Paul Surridge is Transforming the Roberto Cavalli Codes
Once upon time, Einstein changed the world by publishing his general theory of relativity, and wasn’t he right about it. So, if you ever thought that Cavalli was kitsch or vulgar, you may be right, or you may be wrong. Context, context, and again context. It changes, it is relative. Not everybody can afford a Cavalli dress, and I am not talking about the money, I am talking about personality, confidence and courage, which eventually define ultimate attraction. It is not an easy task, it takes practice. And it takes self-responsibility, like when it comes to sensitive issues such as the use of fur in fashion. Cavalli’s creative director Paul Surridge is telling a beautiful story through elegant and sexy clothes that are made to help and empower women and men, with the clause that you can be empowered only if you choose to be empowered. It is a conscious decision.
A version of this exclusive interview first appeared in the pages of the 15th issue of ODDA Magazine.
Once you said Cavalli is not just a fashion brand, but an entire world. Do you believe it is possible to update a lifestyle based on tremendously 2000s out there to a contemporary one?
Yeah, when I say that it is a lifestyle luxury brand I think that what Roberto Cavalli imagined was not just a product, but a context for a product, and that is how the brand has always been developed: there was a Cavalli Café, Cavalli Vodka, Cavalli Jeans… It was a world that was about his lifestyle and the community of people that were aspirational to tap into that lifestyle. If you look at that period from 1997 to 2004, lifestyle was relative to how the community’s aspirations were defined; it was post-millennial, it was a party. Because fashion reflects time, that celebration was a reflection of that world, which doesn’t exist anymore. Although there is still party, our aspirations have changed. Now, there are social media, and it is about how many people follow you and like your posts. So, as you say, so much has happened… You know, the role of fashion and the people within the industry have all changed; with the rise of social media alternative advertising, fashion and lifestyles clichés are still there, but just in a new context.
And did you like it better before or right now?
I think that for anyone who has lived through the 90s as a designer what is amazing is that fashion has become a huge platform. Before, when I started, it was a niche creative field, which was very mysterious to the outside world. Now, it is an industry with a huge powerful impact and that is amazing, because it has opened up a lot of opportunities for many other people… I do think that the pace of fashion is becoming a potential issue, especially when we talk about sustainability and other issues. But, at the moment, it is the business and you have to deal with it.
In the common imagery, just to simplify, Armani is the deconstructed jacket, Dior is the bar suit, Chanel is tweed and feminine pragmatism, Dolce & Gabbana is lace and Sicily. What about Cavalli…What’s the heritage in a few words?
Well, I think heritage in a couple of words would be power, glamour and sexiness. I am trying to change the context though, like that creeping sensuality, because sensuality is both physical and mental, whereas sexuality is just physical. Glamour is a word that feels outdated, but the idea of glamour to me is attraction. So it is almost like sensuality and confidence. And eventually confidence is power. In terms of product, if you think about Cavalli, it is artisan and print. You mentioned the bar jacket for Dior; for me it is a printed dress, the object that most expresses power and sensuality.
As man in charge of an Italian label, your roots and academic upbringing are not Italian at all… Have you brought some of your Britain into this Cavalli experience?
I am British by origin and I will never give that up. I grew up in a very traditional family, I came of age and graduated in London. I think that roots, identity and your core is what makes you, but I have lived in Italy for twelve years, and wherever I live I become very much integrated into the culture I experience. So, although I am British, I am very affiliated to the Italian lifestyle. But if you think about British spine, for me, it is to be very flexible, to the point that there isn’t so much nostalgia, but the line is constantly innovating, challenging and pushing the envelope. It is just empathy, rather than a particular culture, as you can get acquainted to where you are and make the most of it.
Ok, now the reverse: as a foreigner, what is distinctively Italian in the Cavalli DNA? Also, what are you keeping and what are you leaving of that “Italian-ness”?
After having lived in various places, I find that Italian culture is very visually complicated, and it is very much about social environments. You know, “aperitivo”: after work you meet people, you have a drink… It is about co- ming together, as a community. When you think about the Cavalli DNA, it is about women and men who are in the public eye, who are social people.
But when the DNA is so specific, it is always about what you keep and what you kill. However, when you advertise the codes of Cavalli, they are at the root of what is positive in a way. It is quality, workmanship, joy, life. I just happen to give a new context to that. There is a word that people thrash around, that has always been “vulgar” but, you know, was it just the brand that was vulgar, or was it the times that were vulgar? I would definitely like to keep this joie de vivre, the idea of being social and fun, but put it into a context that feels aligned with the global community.
Throughout your Cavalli collections since you started, you have never lost the animal prints, whereas you didn’t use much of them before. Do you appreciate the aesthetics as a predestined brand code?
You know, as it was my first time doing a womenswear, when I started the collection, animalier was more of a strategic decision. I thought if I was to go into an arena, which is called women’s fashion month, and have something that was similar to someone else, I would actually feel protected, because animalier is something undeniably Cavalli, even though I had never used it before. Eventually, animalier is so powerful, yet a natural pattern and fantasy. It is quite versatile, too. You can go drama, trouble, romantic, or just sexy. I am also aware that in 2020 we are fifty years old and I wanted to keep animalier alive, so that in that anniversary of Roberto Cavalli I can have that conversation and I have also made a contribution to one of the key elements of the company. Moreover, you should be protective of your key elements.
Usually exotic animals are part of a very easy equation with vulgarity and kitsch, which, after all, has always been an idiosyncratic part of the label as well… Are you in the process of a reinterpretation? Like can it be both classy and Cavalli?
Everything could be anything depending on the context in which you display it. That is always defining. I think animalier is beautiful and a classic that will always be relevant. My first show was an example of how to bring elegance back to a brand that maybe has been seen as kitsch. I did the pant suits and the trench coats, icons that have nothing to do with any sort of evening peplum dress. It is always the context in which you show something, and that is the beauty of fashion; the change of one element can give you another con- text. That is the power of what we do, and fashion is such a powerful industry because it is in constant conversation and modernisation.
Culture appropriation, which some people deem The Kardashians as masters of, is still at the centre of an endless argument. Is it a positive melting pot or a negative imperialism? What is your opinion?
It is a hard question to answer because, again, either way you have to see the context. If it is an opportunity for a culture to be visible it can be positive. There has always been culture appropriation in fashion. When I was studying at Central St. Martins in 95 and 96, I wrote a thesis on this and it was when Jean Paul Gaultier was using all the nomadic culture and fashion was outraged. Looking at Kim Kardashian, I think she is an extraordinarily successful story: on one side she is a personality, on the other she allowed other women to feel free to put a white stretch skirt on with a huge seat, and be sexy and relevant. You have got to celebrate it! The problem now is that we have social media, and therefore haters. People hate because they think it is what is going to make them visible, but to me there is nothing negative in something that becomes a conversation and that could bring a positive outcome to a situation.
“FOR OUR ANNIVERSARY IN 2020 I WANT ANIMALIER ALIVE” – PAUL SURRIDGE
Dani Morpurgo was born in Senigallia, a small town in Italy. After obtaining the classical studies high school diploma with the maximum grades, she attended the BA (hons) Fashion Styling at the Istituto Marangoni in Paris, where she graduated in 2016. During and after her college years she carried out personal projects as a freelance stylist and she collected work experience in showrooms such as 247 Showroom and Rick Owens and in fashion brands such as Dondup and Parakian, to finally land in the editorial staff of ODDA magazine, where she is currently working”.
Dani Morpurgo was born in Senigallia, a small town in Italy. After obtaining the classical studies high school diploma with the maximum grades, she attended the BA (hons) Fashion Styling at the Istituto Marangoni in Paris, where she graduated in 2016. During and after her college years she carried out personal projects as a freelance stylist and she collected work experience in showrooms such as 247 Showroom and Rick Owens and in fashion brands such as Dondup and Parakian, to finally land in the editorial staff of ODDA magazine, where she is currently working
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