LONDON — It’s the rare conversation that starts with Emporio Armani and ends with Newton and Descartes, but that’s the sum of Pietro Boselli, a former runway model with a Ph.D. in engineering, a philosopher’s mind and great ambitions to build his own brand.
Then there are Boselli’s 2.6 million Instagram followers, a number that slightly surprises the Italian native as he never set out to become a social media star, and he doesn’t plan to use the platform to flog just any old product. He’s thinking much bigger than selling blogger-ish merchandise.
Earlier this year he launched Petra, a made in Italy activewear brand that sprang from his longtime passion for sports and gym workouts — he had to abandon modeling because at one point he was six times bigger than sample size — and his love of luxury fashion, technology and eco-friendly materials.
He plans in early December to launch his first collection of men’s and women’s jackets, a limited-edition line of 80 pieces that are made in Italy of cutting-edge materials but with a retro feel with the aim of fusing fashion and performance. He’s going straight to consumer via Instagram, and is also working on a new Petra collection for early 2019. The jackets will sell for 599 pounds, or $766.
Clothing is just the starting point: Although Boselli no longer teaches Ph.D.-level mathematics at his alma mater, University College London, he travels the world advising companies and educational institutions how to stay relevant in times of change and rapid technology, and — true to form — plans to promote a variety of projects.
“I see myself as an entrepreneur, and for me, creating a brand is like creating a launch platform, a business that will give me more independence and the ability to create whatever I want, which — unavoidably — will be in the field of engineering,” Boselli said over a glass of carrot juice at London’s Beaumont hotel.
“I think when you have a brand you have more power to make an impact and a difference, which alone I couldn’t have done.”
Ahead of the outerwear launch, Boselli talked to WWD about clothing technology, sustainability, mental health and how mathematics serves philosophy.
WWD: Can you talk about your approach to the new jackets?
Pietro Boselli: A lot of the fashion brands and designers have been jumping into sports clothing and launching their own collections, but my big issue is that those collections are not technical enough. I am not going to go to Emporio Armani if I want something technical and I am not going into the North Face if I want something fashionable. I just wanted to create something that was as fashion as it was technical, and something that really stood out for its quality.
I was really inspired by the ski jackets that were very common when I was growing up, designs from the Eighties and Nineties from brands such as Colmar or Ellesse. It made sense to take a retro design and make it technically advanced. The colors are also taken from the Eighties, so you have the dark cyan and the magenta but in slightly different tones than in the past — a bit more modern. I made them a bit oversize, too — more in line with today.
I also wanted to make something that could be worn as streetwear but that could actually be used to ski. It is all adjustable inside, so you can make sure there is no air coming in, the cuffs are windproof and it is water-repellent. There really is a lot of attention to detail.
WWD: Can you talk about the materials you’ve been using?
P.B.: I’ve done the outerwear in collaboration with one of the top luxury outerwear manufacturers in Italy. They make outerwear for Burberry, Gucci and Hermès and also have their own in-house brand that uses the latest technology, laser-cutting and recycled materials, which is why I wanted to work with them.
My jackets have a mixture of techniques that are old and new: The fabric is laser cut yet the designs have a double stitching on the outside. The filling isn’t down feathers but an advanced synthetic made entirely from recycled bottles. The molecular structure means that it’s thermo regulating, so very similar to down feathering.
WWD: Why is sustainability so important to you?
P.B.: I’ve always cared about the environment, all my Ph.D. areas of study were dedicated to improving the energy efficiency of turbines for power plants. I think engineering nowadays is all about improving efficiency and working toward being environmentally friendly. This is what engineers struggle with on a daily basis, whatever their field.
Constant economic growth, exponential growth on a planet with finite resources cannot go on forever. At some point economies will need to reform and things will change — otherwise we are going to self-destruct as a civilization. Values are already shifting with the younger generations that value experience over accumulation.
WWD: Your studies both in Italy and U.K. have prepared you for other big societal changes in store.
P.B.: Mental health is going to be the single biggest thing in the next coming years, and it is precisely because of all this technology. Artificial intelligence is going to take away repetitive, routine jobs so the question is what do we, as humans, have that machines don’t? We have compassion and creativity, all these qualities that we’ll have to take back. Our human nature will be emphasized. We will teach people how to live and how to love, which has been neglected in the last century because of the Industrial Revolution.
We all know nowadays that engineering and science are considered superior to the humanities because we inherited this from the last century. Suddenly philosophy and the arts were not considered as important because they did not contribute to the growth of the economy, but actually they are very important things. Descartes’ main focus was on human nature, he provided rational proof for the existence of God. Newton’s questions were about nature and the universe, and then he developed calculus and other mathematical tools to prove what his intuition was telling him.
I have always had an interest in philosophy and the arts, it has always been a passion. Who is going to teach you how to behave in a relationship? How to interact with other people? How to have empathy? You are definitely not going to learn that from engineering. Mental health is something that goes along with that because we never think about the emotional injuries that really impact our lives.
VIDEO: Watch Pietro Boselli