New York-based Costello Tagliapietra is a design house worth knowing about. Founded about ten years ago by Jeffrey Costello and Robert Tagliapietra, the design duo debuted their collection during New York Fashion Week for the Spring 2005 collections. The label has since been somewhat of best-kept secret for fashion's in-the-know, but this doesn't mean Costello and Tagliapietra haven't been without industry-wide praise. In fact, they were welcomed with great reviews, the 2005 Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation Award and two consecutive years as CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalists. Their collections of beautifully draped fabrics, smartly tailored dresses, and well-constructed jackets speak for themselves, but we talked to the duo anyway - about their personal style, collaborations, working together and more ...
The Fashion Law – Tell me a little bit about your brand, since business, now more than ever, is focused on branding.
Costello Tagliapietra – Today it seems to be more about perspective. Most recently we have seen our culture recycle ideas at such a rapid pace and filter and then re-filter the past over and over, so it is more important to have a clear identity and personal aesthetic in which you look at your own design process and how you perceive and interpret and then reflect the time you are in. We originally came from families that were tailors and I, Robert, went to school for painting and Jeffrey spent his early years in New York designing stage and video costumes for musicians and actors. When we came together what we immediately drew from was our mutual love of romanticism and nostalgia paired with dreams of the future. Our histories inform our work and they in a lot of ways define our brand.
The Fashion Law – You were finalists in the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund two times several years ago. That’s quite a feat! What was that experience like?
Costello Tagliapietra – Thank you! Yes, we were selected a year into our brand! We had very small distribution and were still mainly a made to measure company. It was, of course, an amazing experience, neither of us had ever worked for another designer nor hung out with any, so having such close contact with our peers was educational and the process itself forced us to recognize our voice and what we stood for. I think most of all it gave us recognition in the industry and being a part of that collective is like a badge of honor. We are forever grateful for both nominations!
The Fashion Law – Do you ever worry about others copying your designs? Is this something you have encountered?
Costello Tagliapietra – We don't worry about it but it does happen. Actually right after the Fashion Fund in 2007, we were visiting my mother and we were at the mall, and there at one of the mass retailers, we saw a very familiar looking section of dresses. There were about five dresses from our spring show, similar colors and similar silhouettes. This happens all the time though and is very difficult for designers who do not use a lot of bells and whistles. As minimalists, it can be very hard to copyright because it is sometimes more about essence than a particular portion of embellishment.
I remember getting an email from a buyer when she was in Milan in 2010 saying that we should check out "so-in-so's" runway online because it looks uncomfortably like ours. But what can you do?, other than, it forces you to rethink how you do things. Even our personal style (we make all our own clothes) has been appropriated at times. A big retailer came up to us at an event once and proudly told us that there was a blowup of a photo of us on their inspiration wall and they were doing our cardigans. Shocked, we thought ... Well, you could have at least hired us to collaborate, hah.
The Fashion Law – You did a highly anticipated capsule collection for Uniqlo in 2010, which was huge because at the time you hadn’t done anything like that before. Then you came out with your C&T collection. What is it like to reach a new girl so-to-speak?
Costello Tagliapietra – We loved both experiences! We still get excited when we see a girl on the street in those Uniqlo dresses! We work hard on our pieces and there is nothing more gratifying than seeing someone wearing the clothes! We have had ladies come up to us on the train to thank us for the Uniqlo pieces. You just can't get better than that! We are definitely looking to make C&T a fully realized collection and we are definitely working on other ways to offer what we do at a better price. We would love to be more accessible in that way.
The Fashion Law – You have been working together for over a decade. What is your working dynamic like?
Costello Tagliapietra – We started working together just months after we met in 1994. Back then it was mainly music videos and films but it taught us how to communicate ideas and delegate tasks. We both come from artistic backgrounds. So, we truly work collaboratively on everything. We also both enjoy the process of what we do and are most creative at the pattern-making table.
The Fashion Law – You launched your brand in 2003. How do you think it has changed since then?
Costello Tagliapietra – Our first show was for Spring/Summer 2005 Fashion Week. Before that we had done a small 10 page lookbook the year before just as a trial (that was what we had our first write up in Vogue about). At our brand's core, the dress will always have an important role, but as we slowly build out the brand into other categories we will hopefully also see the Costello Tagliapietra collection grow and evolve.
The Fashion Law – It still holds true that in order to get a Costello Tagliapietra piece, girls have to come to your atelier? You don’t stock those collections in stores, right?
Costello Tagliapietra – We will be expanding distribution with our upcoming Spring 2014 collection. We are partnering with some great factories and we will be excited to see it back out in the market again! We will always continue the made to measure aspect though; it informs our work and the feedback is immeasurably important to the design process.
The Fashion Law – Many designers today seem to depend on celebrities to really help them make their brands by wearing a design and then being seen by millions in magazines. This is (quite refreshingly) not the approach that you seem to take.
Costello Tagliapietra – We came from that world; of making custom pieces for artists and musicians. It was a different time though. They weren't just used as a marketing tool to sell product. We still work with stylists and celebrities although we like it to be an organic process and for her to wear something because she loves it and not because she is on our payroll. However, we do understand both sides of that coin and when you are selling volume, the power of celebrity is undeniable and it is surely always exciting to see something you made out in the press on someone you admire!
The Fashion Law – What are you working on now?
Costello Tagliapietra – Spring 2014 and a possibly an exciting new project!