With a background in menswear designing for the likes of Calvin Klein and Burberry, British designer Paul Surridge was an unexpected choice to become the third ever Creative Director of Roberto Cavalli. Yet with clean zebra jackets and lust-worthy accessories for his debut spring/summer 2018 show, Surridge is already recalibrating the quintessentially Italian fashion house and bringing its sexy prints into the Millennial space.
Ahead of his visit to Hong Kong to celebrate his pop-up at Harbour City and the launch of the exclusive V1per sneakers, we chat with the designer on his challenges and hopes for the brand.
DID YOU ALWAYS KNOW THAT YOU’D WORK IN FASHION? Initially I liked architecture and photography. I come from the countryside, from a family where fashion isn’t really present. Fashion in my childhood was very exotic and foreign and especially before social media, fashion was very exclusive. I discovered fashion through the television on a program called The Clothes Show and it captured my imagination.
WHAT DOES ITALIAN FASHION MEAN TO YOU? For me it’s about elegance and flair and an artisan approach. When you live there, fashion is very much a part of the culture. They value good quality clothing, and are incredibly nationalistic and proud of the Made in Italy brand.
HOW ARE YOU BRINGING YOUR EXPERIENCE IN MENSWEAR INTO ROBERTO CAVALLI? Menswear is driven by function; it’s less emotional unlike women. It’s about the performance and practicality of something. When I create a sexy dress I think about what sexiness means today, which is being comfortable in your skin. The word is very loaded, it can be seen as a positive or negative word because values today are shifting. Sometimes too much body can be seen as provocative or not enough can be seen as boring. So I look at the function of the dress and work on the proportion, so that a specific dress might only reveal leg or bag or arms. On my team I have a lot of women so I’m constantly asking my team whether they’d wear something and why.
HOW ARE YOU PLANNING ON MAKING THIS HISTORIC FASHION HOUSE MORE RELEVANT IN TODAY'S CONTEXT? When I first went in the boutique in Milan, there were several floors dedicated to occasion wear, but if you want to be relevant to the current shift in fashion you have to talk about daywear. Roberto Cavalli is a lifestyle brand, in all aspects of it. My question to the brand initially was if a woman was wearing our caftan on a boat, are the cashmere and jeans she wears the next morning from Robert Cavalli? The reason why we did a sneaker is because we also know that anyone who doesn’t have a sneaker today isn’t playing the bottom game. It’s really about fitting into the modern person’s lifestyle which is more about utility and comfort and function.
YOU’VE HAD TO DIG THROUGH THE ARCHIVES, ALSO KNOWN AS “THE MUSEUM” AND SPEAK WITH MR. CAVALLI WHEN YOU TOOK ON THE JOB. WHAT’S SOMETHING ABOUT HOUSE OF CAVALLI THAT YOU FEEL PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED TO LEARN? There’s a lot of passion behind the brand and going to the museum and seeing the archive you realize how much attention there was to craftsmanship. Mr. Cavalli was an innovator. People label him as a sexy, flamboyant Italian designer, but he was the first designer to print on knitwear, to pioneered patchwork techniques and to print leather for the first time. Sometimes that’s overshadowed by the glamour of the lifestyle, the yachts and parties and diamonds, but there’s a lot of integrity to the initial work. The company was actually born out of leather and daywear but we forget that.
WHAT IS YOUR GOAL FOR THE BRAND, A LEGACY YOU WANT TO LEAVE? I’d like to get the accessories up and running. I think any luxury business that depends on apparel will have a problem in the future because our supply chains are changing and our consumer requests are changing. However long I’m in the company my goal is to bring a design credibility and desirablilty to a younger generation because it is a historic brand and while my goal is not to ignore that, I feel I have to create the new chapter.