Article and Interview by Alain Vasallo
Massimo Alba begins his career behind the scenes as a designer and creative director for a number of influential Italian brands.In the mid eighties he created the brands Ever Clean e 97 rue des Mimosas, and cashmere items for home. Thanks to the product and image innovation, the concept and the brand 97 rue des Mimosas and Ever Clean were acquired by Malo in 1987. As creative director for Malo (1988-1999), he designed and developed a new brand and product concept, overseeing the image of the collections, showrooms and stores. He was both the product designer and coordinator of all communication actions. From 2000 to 2002, as creative director, he relaunched the brand Agnona. In 2002 he was appointed as creative director of Dawson International in order to develop the Ballantyne brand. He designed and developed the product, style and collections and the integrated communication strategy for the Ballantyne concept, from the image of showrooms and stores to advertising. In 2003 Charme Investments, Alfredo Canessa and Massimo Alba acquired Ballantyne, with Massimo Alba as creative director until 2006. In that year, the Massimo Alba brand was registered, and its path started in a space of 350 square meters in Milano’s Naviglio area, via Corsico 8, which represent the soul of the brand.
The first opening was in Milano, Via Brera 8, and the same concept is recreated inside historical Palazzo Lacellotti in Rome in 2014. In 2017, the opening of the first seasonal store in Liguria, specifically in Sestri Levante, followed by the store opening in Bellagio and Taormina. The brand is distributed in the US by CD Network, and for what concerns the Scandinavian market, by Gruppo Vulpe. Massimo Alba’s collections are characterized by unstructured tailoring, exclusive fabrics and the use of natural chemical-free pigments in the garment dying process and finishes. The personal connection with objects and memories, the study and attention to details, are perceived inside Massimo Alba’s boutiques and corners around the world.
What was your journey like before you started your own label? Tell us everything about it.
My journey began when I started customizing my grandfather’s suits to match my tastes. When I was 15 or 16 years old, I would cut the collars off shirts, leaving just the neckbands. I wore his tailored suits, but he was a big man so they were a completely different shape on me. I liked to take trousers that had been sewn 30 years earlier and shorten them with scissors, then leave the frayed ends and wear them with desert boots and no socks. Then, a little at a time, I started to want to make clothes that I liked. For many years, I served as the creative director of various brands and gained experience of developing collections, communicating and opening shops. I met top art directors and photographers, and I was lucky enough to be able to exchange views with them. Eventually, in what almost felt like a totally natural step, I decided to start making my own products under the smallest label possible, with my name and surname in lower case italics.
How would you define the style of Massimo Alba?
Informal and personal. I firmly believe that rather than people being made elegant by the clothes that they wear, it is the attitude of the wearer that makes clothes into something different. I’m fascinated by diversity and the extent to which the same thing can become something else, depending on how it’s used. We envisage and produce the clothes that we wear every day. When I see people wearing our clothes, it makes me happy to note that they are different every single time.
Where do you find your inspirations?
Inspiration comes naturally, like shooting stars. It feels like a series of illuminating experiences and it stems from men and women who stir up profound emotions in me. Sometimes I’m struck by their gaze and sometimes by their actions. Revealing their names would be like betraying the emotions.
Have you ever had a muse? If so, who?
I often find that it is in my dreams that I realize what I want. It frequently inspires me and plays a part in what happens in real life. Once again, I feel that it’s right to keep the real world separate from the realm of fantasy. All of these women and men reveal something about me and help to inspire my imagination. Sometimes they have features that come from far away. Yesterday evening I had dinner with a very beautiful woman and I imagined what it’d be like to ask to photograph her. She’s a mature woman who I’d say is about the age people tend to be when they have grown-up children or grandchildren. The previous day I was at a seventh birthday party for a girl called Mia, who I thought looked absolutely stunning dressed as a ladybird with red flamenco shoes. There are no age or time restrictions for the men and women that I like. The strength of emotions tells their stories.
What is your opinion about the current state of fashion?
Setting all platitudes aside, the consumeristic approach of the big brands holds no appeal for me. I have a 13-year-old son who is really into streetwear. His search for things he likes in that sphere has brought me into contact with a seemingly distant world that actually feels very close to my heart. The key in fashion today is to bring together different worlds. Modernity is all about being able to present your own personal blend of everything that has happened, is about to happen and will happen in the future.
What do you like most about Milan’s fashion scene?
I’m not keen on the fashion district or the idea of shopping malls. I don’t like places that look like each other and are recreated in identical form even when they’re thousands of miles apart. I wish we could go back to places having the identity of the local people, with their colors and flavors. I like to think that people could get off a plane and be enveloped in a sensory vision that is different in each place. That’s why I don’t like all of these mainstream displays. I think that we should be able to seek out the identity and the personality of people who are truly capable of conveying how they feel and forgetting all about the influence of marketing, communication and social media-based approaches. Therefore, I put a lot of faith in everything that is small, secret and hard to find.
Now, can you tell us the creative process behind your collections?
It’s very natural and it’s tied to everything that we discover, which is partly known and often sensed by us. The process is fueled by the desire to feel at ease within ourselves. I take little steps forward and never forget that the secret lies not in extravagant forms or colors, but offering people the chance to feel comfortable among others.
Your favourite designer of all time? Or at least the one that you look up to when you are working on your clothing line?
There’s no designer like that in particular. I’ve always looked at pictures of men and women. One important source of inspiration for me are the films of great Italian masters, and especially the films of Antonioni.
Where can we shop Massimo Alba?
In our stores in Milan, Rome and Sestri Levante, and for a couple of months now online at massimoalba.com. As soon as possible, more than anything else we’d love to open a shop in London, but we can’t do it by ourselves. We’re looking for someone to help us with it. Our products are also stocked by Mr Porter, Matches, Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman.
Lastly, what’s next for you and your brand? What are your projects for the future?
The plan for the future is to develop the online scheme and open new stores. I’d really like to open a shop in London.