MILAN — “There’s another one confirmed coming up very soon, but I can’t tell more,” said Galib Gassanoff with the excitement ringing in his voice on the other side of the phone.
The designer, one half of the fashion brand Act N.1 that he cofounded with Luca Lin, resisted spoiling a key placement of a custom-made creation that would follow the milestone of dressing Beyoncé last week.
As reported, Beyoncé appeared in Tiffany & Co.’s “Lose Yourself in Love” campaign video, set to her hit “Summer Renaissance” and evoking a Studio 54-inspired mood. As the music star performs in a disco-themed club, she has a change of outfit, switching a silver minidress with a black gown that Gassanoff and Lin designed exclusively for her. The creation featured a bustier and fluid satin skirt with a train but really stood out for its dramatic, sculpture-like tulle neckline, which framed Beyoncé’s face and her sparkly Tiffany & Co. jewelry toward the end of the clip.
This use of tulle in scaled-up proportions is one of the signatures of Gassanoff and Lin, whose work has been most associated with theatrical, maximalist pieces that always elicit a “wow” reaction during their fashion shows and could easily resonate in the celebrity world.
“We’ve been working with celebrities for a while but it happens that some projects eventually don’t succeed. This was something else. Patti Wilson [the stylist] reached out as she was curating this Tiffany & Co. project and, of course, we were also in touch with Beyoncé’s personal stylist Marni Senofonte. They asked us to make a custom gown that shied away from that whole idea of Tiffany and Audrey Hepburn but that was something new and iconic,” said Gassanoff, revealing that the first sketches were sent in July during Paris Couture Week.
So what could possibly compete with such a placement? A few hours after the call, the answer came: On Tuesday, Vanity Fair’s November cover was revealed and Lizzo appeared wrapped in layers of fire red tulle, again courtesy of Gassanoff and Lin.
It was the (tulle) cherry on top of a golden month for the emerging brand. In roughly 20 days Act N.1 passed from being endorsed by Valentino for its spring 2023 show to becoming the go-to choice for two music megastars, with the attention around the label at its peak.
Even if the founders maintain their down-to-earth attitude and shy, gentle manner, all these events couldn’t go unnoticed. The conversation with Gassanoff this week was the third with WWD in less than a month, and each hit differently. A preview before the runway show was filled with anticipation, a chat after the show oozed happiness and relief (a few tears were involved, too) while the most recent phone call saw a new nuance of confidence seeping in.
It was the natural reaction to seeing an increasing number of people recognize the work and message behind the brand, which is rooted in a strong sense of freedom and self-expression. Maison Valentino played a big part in amplifying these by lending the young designers its Instagram account for a livestream of their show during Milan Fashion Week, therefore drawing the attention of the Roman fashion house’s 17.3 million followers to the brand.
“It has been a big platform that has reached many people, even those who had probably seen some of our clothes on social media but couldn’t find out who we were, so they rediscovered us through Valentino,” said Gassanoff.
The designer underscored that not just the public but also some members of the press and stylists were involved in this process, as he noted that fashion operators “maybe saw us at the beginning but they were back on this occasion. There’s been much more participation, it was a more collaborative situation. Plus, this endorsement brought us even more credibility.
“But the most surprising part was the reaction of our final consumers, the ones who buy on our e-commerce: when they saw the tie-up between the two brands, they were enthusiastic, they started to write to us, congratulate and tell us they were happy to have been wearing our brand even before Valentino’s endorsement,” continued Gassanoff.
The designer also credited Maison Valentino’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli for his support both before and after the show. “To hear what he thinks about our project has been so important for us, for our professional growth, because he is a great professional himself. He is making history and to have him evaluating our work positively and hearing our message behind the brand has been very precious,” said Gassanoff.
He revealed that after the show Piccioli complimented the duo on their technical skills in the “artisanal” approach to clothes and for the “fact you can see a human touch” in the collection.
“This was a big compliment for us and we’re happy he felt it, because we work in our in-house atelier,” said Gassanoff.
Established in 2016, Act N.1 stands for inclusivity and a personal, multicultural take on fashion, with its collections mixing stylistic influences hailing from the founders’ own origins, as Lin is half Chinese and Gassanoff was born in Azerbaijan but grew up in Georgia. Their experimental approach frequently results in hybrid styles that patch different pieces in one, a juxtaposition of masculine and feminine elements and a play on deconstructed silhouettes, in addition to the couture-like pieces.
For spring 2023, these creations came in different shapes, ranging from cocooning to hyper graphic structures. “Right after the show we received many requests for custom-made designs for celebrities or special clients,” confirmed Gassanoff, adding that this kind of project comes easily for the designers since the brand produces everything internally. “Plus they add a little bit of challenge in our days,” he said.
The brand also has a dedicated section on its website for preorders of statement creations. “Everybody can order one and in around 20 days we deliver it, so all the gowns we include in our shows are not just there [to sell] the dream…we take orders and can customize a little bit with clients’ requests in case they want another color, length and adapt the measurements, of course. It’s a digital atelier,” said Gassanoff.
With the sales campaign still in progress, the designer revealed that while some buyers are approaching the brand for special projects and windows hinging on the maximalist — and most recognizable — dresses, many others are appreciating the daily wear options paraded in the initial part of the spring 2023 show, too.
In particular, these hinged on denim and utilitarian looks, including the duo’s take on the trends of the season, such as cargo pants, which Gassanoff and Lin revisited in sheer tulle and styled with matching multipocketed bombers and field jackets. Other unfussy looks included fluid pajama sets, tank tops and billowing kimonos splashed with prints nodding to the traditional Chinese opera, in a link with Lin’s heritage.
Without disclosing specific names, Gassanoff said a heightened attention came from American buyers during the current sales campaign. In the U.S., the brand is already available at Sita 1910, Ant/Dote and Forty Five Ten, among others. Other international stockists include Selfridges in London, Harvey Nichols in Hong Kong and Concento Paris in Tokyo, to name a few.
So far the top wholesale markets for the brand are Asia — including Mainland China, South Korea and Japan — followed by the Middle East and the U.S. As per sales generated by its own online store, the U.S. is the top market, followed by the Middle East and Europe.
Next up: The designers are starting to researching fabrics for the fall 2023 collection but the creative process is still on hold. “We’re independent and handle everything with our small team of 10 people…so now we’re mainly focused on deliveries, logistics and production,” said Gassanoff.
Asked if any private equity fund or financial partner has approached the brand, the designer diplomatically said, “We’re always open to evaluate also partnerships with companies who have a specific knowhow and could add value to the brand.…So far, the requests we received were declined because they were not in line with our ideas and the way we project our brand.”