Joseph Altuzarra: A Model Designer in the Current Landscape of Fashion

Joseph Altuzarra, the New York-based designer, who launched his brand in 2008, during the height of the recession, has served as something of a quiet success story. Developing his craft at Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler, and Givenchy before launching his eponymous label, Altuzarra, 33, says the shopping landscape at the time gave him the opportunity to really focus on a small scale on what makes a brand: its products, not a big fashion week show.

This is a striking view given the current state of the industry, which appears to be relying so heavily on runway-to-retail timeline adjustments (think: See Now-Buy Now), and over-the-top and public runway extravaganzas as a means of better reaching consumers. 

Altuzarra, who has won an array of awards over the years - from the Council of Fashion Designers of America's biggest honor, its Womenswear Design Award, to the Ecco Domani Award, which is given to exceptional emerging designers - likely got his biggest break when Kering, parent to Gucci, YSL, Balenciaga, and Bottega Veneta, among others - become a minority shareholder in his New York-based Altuzarra brand in September 2013.

Not just an influx of capital - which Altuzarra has used, in part, to introduce accessories and more recently, open a shop-in-shop in Manhattan's Saks Fifth Avenue flagship - the partnership came as a bid of confidence from one of the industry's most esteemed conglomerates. It marked one of the only (if not the only) investments the luxury conglomerate has made in a young(ish) New York-based brand

But Altuzarra is a slow burn, and given the momentum he has built and the focus and consistency with which he operates – that the best might still be yet to come. It is worth noting, however, that what we have seen thus far (think: body-skimming frocks that manage to perfectly straddle the line between demure femininity and oozing sex appeal; strong outerwear; hints of fringe; and of course, his coveted thigh-high slit skirts) has managed to win over even the staunchest of critics. Friedman, one of the industry’s shrewdest, most objective, has, after all given him her seal of approval – in many a fashion week review. That speaks volumes all on its own, as not every designer has been so lucky. 

When asked about the current climate of the fashion industry, Altuzarra shed light on his depth as a designer – which is quite possibly why he has been so darn successful to date. Seemingly resisting the hot trend of the moment to embrace See Now-Buy Now, Altuzarra said: “Luxury products take time. I really believe that it is important to take care to do it properly and think it through. At the same time, it is my role to think about what women want now and what they will want to keep.”

He continues on: “I think if you show six months in advance, and she goes into the store and it fits beautifully, and it’s the right price — she’ll buy it. I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that, personally.” There is something rather enlightening about seeing a designer chart his own course. Is there not? 

He elaborated saying: “Right now there are a lot of questions about social media and the runway calendar and other logistical concerns. For me, I think there are broader questions: Do we really need all of this stuff? Can the garments themselves be designed better? Can they be made more desirable?”

He did not stop there: And it is here that Altuzarra manages to broach a point that very few designers - established or otherwise - have brought themselves to publicly acknowledge as of late. Maybe the fashion system is failing us because designers are not producing (due to a lack of time or drive or whatever) the requisite level of innovation and/or creativity and/or thoughtfulness in terms of design required to lure consumers into stores and e-commerce sites and actually swipe their cards.

It seems that the industry has collectively found it much more comfortable and also much easier to rely on truly external solutions, such as better aligning the runway schedule with the schedule for delivery to stores or banning social media from runway shows, to make sense of and remedy the current sense of consumer fatigue and lack of growth that much of the luxury sector is experiencing.

Looking inward for recourse is a difficult pill to swallow and an equally daunting task to undertake, after all, for it requires taking a personal review of the value of one's work, making promises and producing solutions. It seems this is exactly what the industry needs and something from which consumers stand to benefit enormously. 

In doing so, Altuzarra is both innately realistic and enormously brave. In lieu of relying on PR ploys and quick fixes (which are proving immensely seductive in the current market), he is focused on substance. He says he has always been focused on the longterm strategy of his brand and how he can best speak to his consumers, a real woman who is looking for something very specific. 

Such efforts do not always produce the most headline-grabbing press or the most conventionally breathtaking garments, as innovation and risk are not always the most conveniently packaged. However, it is these efforts that substantively carry the industry forward and the ones that are undeniably worth celebrating.

While seemingly intuitive, few designers have been forthcoming enough (and/or honest enough with themselves, perhaps) to publicly suggest - or even allude to - looking to the garments and accessories themselves as the source of the problem.

In this way, Altuzarra – complete with his decidedly wise comprehension of and appreciation for both the practical elements of the fashion industry coupled with its equally significant creative pressures that designers face – is not only be well equipped to weather the storm of fast fashion and the current system of rapid consumption; he can also serve as a remarkable model for designers – both emerging and established.