For 032c’s Issue 32, Stefano Pilati, former head of design at Yves Saint Laurent and Zegna, teamed up with photographer Lukas Wassmann for the 18-page editorial “Energy Crisis.” Together, they created the most personal of stories. The models were cast from Pilati’s inner circle, looks were selected from his personal wardrobe, and Michael Sailstorfer’s “Hitzfrei” at König Galerie — located in the same St. Agnes church compound as 032c Workshop — assumed the role of the set’s backdrop. A true family affair.
032c’s Eva Kelley spoke with Pilati about the making of the story, his habits of dressing up, and launching his own designer label.
Eva Kelley: One of the main elements that sparked the idea for the “Energy Crisis” editorial was your personal style. You used a lot of pieces for that story that were credited as “Stefano Pilati Personal Wardrobe” and “Stefano Pilati Personal Archive.” Could you tell me a bit about your approach for the editorial and how your personal style is woven into it?
Stefano Pilati: It was purely what I would wear. And how I would wear it. I was shopping the menswear season to mix it with my own wardrobe. So, literally, like I was shopping.
When does something land in your wardrobe versus your archive? Are they two physically different entities?
It’s the same thing, it just depends on the context of the clothes. Archive, as a concept, is something that has a value due to the historic relevance of the pieces. In reality, everything is my wardrobe. I didn’t archive anything. When I quit designing, I realized that I have clothes from the last thirty years of my life that I collected through my work, from when I was at Armani or Prada or Saint Laurent. I didn’t design them for myself, but they were very related to me, depending on the different phases of my life, and so, they became an archive of my life. I can dig into it and I can still find inspiration. I know the pieces. These pants I’m wearing, I’ve had them for twenty years.
Is your closet still expanding?
Constantly expanding. I’ve tried though. At one point I was like: “Ok that’s it. You are no longer of the age to wear certain things anymore.” I used to be more fearless when I was younger. I don’t know if it’s luck or not, but I can more or less wear whatever I want.
So you used to wear clothes that were more “out there”?
Years ago, even when I was buying Comme, I would go for the most forward pieces. Now, I go for the ones that give me the feeling of the collection, but not too daring. Somehow, it’s enough. When I moved to Berlin, I thought that maybe I should find a uniform. I didn’t want to think about dressing up anymore, and it would be more discreet for my age to not present myself so obviously as a fashion designer. But I can’t. I like clothes too much. What I design, I want to wear. I just can’t. It’s my personality. It’s a pleasure to dress up. It takes ten minutes for me to dress up – it’s a habit, a mechanism.
Is there a point where there are too many options, from the consumerist aspect?
I buy because I like it. Obviously not because I need it. I use clothes as an extension of my personality, and my personality keeps evolving. Sometimes, if it’s not my design, someone else’s design interprets what I feel at the moment. So, I wear it, I try it, I like it, I buy it. There is, certainly, a saturation in fashion. There are toooooo many brands. And not all of them produce clothes that I feel are relevant. Then again, the concept of relevancy of clothes is something that is very personal. It sometimes feels like it’s about producing clothes just to feed people with stuff, or a price point, but there’s no thought like: Where are we going? Where are we coming from? What do we want to say with the clothes? Why do we want to say this or that with the clothes? Are we a protagonist of our time, also through what we wear?
Are you talking about fast fashion brands or luxury couture houses?
Generally. Fast fashion is pure service you know, it’s not even fashion. I mean, I don’t know why we call it fashion. It’s a service.
It’s a late, cheaper interpretation of fashion.
Yes, or what is supposedly fashion.
Next to the styling, the cast of the editorial was also very personal. They were all cast through being a part of your life. When I asked some of them how they knew you, they all responded with, “through clubbing, parties, and dancing.” Could you tell me a bit about how these people are a part of your life and what they mean to you?
The editorial was a very interesting understanding of the relationship that I have with them. All the people I picked for the casting, even if they’re very different from me, I see a side of myself in them. They were supposed to represent me wearing the clothes and the way that I would wear them. So the aspect of our friendship became quite functional. They are all people that I admire and am close to. Even when we meet in a club, I always try to have a constructive moment with them. We have things to do. We’re not kids who meet at the bar every night, you know.
In other words, the parties don’t define your relationships with them.
No, no. In the case of Lyra, when we met, she hadn’t started the transition and so, every time we met – even if it was a club – that was the topic we shared. I knew that it was very serious for her and I wanted to understand, because I met her before she started the transition and was like, “But you’re perfect.” You know what I mean? It was a learning process and obviously, that created a bond. I treasure the friendship I have with the people I used for the casting. Very much.
Our appearance has such a major influence on the way people see us. Like when you were in highschool and you want to be cool, so you wear those jeans. It’s interesting how fashion evolves, but our commitment to it doesn’t.
Yes, and this is the reason why when I stopped working, I thought, “Oh my God, for thirty years, I was defined as a fashion designer.” I represented that in the way that I dressed. And now, moving to Berlin without working, I met people who didn’t know from where I was coming from. I thought that it would be a challenge to not be myself anymore in a way and just wear a uniform. A white shirt and a pair of jeans and black loafers. But it just doesn’t work for me. In that sense, we are un-evolved if we dress for other people. I probably dress 90 percent for myself and ten percent for the rest of the people. I use the people more as a test. The feedback that I get from the body language or what they say or how they approach me. For me, it’s a study on clothes, on wearing clothes. In my profession, I’m able to experiment with whatever I want, from high heels to skirts to jogging pants to chunky sneakers. It’s fabulous.
How has your personality unfolded with your wardrobe, or vice versa?
There are certain things that have stayed the same since I was a kid. I’ve never been a skinny pant kind of guy, ever. For me, it’s all about volume and the movement of the fabric and the silhouette. I have very skinny legs, so I don’t like to see my silhouette that way. But, it has evolved. There have been moments where I was wearing only white. There have been moments where I was very colorful and moments where I would wear foulards and cufflinks and rings. There were times where I was very conservative and people started to call me “the new dandy.” It’s a progression in my cognitive vestimentary behavior, definitely.
Did your style translate into your behavior as well?
I never considered myself having sex-appeal, for example. I was on vacation at the seaside and we were getting ready for a dinner. A friend of mine said, “Why don’t you wear that cashmere V-neck with nothing underneath and some jeans, because it looks very sexy on you.” I was like: “Sexy? What?” Seriously. This was six or seven years ago. I realized I can be sexier with clothes and have sex appeal. I thought I maybe had fashion-appeal. So, in that sense, I evolved a bit.
Is the goal of breaking the boundaries of the norm that there are no rules left to be broken in the end?
There shouldn’t be rules anymore. The only rule is: You should know what fits you and what doesn’t. This idea of aspiring to something, or even the idea of the aspiration of the customer, is gone, I think – gone for good. Really rich people have access to bespoke, so they can still buy luxurious items and they should. Because they can and because they are beautiful clothes. Generally, we shouldn’t be defined by the price of what we wear. You can be very chic and very elegant and very yourself with very little money today … If you have taste. The rule you have to follow is the rule of your taste. Unfortunately, as a fashion designer, you put a lot of effort into proposing it, but it’s not always achieved the way you’d like.
To change taste?
To teach taste.
You don’t think so?
I believe in it, but it’s not always achieved.
In the press statement on why you left Zegna, it said that you felt that you had “completed your mission” there.
The official statement is pretty true. You can interpret it. In other words, I was done with that. When you decide that you’re done, it means you’ve completed what you wanted to do with possibilities that you had and the people on the other side of the table.
After you stopped designing, I think a lot of people expected you to start your own brand. How do you relate to that?
It started immediately. As soon as I quit Saint Laurent, everyone was waiting for me to do my own line. I never considered the opportunity because I always thought I should have started earlier. Being a designer with your own brand is different from being a designer for another brand. Because my career moved from one brand to another, I simply thought, “That’s the way it is and I’m not going to change it.” The reality is that there are certain brands that I like very much and they shouldn’t be changed. I don’t see the relevance of having Pilati do it, because they are good as they are. Other brands might need to change, and I’m pretty sure that I could do a good job. That said, I don’t know if I have the energy anymore to put so much effort into something that you need to make your own, when it will never truly be your own. The more prestigious a brand is, the more difficult it is to make your own. That realisation, added to so many people asking me to do my own brand, lead me to consider starting my own label at one point. Let’s say that I spent the last year planning the idea of doing it with no pressure. Once I accomplished the planning, I also started to do it in a way to see what it could be. So, now I’m testing. Everything I’m doing is a test. [Laughs]
So, your mind was infiltrated by people asking you about it?
I had 60-year-old women, 25-year-old kids, or like, 35-year-old straight guys, literally stopping me and asking me that. So I thought, “Oh, maybe I should.” Frankly, I would do it only because I like fashion and designing, not because people influenced me. To know that people are expecting it, is a pressure that I don’t really feel I want to have.
I think it’s more that people would be really excited.
No, exactly! The idea that people are excited about something that I would do is exciting. But I don’t take it as a pressure. I’m very happy about what’s going on with our work here. Designing for me is an extension of myself. My personality translates everything into design. Most people look at monuments when they visit a city – I look at people. I can come up with a collection for every city I visit. I’ve done it for so long, it’s a mechanism. I decided, so far, to not stop that mechanism. But I don’t know, it might happen.
So there’s no timeline yet?
No, there’s a schedule! Of course, there needs to be discipline. The timeline is linked to the accomplishment of the phase that I will decide to eventually promote. [Laughs]
It’s the truth though! No, no you’re right. I was pretty surprised with myself, how I said it without saying it. But, you got it.
Has Berlin served as a recovery zone for all those years of working in such a fast pace?
One hundred percent. There’s no pressure here. And the pace is different, the quality of life is different and there are no social structures. Showing off a new car in Berlin doesn’t mean anything. It’s silly here. It’s a very democratic city. And in my work here, we explore other approaches. It’s very much linked to my mood. I want to do it, I do it. I don’t want to do it, I don’t. And this is a sense of freedom that I think Berlin actually helped me to respect.
And this was probably impossible before?
Impossible. Not just because of the city I was in, but also for what I represented for the city and the system. You know, Saint Laurent is a big house. Now, I have a big house, but it’s mine.