In an interview with a student magazine last week, I digressed into a sideline conversation about the twenty-ten decade being increasingly defined as the age of the “director” as opposed to the designer. The difference being that the former’s remit is to oversee branding, store design, publicity materials, marketing strategies and even social media engagement, in addition to the actual aesthetics of clothes. They direct a whole host of designers working under them to determine the nitty gritty of the clothes. The creative directors at houses are not merely designers and don’t sit at their desk drawing endlessly but instead literally “direct” teams to achieve the correct “direction” of where he/she ultimately sees the label in question. When I interviewed Jenna Lyons from J. Crew, she said she felt like a traffic controller sometimes – steering her team to go this way or that, so that her current role, has moved far and away from her beginnings as a designer. In fashion brands where the levels of hierarchy and infrastructure are convoluted, the director role becomes almost mandatory.
These were the thoughts lolling around my head when I went over to Venice to see Nicola Formichetti’s debut show for Diesel to mark one year since he was appointed as yup, artistic director at the denim powerhouse brand. At Mugler, Formichetti’s attempt to revive the moribund brand divided opinion but his transition from stylist to creative director also riled up conversation. Alex Fury’s latest profile of Formichetti goes some way to defending that transition as he explains that behind the scenes, stylists do design and sew to some extent. At Diesel, that stigma is less accute. It’s is a very different kettle of fish to Mugler and in some way makes a lot more sense for a zeitgeist seizing creative like Formichetti to steer. Denim, leather and military were laid out as the foundation themes of the show in Venice, but they’re fairly blank canvasses for Formichetti and his team to play around with.
And so in a show set up as a Diesel triptych, those themes played out in three distinct parts, with projections of Nick Knight’s films looming over. In a city symbolised by carnival, masks and deliberate disguise, the show was brutally relatable. I don’t mean mundane. During the final run through of the shows, you saw all eighty-something models – a diverse array of characters that were part street cast (via Tumblr in some cases) – sitting on the bleacher seats, like a high school assembly. They stomped down the runway like stroppy teenagers, making the clothes look like they had DIY-ed or customised them themselves. That has a nostalgic currency. “I was always interested in fashion from the street and Diesel is about that. I grew up with Diesel,” says Formichetti in the press release. “This collection is almost like going back to where I began as a stylist, when I first moved from Italy to London; being young, looking at global fashion from Italy, Japan and London, all places where the street was key. I wanted to have that feeling back, that Nineties feeling of a world of possibilities, that feeling when I discovered Diesel. It was fun, it was fashion and non-fashion – it was beyond fashion.”
Rather than pushing out a highfalutin fashion statement, instead Formichetti looked at the core values of Diesel and turned up the sharpness dial on everything – the parka coats were given a lick of graffiti spray pain job, the studwork was sharper, the leather looked tougher/harder and the denim effects were fine-tuned. It might not make a difference to the average Diesel customer, who is contributing to the company’s staggering £1.3 billion turnover but Formichetti’s appointment is certainly turning heads of a new generation of consumer – the people he calls “indigo children” who he finds through Tumblr and connect with one another, unbounded by geography. The deliberately diverse casting, the ambiguous video projections, Brooke Candy cussing about opulence, the Pussy Riot-inspired balaclava finale and yes, the actual clothes as well – are all the creative fruits of labour of an artistic director like Formichetti. It’s a composite statement where one element can’t be without the other. Formichetti might have been retrogazing the nineties but his approach is definitely that of the twenty-tens. Or the tens. Or tenties. Whatever you want to call this age of ours.