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Joseph Altuzarra Talks Movies, Muses, and Design at Barneys

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As the city was waking up to news of the impending Daphne Guinness takeover of the Barneys windows, we were already ensconced on the fifth floor of the venerable department store for a breakfast gathering hosted by recently-appointed fashion director Amanda Brooks and hot young designer and resident cutie Joseph Altuzarra. The designer was on hand to show us his lauded conical-boob–tastic spring collection and chat about his design inspirations, his preference for punctuality, and how he loves working with/for his mom, who happens to be the CEO of his company.

Amanda Brooks presided over a set of bloggers sipping on iced coffees and green teas (while largely declining lilliputian breakfast hors d'oeuvres). Looking both low-key and glam in the black and python-embellished Altuzarra LBD layered under a white trench, she lead an insightful Inside the Actors Studio style discussion with the always-engaging designer.

After cutting his teeth at Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler, and finally Givenchy under Riccardo Tisci, Altuzarra found a surprising set of inspirational muses for his own collection. "I think there's always been this myth that the person you're dressing is a 25-year-old model," he said. He turned to more experienced and accomplished role models, instead.

"I was really interested in focusing more on someone who was a little bit older and had this professional life and who needed to do things and travel and who was more of a real person," he explained. "I really started thinking about it when I was watching a lot of Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep movies and the idea that those kinds of women were having this renewal of their careers so much later in life. They were really becoming role models for a lot of women, and the idea that women who were now 55 or 60 would want to feel seductive and sexy and want to date...I thought it was a really interesting market and a really interesting customer. And I think you really can see it. I've always been very influenced by Carine Roitfeld. And she's definitely someone who has stayed really seductive in the way that she dresses and her relationship with other people, which I think is important."

The designer also confirmed that he's a "sketcher" when it comes to his design process. He finds inspiration in all sorts of environments, but it usually starts with movies. "I'm not very snobby about movies. So I'll watch anything, it could be like Twilight"—cue the chuckles from the audience—"because as a popular phenomenon, I think it's really interesting. And then you'll have like movies, like Belle de Jour, which are always emblematically inspiring. So yeah, very democratic in my tastes."

But for his spring collection, which includes lots of cut-out python-embellishments, body-con shapes, bias cuts and neoprene-accents, he found inspiration in another media form. "Spring actually weirdly didn't come from a movie, it came from the internet," he said. Not an actual image or text, but the actual process of surfing the web for research. "It really came from this idea that you could go from seeing very 1960's pieces to very tribal things to kind of abstract paintings from the 70's to very 90's sportswear and it was really about trying to combine different things which didn't have anything to do with each other and trying to find the similarities between things."

For fall, Joseph is switching it up a bit, though. "I dropped this body-con silhouette," he admitted. "There is a lot more fluidity, a lot more over-sized. I think there is this general ease about the clothes that wasn't really in spring as much." He also is using prints for the first time and thinking about layering and keeping warm for winter.

As to whether Joseph is considering jumping on the mass-market collab boat, he's not there just yet. "For the moment, I don't think so," he told us, dashing the hopes of about 60% of the people in the room. "I think part of what is so special about the brand right now is that it is so small and it has this exclusivity to it. Which is granted a little unfair for everyone who can't necessarily afford it." You're telling us.

There is a bright side for those of us with Altuzarra dreams but Uniqlo budgets, however. "We are working to incorporate lower price points within the collection. So [we're] not necessarily having a different collection with a different name or working with anyone, but rather incorporating it in the brand itself. We did do a collab with Current/Elliott for fall which will be sold here [Barneys]. And that is a lower price point." Also, we chatted with an Altuzarra executive before the breakfast and she estimated that the label's first sample sale (which incidentally was the brainchild of Joseph himself) should happen by August.

Since Joseph name-checked the recently-announced Barneys guest editor and stylist Carine Roitfeld as a long-time inspiration, we asked him what he'd like to see her do with the Barneys windows in September. "I think she is someone who has such a singular point of view but you can almost kind of imagine what she's going to do, although I'm sure that I'm imagining wrong. But I think what you want or what I would love to see her do—in general and hopefully with the windows as well—is bring her taste level and her point of view to everything that she does. She's so unique in that way and there's like a little bit of irreverence about her as well which I find very very inspiring." Then came this awkward exchange:

Amanda: "Do you think doing a project in America will change her in any way?"

Joseph: "Like whether she'll feel she's somehow constricted?"

Amanda: "No, no, more freedom in a way."

Oops. Well, the Europeans do say that we Americans are repressed. In terms of what's next for Joseph, he's working on his first-time pre-collection and also shaping up plans for the September runway show. He says he continuously pushes himself out there to seek new moods, themes and inspirations.

"Because If I didn't, I'd be watching Glee all day," he said with a smile.

· Watch Daphne Guinness Dress for the Met Ball at Barneys [Racked NY]
· Joseph Altuzarra Confirms Upcoming Altuzarra Sample Sale [Racked NY]
· Barneys New York's Latest Muse/Editor/Stylist: Carine Roitfeld [Racked NY]

Barneys New York, Madison

660 Madison Avenue, Manhattan, NY 10065 (212) 826-8900 Visit Website