Caleido interviews Maria Valerio, creative director, together with her partner Zachary Johnson, of James Vincent Milano brand. Welcome to Caleido, an inspirational diary that narrates many stories: about creative people, trends, travels, objects. / Read the Editor’s letter here
Diary of: @jamesvincentmilano
10 topics of conversation, approached from different perspectives, to explore reality through a kaleidoscopic vision
1. You are Italian, while your creative (and life) partner, Zackary, comes from Boston (USA). Which aspects of your homelands have shaped you the most? If you imagine exhibiting your collections all together in one room, which are the cultural elements that would emerge with greater intensity and constancy?
I was born and raised in the South of Italy, in Bari. In a family respectful of traditions and at the same time eclectic: a combination that I carry within me all times. The aspects that I’d link to my homeland the most are a certain rituality – due to our customs and traditions – and a sense of belonging that allows me to explore and create without fear of losing myself. Zack is a true believer, he has a tenacity that they teach in the USA since you’re a baby; his motto is “Sky’s the limit”, what could be more American than this?
Our collections, if we want to call them so, are actually pieces picked out from one big wardrobe. We both design, but Zack is the mathematical mind that defines the proportions of the silhouettes; I come in next with the materials and colors. It’s hard to define where one ends and the other begins. An Hollywood look definitely persists, a scenic element along with “American” style details that come together with the selection of Italian fabrics and leathers.
2. What did it mean, at the beginning of your career, to be a fashion designer in your country? Are there any episodes, worthy of being recorded in a Diary, that you remember with greater intensity?
Small premise: in my wishlist I had never included “designer”. The journey for me began when I met Zack, who had started the project in the United States, first in New York and then in Boston. There was a lot of dissatisfaction, however, from the point of view of manufacturing and the availability of a certain type of material, hence the step overseas. The many experiences are then actually shared, but on this Diary we certainly note down one of our very first trips to New York to meet a renowned buyer: in that moment we realized that putting our product in a store or on an e-commerce would have damaged the integrity of our work, so it was a fundamental turning point for us and for the brand.
3. What do you think are the most profound changes the fashion industry is experiencing today? How is the new generation of talent contributing to these changes?
I find digitalization to be the biggest change. Designers are working on Whatsapp, sales are online, shows (also due to pandemics) are consumed from home. Fashion can be compared to Netflix. New talent are digital natives, they were born into this world, so to communicate with the public they develop communication strategies that re-package fashion to fit on an iPhone.
4. What do you think are the strongest social issues that contemporary society is facing? Are there any battles that are closest to your heart?
Unfortunately it is quite evident that there are so many problems and they are so dated… I can’t make a real ranking because I find that they all need to be treated with a certain urgency and attention. The one that is closest to my heart, as a woman, is the battle against the amount of abuse and violence that we are still forced to endure; on a wall in the city of Bari I recently read an inscription, made with a spray can, which reads more or less like this “When I leave home I don’t want to be brave, I want to be free” – it’s that “brave” vs. “free” that should make us think.
5. One of the most important issues in today’s discussion is the sustainable approach to fashion. Not only given by the naturalness of fabrics, but also by an approach that results in production processes, ethical or social content. What is your approach to this?
The philosophy behind James Vincent is simple: we don’t produce to have customers, we have customers to produce for. That’s what we’re all about, and that’s what drove us from the early stages to have a made-to-order approach. Overabundance and redundancy do not interest us, they are not part of us.
We have never asked ourselves the question “how to make James Vincent a sustainable brand?” because the philosophy behind it already makes it sustainable. Craftsmanship is the key.
6. Your work is steeped in cross-cultural references, making you a talent to follow. If you had to identify 5 references (even outside of fashion) that describe you, to search for on Instagram, what would they be?
Here you are 5 references to search for wherever you want… Instagram for me is a mystery that I don’t really want to unravel!
7. Recently, a guest at Caleido said that in today’s world there is no longer a need for new “symbols” (which have always been central to fashion): what is needed is for creatives to focus on finding effective solutions to protect the environment and nature. Do you agree?
I think that in the perspective of a path of renewal and requalification towards the protection of the environment and nature, new symbols and new languages will inevitably (and luckily) be born.
8. As a new generation of creatives, what definition would you give to the concept of luxury?
Unexpected, suspended between functionality and total hedonism.
9. How would you define romance? And love?
Romanticism and love are two concepts that do not always go hand in hand in my vocabulary.
I believe in love, which I find more concrete, and which for me translates into listening and understanding – two notions that are inseparable from that of respect.
10. What is one object in your home that you would never give up? What is the memory attached to it? Would you send us a photo taken by you?
I would never give up my iron baking pan for making focaccia barese [a kind of bread, click here to watch the tutorial]. It is an object that has all the characteristics that I love: the pan must be prepared before using it (and here comes the ritual…), it must be taken care of with grandmother’s advice, it is personal, it requires experience and dedication and it is used to produce one of the best foods in the world! The memory of this object lies in the scent of home, and by home I mean my beautiful homeland.