MILAN — Designer, DJ, alien.
In the slash generation he is part of, GCDS cofounder Giuliano Calza makes for a case of his own, as he identified himself with these three terms throughout a lengthy conversation with WWD ahead of presenting his new collection Thursday night.
In between show preparations and fittings, Calza opened the doors of the brand’s new offices in Milan — a bigger and quite symbolic location for the hip Italian company since the previous tenant was Prada. Calza previewed what is slated to be another eccentric, buzzy GCDS show, but also one that’s set to mark a step up in terms of stylistic direction and the designer’s awareness of his means and skills.
For the occasion, Calza is counting on a little help from outer space as he entrusted “Wirdo,” a pink, alien-shaped mascot that makes up GCDS’ show invites, and which appears on its social media channels, to best embody his sentiment and his generation’s sentiments.
“It’s a symbolic character and invites you to celebrate who you are,” said the Millennial designer. “I got into fashion [and was perceived] as an alien. I was the one making ugly clothes and stuff, but that eventually worked. And I believe the same goes for my generation and younger ones who feel like aliens, too. But the thing is that we are not here in transit, we have to live in this world.”
In keeping with the metaphor, Calza said he therefore wanted to flip the cliché that sees extraterrestrials as hostile. “Media always provides an idea that whatever comes from the outside is bad. So I said, ‘Can we think the opposite just once and believe these aliens can be hot, beautiful, fun and exactly what we need right now?’” the designer said.
Adding his personal spin to Matt Haig’s 2013 book “The Humans,” Calza tapped a concept in tune with his brand’s ironic and pop ethos, but his words take on heightened relevance within the context of Italy’s current social and political debate, with the national elections on Sunday set to mark a pivotal moment for the country.
The designer feels the responsibility of standing for his peers, sending out messages, even through “this fun, colorful, often sexy and futile world” of clothes, and opening doors for local youth, “who are treated as the fifth wheel of the wagon, especially now.”
“I come from southern Italy, I know exactly what it feels like graduating and not finding a job. The problem is that we live in a reality that is based on an opposite law, a place where you can become [a government] minister without even having a degree. So I get that there’s a disillusion in the idea of culture,” said Calza, who underscored the importance of education multiple times throughout the interview.
To do his part in inspiring and involving younger generations in his universe, Calza decided to invite students of five universities and fashion schools outside the show venue Thursday night, where a big screen will share his point of view and perspective of the show.
“I remember when I used to sneak into shows when I was younger. Those were really the moments that build one’s creative imagination,” he recalled, citing shows of brands such as Dsquared2, Roberto Cavalli and “Dolce & Gabbana, where I snuck in just once but it was really the dream.”
The anecdote hit a nostalgic chord, as Calza wishes to restore that momentum of ’90s Italian fashion and that “creation of fantasies, which is lost now.”
“If you think about it, now everything is merchandising. So what I try to do is do what would have excited the Giuliano of 20 years ago,” the designer said about his approach to fashion.
To achieve this goal, he proceeds through synthesis, as he described the time we’re living in as “the remix era.” “Everything is a remix: from music to movies and TV series. Take ‘Stranger Things,’ which is the combination of all our dreams, from ‘The Goonies’ to monsters. And I’m like a sort of DJ of this generation. I look at the past as I’ve learned [this job] from seamstresses and not from YouTube, but at the same time I like to embrace trends of newer generations with no inhibitions,” Calza said.
It’s no coincidence that the show venue, the historic Rotonda della Besana, will be turned into an “Alien Disco” club with a pulsating disco ball and a soundtrack the designer selected himself. The twofold goal of the set-up is to channel a youthful energy and invite people to reprise an IRL conviviality.
Set to the tempo of dance hits, Calza will present a collection that will mark an evolution of his fall 2022 effort. The mesh catsuits developed with Wolford will be offered in a wider range of colors and fall’s footwear sensation, the fang-shaped heels “Morso,” will make a comeback in new versions.
In keeping with the aquatic reference, Calza identified his second hero of the season in his favorite cartoon, SpongeBob SquarePants. “This is the emblem of weirdness, it’s so above the lines that you can accept everything that this sponge says,” Calza said with a smile. “Plus this character is not gay nor straight, it has no boundaries.”
The cartoon will get a couture-like treatment, teased Calza. Pointing to a more elevated aesthetic, the designer is increasingly working with beads, embroideries, crystals and intricate techniques, stepping also into eveningwear territory, but always filtered through his colorful and lighthearted lens.
Streetwear staples will still be included in the collection, but tweaked with sequins and sparkling details, while disco-glam outfits, towering platforms and iridescent accessories will also parade on the runway.
A closer tie with celebrities — from bestie Dua Lipa to Beyoncé and Anitta — propelled this change of pace. “It came natural to think ‘What’s next? What do I want to offer to those looking at this entertainment show that is fashion right now?’” the designer said.
“I feel like I’ve finished the streetwear academy,” he continued. Founded by Calza and his brother Giordano in 2015 with an acronym for “God Can’t Destroy Streetwear,” GCDS has also referred to “Giuliano Calza Design Studio,” which will now be predominant.
Still, Calza praised all the lessons learned so far, including “to always believe in what you do,” independent from external validation, and consistency.
“Streetwear can be a limited reality, but you have to see this dimension as a leverage. Hoodies and socks: that was the box they put me in before. But then I learned everything there was to learn on hoodies and applied those skills to other categories. So even what looks like a restriction in a box, can turn into a key unlocking something else,” said the designer, stressing that “there’s growth also in what feels a stalemate, sometimes.”
The company and its offering expanded and matured to the point of securing an investment by Italian private equity firm Made in Italy Fund, managed by Quadrivio and Pambianco, at the end of 2020. But when asked if he feels more pressure to deliver since inking the deal, Calza instantly shook his head.
“I don’t ever feel pressure because I have this inner strength and awareness matured by getting to this designer stage late. I had plenty of other experiences before, from working in China to elsewhere, that I can’t feel the psychological pressure of anyone. I know what I’m doing and having a clear creative vision is an anchor,” he said.
The son of a psychologist mother and an engineer father, Calza dreamed of being an architect or a Disney illustrator as a child, before developing a passion for fashion. “But my parents told me to study and work…that both my person and point of view in life would have been forged through work,” he recalled, listing studies ranging from political science and economics to Chinese, and disparate job experiences piled up across the world.
“It was a decision imposed on me and I suffered for it, but I recognize that if I hadn’t done those things, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything that came later,” said Calza, whose personal advice to his peers is to simply “study, work and be in those situations you have to confront something bigger than yourself.”
This mind-set and his cosmopolitan experiences contributed to the designer’s and his brand’s popularity, especially among younger generations here.
“I believe there are historical moments in which things make sense and I feel this is mine in terms of messages and way of communicating, in terms of what I am and I bring [to the table],” Calza said.
“I represent the Italian dream for them, in a way. I started from nothing, without connections nor money….And then maybe I represent a little bit of hope, because Italy doesn’t produce ambition. It has become a producer of deficit or GDP, stuff that creates anxiety. But the truth is that we’ve been the greatest writers, sculptors, painters and we have forgotten it because we have given priority to things that don’t matter. So even showing something so crazy [he pointed to clothes], make [younger generations] wonder ‘What is this guy doing?’ and prove that if you have an idea and authentic branding, you can make it,” he said.
“I’m a proof that a change is possible. I’m a person who entered in this industry through the window and now walks through the door of Prada’s [same] building,” Calza concluded with a laugh.