perfect setting for a sex-centric interview, although the streams of questions he gets on the topic have practically sucked him dry. "I'm always repeating the same thing," he sighs. "If doing sexy dresses was on my mind before doing them. If I realize how over-sexy it is when you're wearing it. And I always say that when I'm doing a collection I never think about sex because it's all about lines and architecture. It's when it's worn by a woman that it becomes sexy. But they just see the first degree of my work, I guess."
They are rather sexy, those sharp, skimpy trademark dresses of his, which would look as natural strutting down the street to The Way You Make Me Feel as they do on Vaccarello's modernist runways. But while the sex appeal brought his eponymous label the fame, which also landed him the designer job at Versus this year, his soft-spoken coyness couldn't be further from your stereotypical 'sexy designer', what with their ferocious vocabularies and fierce finger-snapping.
Take for instance his Instagram; refreshingly anti-commercial, it's an ever-evolving mood board for the 33-year-old designer rather than a pictorial diary of his fabulous fashion life. "There's no reason to share your private life with tons of followers and someone in Taiwan, who cares about when you have sex. It's strange," Vaccarello says firmly, noting he's no celebrity either. "I don't see myself that way because I don't live that way. I'm not partying every night, and if I could not do any interviews or show my face after a show, I wouldn't. I'm just not into it." Long pause; he breaks into laughter. "But happy to meet you!"
When it comes to sex, they say the quiet ones are always the most twisted. Half Belgian and half Italian, Vaccarello might just be the most lethal case in point, at least if his modernist femmes fatales are anything to go by. They're a product of a late-80s childhood spent watching TV in a Dynasty-era of fabulous boardroom feminists. "I'm not about embroidery and huge volume, but there was a fascination with that kind of powerful woman, who wasn't afraid of wearing those things, or of men," he says.
Born in Brussels in 1982 to a restaurateur father and a secretary mother, his fashion blood was fully self-injected courtesy of the magazines he'd flick through growing up, obsessing over "super bad girl" Naomi Campbell and her fellow supermodels. In his adolescence, Beverly Hills, 90210 and its trashier Australian counterpart Heartbreak High arrived, sidelined with Melrose Place and lots of MTV, signifying a 90s American zeitgeist of pop cultural sexual teenage revolution. (Tori Spelling? "She was the best," he whispers.) "90s TV was super important in influencing people. We were all inspired by what we saw on TV," Vaccarello says. "I'm kind of nostalgic about that 90s period of sex, when sex didn't used to be sex; when sex was different from the mood of the time. In the 90s, when Madonna did the Sex book—which I'm obsessed with—or Tom Ford did a sexy collection, it was super strong." (The book still takes prime shelf space a few feet from his bed.)
"Now it's not surprising to see something shocking. Everyone is trying so hard that it's becoming flat and a bit boring. It's not natural. People are getting bored with sexy stuff. That's why I think everyone is turning towards another mood, which is also boring: that kind of minimal, boxy—you know, people trying to hide sex. You're either super sexy or you're super un-sexual, which is bad because there's nothing in the middle; nothing individual." His own answer to the tricky balance lies in his appropriation of sexy codes, or even clichés, within a strict and sometimes clinical architectural universe, generating an insinuating sex appeal. Look but don't touch—or rather think, and then don't touch.
His Americana collection for fall/winter 15 did just that, interpreting fringe in metal and turning star motifs into shapes over decoration, all with an underlying wink of, well, prairie porn. It was Vaccarello's second eponymous collection since his main hype girl, Donatella Versace, hired him at Versus after a fast and furious fashion career that saw him graduate from La Cambre in 2006 only to win the Hyères award that same year and land a job at Fendi. In 2009, he debuted his own label followed by an ANDAM award in 2011. "What's strange is when I talk to her on WhatsApp. It always amazes me when I see 'Donatella Versace' popping up," he says, eyes lighting up. Do they do cocktails and talk about life and love now, then? "No, I like the idea of having a professional thing between us. She's my boss." Vaccarello shares with the late Gianni Versace a talent for an aesthetic often associated with celebrity culture, without the desire to be a part of that culture. Even if his BFF is Anja Rubik. "They're all friends, they're not celebrities that I'm trying to chase to place my product. We refuse a ton of celebrities."
With Donatella he shares a love for Jack Russell terriers (they each have one), and the persistent question of what the sexier aspects of their work stand for. Is there a deeper social message to his aesthetic? "No." Is he into politics? "No." Does he vote? "No." Is he religious? "No." Does he have any strong beliefs? "Like the power of butterflies? I believe in... My God, I believe in nothing. I dunno." His cynicism echoes the aloof attitude of a 90s generation force-fed on corny Oprah-isms via our own TV addiction. But that culture also bred a generation, who - contrary to the millennial Lady Gaga disciples that followed - doesn't need to put our beliefs and causes in neon lights for them to exist. Under those scanty miniskirts of his, Vaccarello is very much cultivating his own brand of feminism. "This girl isn't waiting to have sex with her husband. Maybe she doesn't have sex and she's great with that. She'll touch herself," he quips, all French and blasé. "I like that she's living for herself, which is not easy to do, because we're in a time when women aren't being treated very well. And sometimes I wonder if people doing sexy clothes are not responsible for that."
He's being strictly rhetorical, of course. Ask Vaccarello about fashion's fling with mannish tailoring and the masculinification of the female form, and he's just as opposed. "It's sad, too. And it's strange, because they'll always have boobs, they'll always have a pussy, but maybe it's a way of protecting themselves." Like most of fashion's prodigal 90s kids, who grew up on supermodels and Madonna, it looks like this one is more of a social commentator than he gives himself credit for. "When I'm doing it," he says of his work, "I don't think about objectifying the girl. It's about girls who don't give a fuck what other people think of them. She's proud of herself, proud of her body. She doesn't need to be over-sexual."
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Amy Troost
Fashion Director Alastair McKimm
Hair Esther Langham at Art + Commerce using Oribe Haircare
Make-up Hannah Murray at Art + Commerce using Topshop Beauty
Nail technician Ami Vega at Marek & Associates
Digital technician Nick Rapaz
Photography assistance Henry Lopez, Darren Hall
Styling assistance Lauren Davis, Katelyn Gray, Sydney Rose Thomas
Hair assistance David Colvin
Make-up assistance Jen Myles
Casting Piergiorgio del Moro at DM Casting
Production Matthew Youmans at M.A.P.
Model Andreea Diaconu at IMG
Andreea wears all clothing Anthony Vaccarello. Earring stylist's own.