COSTUME NATIONAL EXPANDS, BUT STAYS TRUE TO ITS ORIGINS

Byline: Eric Wilson

NEW YORK — For Costume National designer Ennio Capasa, virtually everything about his brand is rolling back to its roots.
Some 15 years after founding the firm with his brother, Carlo, Capasa considers this to be the strangest moment he has yet witnessed during his fashion career.
“Everything in fashion looks pretty much similar, from collections to retail stores to advertising campaigns,” he said during a recent interview on the location of his fall campaign shoot, a vacant, modern town house on Manhattan’s East Side. “As a designer, I want to react to that by being more personal and focused on myself.”
The fall collection itself was a tribute to the roots of the brand, focused on a palette of black and gold, with jackets embroidered with peacocks and ravaged velvet suits that conveyed Capasa’s original mantra of designing real clothes that could be adopted into a customer’s wardrobe, rather than dictating trends each season. It was inspired by New York in the Seventies and the look of its artistic scene dominated by Julian Schnabel and Jean-Michel Basquiat and women like Debbie Harry who dressed with a mix of sensual and tough elements.
Capasa called the idea “underground chic,” and he wanted the new campaign, being shot by Craig McDean, to reflect that mood of looking back as well. So Capasa, as art director, moved the location out of the studios of past seasons and into a real home.
“We were looking for more of a radical change,” Capasa said. “When you go into a studio, sometimes everything is so perfect in a way. The change won’t be something you are going to see, but rather feel. Craig is shooting with a Polaroid and a flash, using old technology because we want to bring in this atmosphere of catching a moment.”
Capasa said that “today, it is quite important as a designer to work within your roots,” noting that spirit will also be reflected in the company’s latest business initiatives. For instance, Costume National plans to open its first Paris store this year with a new location on Rue Cambon, expanding its retail network beyond the existing locations in New York, Los Angeles, Milan and Tokyo. With the opening of each store, the company has evolved the design of its environment to reflect the location and the times.
“You arrive at a point where you want to change something, but at the same time, not lose your authenticity,” Capasa said. “The idea for Paris is to do something warm and less designed. I want to stay inside a concept of one living room of a house, rather than the perfectly designed shop as we did in SoHo. That’s starting to get boring, when designed stores everywhere are beginning to look the same.”
The company is one of the few mid-sized Italian manufacturers, the kind of brands that are estimated to have sales under $100 million, that has remained independent and mostly vertical in its operation. Capasa said he would also like to continue to build on its production capacity to create a more authentically manufactured Costume product, and to that end, he is looking to complete the acquisition of a footwear factory near Padua, Italy, within the next six months.
“That is our next big project, to build our shoes even more,” Capasa said. “Shoes now represent 33 percent of our business, or more than 60,000 pairs a year. People are beginning to recognize more where is the authenticity and the value in things, and at the same time, everybody will get more and more spoiled. Designers will have to be very authentic and current to compete.”
With the launch of Costume National’s fragrances, Scent and Scent Intense in February, and a new eyewear license for fall, as well, Capasa said the brand is continuing to evolve into a sizable designer business, applying its tenets across more than the apparel category, without betraying the principles of its heritage. To that end, when Capasa recently bought a new home in Milan and discovered he could not find just the right carpet, he decided to set out his next research product — how to design and make his own.

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