Enthralled by the collections that walked the runways of Milan, Gilberto Calzolari has lived and breathed fashion since childhood. Previously working for the likes of Valentino, Georgio Armani and Miu Miu, Gilberto started his own brand in 2015, creating womenswear that is perpetually in tune with the needs of modern living, while also retaining the value of excellence and exclusivity synonymous with luxury fashion in Made in Italy.
The Milano-born designer has gone from strength to strength, recently scooping the top prize at The Green Carpet Challenge Award for Best Emerging Designer. In recognition of this, Gilberto will receive a year-long mentorship programme from Bicester Village, with the opportunity of presenting his work during Milan Fashion Week in February 2019.
We cannot wait to see his latest work and designs, but in the meantime, we chat to him about sustainable fashion, his creative process and his love for polar bears!
Can you tell us about your route into the fashion world?
My father was a fabric seller and then buyer, so he used to take me to Pitti [Immagine] or to look at the collections and fashion shows of Milano Vende Moda. I was 12/13 by then, and I realised that I wanted to become a fashion designer. I then studied set and costume design at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts.
Which fashion designers most influence you, and why?
On the one hand, I was fascinated by fashion closer to conceptual art, like the Japanese influence of Comme des Garcons and Watanabe. On the other hand, I loved the sensuality and “joy of living” of YSL and Albert Helbaz from Lanvin. But then again, I’m also a big fan of the punk rebellion of Vivienne Westwood, now an eco-fashion activist.
Also, the experience I had before creating my brand, working for great designers [Marni, Alberta Ferretti, Valentino, Miu Miu and Giorgio Armani, to name a few] taught me a great lesson in style – I compare it to the experience of a painter in the Renaissance attending the workshop of the Masters.
For someone who may not have seen your work, how would you describe your style?
Elegant yet ironic, romantic but also contemporary and sophisticated.
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Attract and mix male elements. Summer individuality. ??? #EXOTICA collection by #GilbertoCalzolari Spring Summer 2018. See more via link in bio. Photography @henrik_blomqvist Hair & Make up @francescaangelone _ #outtake #SS18 #summer #collection #polynesiandoll #lookbook #exotic #flowers #model #modeling #fashiondays #fashion #contemporaryfashion #style #moda #мода #موضة #ファッション #时尚 #ottd #picoftheday #romantic #chic #luxury #coutureaporter #madeinitaly
As a man making womenswear how do you visualise the women you make clothes for?
Romantic but also playful, all the meanwhile being sophisticated and ironic: a woman who has a clear sense of elegance and is not afraid to make choices independently, even if sometimes it means going against the current fashion dogmas prevailing on social media.
Your SS19 collection is super glamorous, what is the creative process you go through when making a collection? And how long does the process usually take?
At the beginning of each collection something clicks in my head, sometimes triggered by multiple references and influences, often from films, paintings, and the nature itself. Then I start visualising the main chromatic associations, along with the texture, in reference to the mood board I have created and the silhouette I find appropriate. I always look for aesthetic shortcuts that excite me. Then, once I have this clear in my head, it usually takes me a week or less to complete the sketches, and 99% of the times they remain the same until the very end.
As for my SS 2019 collection in particular, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that only when mankind turned away from Nature to live in an urban environment, it began to develop an aesthetic perception of the countryside, and a melancholic longing for it. It is beauty that soothes our senses, awakens our desires, and reminds us of the true meaning of life. I found all these feelings were perfectly represented in a film by Jean Renoir “Une partie de campagne”, a bittersweet love story between a young Parisian woman from a bourgeois family and a down-to-earth boater she met during a picnic in the countryside. From this initial inspiration, I decided that I wanted to pay homage to my own Lombard countryside. The result is a collection with several influences all sprouting from the main idea of celebrating the countryside, but in a contemporary and edgy way, not a bucolic one, as I wanted to portray a city woman – with even punk and rockabilly touches in the styling – who finds solace in nature.
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Exploring new worlds of being and appearing. Summer how much I love you! ??? #EXOTICA collection by #GilbertoCalzolari Spring Summer 2018. Discover more via link in bio. Photography @henrik_blomqvist _ #outtake #SS18 #summer #collection #polynesiandoll #yellow #lemon #lookbook #exotic #flowers #model #modeling #fashiondays #fashion #style #moda #мода #موضة #ファッション #时尚 #ottd #picoftheday #romantic #chic #luxury #coutureaporter #madeinitaly
What is your favourite piece you have ever created?
It’s so hard to pick one. Each collection has pieces I fall in love with. Right now, of course I have in my heart the last one, so I’d say the jute series in the SS 2019 collection made with recycled coffee bags embroidered with lead-free Swarovski crystals, like the dress I presented at the Green Carpet competition.
You recently won The 2018 Green Carpet Fashion Awards, what an amazing achievement! How does it feel?
I can hardly express what it meant for me. Ethics and aesthetics have always been the core values of my philosophy, and with this dress – an unusual combination of poor materials and the precious world of Swarovski Crystals – I wanted to prove that creativity and luxury can, and must, go together with the respect for our planet: to see this effort appreciated by a jury of this level is a further incentive to continue writing the future of fashion in the name of sustainability.
The winning dress was beautiful and crafted from jute coffee bags, where did the inspiration for this dress come from?
It all started from the concept of my new SS 2019 collection. As I told you I wanted to celebrate the countryside, so I went searching for the right fabrics. I knew I wanted to use jute. But, when I saw Brazilian jute bags at the Navigli Canals Market, originally used as coffee bags and then as barriers against the flooding of the canals – a growing concern due to climate change – I knew I could bring the concept further.
So, I decided to treat the recycled jute as a real couture fabric, creating a tight-fitting bodice, lined with natural cotton muslin, with a ‘gocce’ draping to form a tulip shape. Finally, in order to create a clash from the original material and the high-end tailoring, I embroidered it with Japanese floral motifs in Swarovski crystals, in the exclusive “Advanced Crystal” recipe that complies with the most rigorous eco-sustainability requirements.
How are you feeling ahead of the 12-month mentorship programme at Bicester Village?
Immensely honoured and excited. I am really looking forward to it and excited to make the most out of it in order to bring my brand to the next level.
And how are you championing sustainability in your future work?
In preparation for the Green Carpet Competition project I had the opportunity to study and question in detail topics like where materials come from, their composition, their carbon footprint and the impact the fabrics and their manufacturing process have on the environment.
It was an invaluable lesson and an enriching experience in terms of awareness. I’m sure it will have an impact on my future choices. For example, in the SS 2019 collection, along with the recycled jute pieces, I also used reverse cupro linen. The linen is produced from the purest cellulose found in nature: through a specific process the cotton-waste is dissolved and extruded, obtaining a very fine thread. The result is a material with unique characteristics of comfort, ventilation and resistance but which is also extremely delicate, hypoallergenic, atoxic and 100% recyclable.
I believe sustainable fashion is the way to good. My goal is to move my future collections further in this [sustainable] direction. Fashion brands need to display an awareness and commitment in this direction, not only as a moral imperative, but also as a way to separate them from the fast fashion. Of course, it’s a long process and manufacturers need to help us, by allowing us to choose from a wide range of eco-friendly and sustainable fabrics and techniques, at reasonable prices.
You’ve clearly had some serious achievements, but which one stands out as being your greatest achievement so far?
For me the biggest achievement and satisfaction is seeing women wearing my dresses in the real life and feeling great in them.
And finally, we know you support the Polar Bears International charity, why is this charity so close to your heart?
My first collection was inspired by the Arctic, an ode to a Nature on the brink of extinction. So, for that occasion I partnered with Polar Bears International, which is the most important non-profit association for the safeguard of the polar bears and their habitat. Their work on educating people on the importance of the Arcitic is incredible. I was then invited to show my collection during the ‘Next Trend’ event at Milan Fashion Week, so I decided to start the runway show with images of polar caps collapsing and icebergs melting against a soundtrack of Depeche Mode’s ‘Wrong’. This was to make a statement about the risks of global warming. At the end of the show I came out wearing a t-shirt with the Polar Bears International logo on. Needless to say, this commitment towards the environment was also reflected in the choice of materials, for example with the use of eco-fur.