Mr. Pilati, are you done with the increasingly fast pace of the fashion industry?
Designers shouldn’t be under that pressure that the system gives you. That’s the most difficult thing that I had to deal with in the past. I learned that you have to push away the demand of people’s expectations by believing your instincts and believing in what you’re doing. That can be challenging, especially for someone that has my background, who is used to working for companies that have certain needs because you tend to put those needs before your own satisfaction.
Would you call it a personal sacrifice?
It takes a lot, a lot of energy. It also destabilizes your creative process. The experience at Saint Laurent was full on. The company was losing a lot of money, so my mission was to make it profitable. The fame, the success, the recognition that came with it — even the criticism — I don’t want to say it was secondary, but it was something that I had to deal with. My aim was to do a good job for the company because it wasn’t my line.
“My reputation is of being a difficult person for many reasons. I take it as a very good, distinctive character of my professional reputation.”
Everyone assumed that when you left Saint Laurent, you would start your own line — but instead you became the head of design at Ermenegildo Zegna.
It’s funny because after Saint Laurent, I was so proud of what I’d done and everything that when Zegna called me, I joined them because for me it was a moment of transition. I didn’t want to stay without a job because I didn’t feel ready. You know when you go on the treadmills, and before you stop, you have to have a cool down? That was my cool down. And then when I left Zegna, I wasn’t chased by the industry. My name was always around when something was changing in the industry, but I was never contacted.
I think it’s because my reputation is the reputation of being a difficult person for many, many reasons — especially in the financial part. But I take it as a very good, distinctive character of my professional reputation. It is true that it’s very difficult to work with me because I have interest in and knowledge of all aspects of the business. I’m not saying it presumptuously; what I mean by that is that I have always been involved in every single step of the process. I can’t have someone that tells me that I should change the size of the lapel because he doesn’t like it. So, am I difficult? Great. I prefer to be difficult because if I wasn’t, we wouldn’t have this new line.
It must suit you quite well to not have to answer to anyone else now that you have officially launched your own label, Random Identities.
I’m learning to be independent. But the tricky thing is that since Random Identities launched, I’ve never gotten any criticism whatsoever. How do I take this? Seriously. When you get a thousand “I love it, where can I buy it?” You’re done, you’re okay, the rest doesn’t matter. And that’s how it has been up until now. I used to really divide people: love it, hate it. But this time, the press reaction has been really good, so it is very difficult to not get trapped in that. I’ve learned that you really need to push everybody away and listen to yourself, and just keep going. So it has been an enormous transition! I also had to decide if I wanted to do my brand or not — I never believed I should have done a label with my own name.
But if any name was meant to be put on a label, it is Stefano Pilati…
(Laughs) That’s what everybody said. The unfortunate thing is that I never considered it perfect myself. But I believe that it’s very personal. But it is what it is and I decided to call it differently because it just came to my mind to call it Random because it was the base of the method that I was trying to put in place. I didn’t want to design anymore for collections or I didn’t want to design anymore with a specific gender in mind.
You also moved to Berlin, right? This seems like a good city to start up a fashion line that is so fluid.
Yes, exactly. This has been probably one of the most difficult parts of my life. Landing in Berlin was amazing but it wasn’t easy, you know? All the comfort zones that I built around myself were gone. After 30 years in fashion in the biggest houses, Armani, Prada, Saint Laurent… I arrived here and I felt that I was defined only by that. There was not one shop that was a reminder of where I came from, there’s no Fashion Avenue…
But there’s also a lot less pressure here.
There’s no pressure, that’s true. While in Paris, in New York, in Milan, you can barely go to a restaurant without getting recognized, here, it’s like, “Who? What do you do?” It’s actually refreshing. And it also means that I don’t have any distractions. The design process for me is the easiest one. It’s really dealing with the system that is complicated so that’s why I decided to organize the system for myself. The entire fashion system!
I don’t believe in it. For me, it’s too introverted, it’s too for the wrong purpose, it’s too much of a business, it’s too much speculation, it’s too much people that are not part of the system because they don’t know what the creation process means. Young designers these days are making streetwear and calling it fashion. But what is streetwear? Jeans? They’ve always existed. T-shirts and sweatshirts? They always existed. A bomber has always existed. So, don’t call this fashion. Call it phenomenon, call it actuality, call it trend but don’t call it fashion.
“I can’t do anything else. It’s inside me. I have lived and breathed fashion since forever.”
What is fashion for you?
Fashion is under your fingers when you touch the fabric. It’s in your eyes when you pick up a piece that nobody else has picked up, things that you didn’t know existed or would never have worn, and then you put it on and they change your life. It’s your intuition.
Is that the kind of passion you feel is missing from the industry these days?
Yes, you should be doing fashion because you can’t do anything else. Simple as that. I can’t do anything else. It’s inside me. I live and breathe fashion… At Saint Laurent, the effort had to be full on. I did the buying for the stores, I ordered the accessories for the clothes, I turned off all the lights before leaving the office, you know? It was my life from morning until night and it was worth it because I learned a lot… Fashion is overrated but in my case I believe in it.