Fausto Puglisi, sometimes called the next Gianni Versace, says Chinese women suit his styles
Sicilian designer Fausto Puglisi has his sights set on the China market as he hosts his first fashion show in Asia, writes Divia Harilela
Fausto Puglisi has been hailed by many as the next Gianni Versace, but you wouldn't know it by looking at him. We are at the headquarters of luxury maison Emanuel Ungaro in Paris and the roguishly handsome designer strolls in, dressed casually in a tartan shirt and a pair of jeans.
His hair is dishevelled and it looks as though he hasn't shaved in days (it makes sense when he reveals that he has shown two collections at two major fashion weeks within a span of a week). The only telltale signs of Versace-style excess are the diamond tennis bracelet on his wrist and the matching solitaire stud glistening from his ear.
A glimpse at his work on the catwalk, however, reveals his alter ego. Daring black leather harness bras and biker jackets are matched with flouncy skirts and silk shirts printed with palm tree motifs. Lavish gold beading and embellishments cover leather or pleated gladiator skirts for a bold yet sexy look.
"My hero is Gianni Versace, because he was the only one to understand that fashion needed to be connected to fun and beauty. It's about creating something new that he couldn't find somewhere else," says the designer.
"We all have a story to tell, but I think Fausto is about creating something exciting. I want a woman who wears Fausto to see herself in the mirror and say, 'Wow'. Her husband will say she looks amazing, and her friend wants to be her. I want to create a 'wow' world. I have a big ego, you know. I want to take over the world," he says.
A look at his success seems to suggest that he is on the right track. Street-style icon and Italian fashion editor Anna Dello Russo regularly wears his clothes, while A-listers including Madonna, Beyoncé, Katy Perry and Britney Spears are customers. Last year, he was appointed creative director of Emanuel Ungaro.
His own line, meanwhile, is flying off shelves at top retailers such as Bergdorf Goodman, L'Eclaireur and Harvey Nichols Riyadh. Tomorrow, Puglisi will host a cocktail party in Hong Kong in collaboration with Joyce, for which he has created a small capsule collection. He then heads to Shanghai to showcase his recent autumn-winter 2014 collection - his first major event in Asia.
"The first woman who trusted me ever was Joyce Ma herself. I saw her when I was a young designer in New York, and she was the first one to understand that I could develop a business. She said, 'I like what you do', and invited me to her house. I took a suitcase filled with my collection, and she gave me amazing advice. I'll never forget it," says the 38-year-old designer.
Although this maverick has only recently come to prominence, he has been toiling in the industry since he was 18 years of age.
Born and raised in Sicily, the land of Dolce & Gabbana and black lace, he was inspired to be a designer by his grandfather, and the women surrounding him.
"I can't really say how it happened. My grandfather was obsessed with tailoring, so when I was three, I would visit the tailor with him. I would examine the fabrics and watch the tailor taking measurements.
"While that's important in my roots, my aesthetic is really about Sicily as well. We are obsessed with beauty, fashion and flamboyance. Appearance is always important - where else do people dress up for Sunday Mass? Fashion is very connected to my culture and my tradition," Puglisi says.
Despite his strong ties to Italy, he decided to try his hand in the US at the age of 18. He landed in New York with a capsule collection of clothing he had created with the help of a local tailor and took on a job as a waiter to make ends meet.
It was there that he met famed stylist Patti Wilson, who introduced him to other influential industry stalwarts, including photographer David LaChapelle and Madonna's stylist Arianne Phillips.
Soon he began designing clothing and accessories for the Material Girl and other celebrities, including M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj. His time in the US left such a lasting impression on him that he has the word "Hollywood" tattooed on his arm.
While designing for celebrities gave Puglisi plenty of exposure, his real style cred would come when he launched his ready-to-wear line in 2006. His brazen and glamorous creations featured a cacophony of embellishments, embroideries and prints that quickly grabbed headlines. Even his style mentors Dolce & Gabbana decided to showcase his work at their Milan boutique Spiga 2 - a moment he refers to as a turning point in his career.
"That was the moment when everything changed and people could really see my personal vision for fashion. Today, women have a lot of choice from brands like MaxMara to Armani.
"As a young and upcoming designer it would be crazy to think you could be a MaxMara, so our job is to give an emotion to people. I have to make something which is new, which is fantastic, which is a reason for people to buy it," he says.
Puglisi's designs are not for the wallflower, as evidenced in his latest autumn-winter collection. His inspirations ran the gamut from the Ballets Russes to the Statue of Liberty, which decorated sweatshirts and came printed on silk blouses.
There were leather jackets decorated with shards of glass, while spangled minis were matched with colour-blocked T-shirts that were crafted from patches of coloured fabric stitched together. A tutu is embellished with colourful triangles and matched with a black leather crop top. While the collection was typical Puglisi, it also signalled a new direction for the designer, as he included more wearable, looser silhouettes such as his knee-length pleated skirts, sharp day dresses and loose jumpers. This is an avenue he hopes to explore further.
"I don't want it just to be successful in terms of image, but also in business. It's easy to make something beautiful but it's not a priority. I like normal life - I want to mix strong incredible pieces with normal classic pieces.
"I want to give women the freedom to play with fashion. I want her to be able to wear one of my A-line skirts with Converse and simple sweaters. Women today are super smart. They are independent, they don't need a designer to tell them what to wear. You ask me about trends, I don't believe in them, they don't exist. You can wear whatever you want," he says.
Puglisi feels the women that best embody this vision are the Chinese, which is why he is concentrating his efforts on expanding his presence in Asia.
"From what I gather, especially with women in China, they want new things, they want excitement. They are free and adventurous. They don't have prejudice. This is what I like, this is my kind of customer.
"For us designers, the Chinese market is like doing business for rock stars. They are all beautiful, and they want something which is unique. So it's easy, in a way," Puglisi says.