@enniocapasa on Instagram
One of the brands that defined the cool, minimalist look of ‘90s fashion was Milan-based Costume National, founded by Ennio Capasa. The Italian designer cut his teeth at Yohji Yamamoto in Tokyo before moving back to Milan to create the label with his brother, Carlo Capasa (who also serves as the head of Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, which promotes Italian fashion). Costume National’s sharp trouser suits belied a rock’n’roll sensibility, further underscored by a following that included Mick Jagger, Patti Smith, and Carine Roitfeld, among others. Last year, the brothers exited the label after 30 years at the helm to develop new creative endeavors. We sat with Ennio in his summer home in the south of Italy, in Otranto, Puglia for a chat.
Ennio, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I became a designer a long time ago with a project called Costume National. Before that, I was in Japan, where thanks to you, Philippe, you introduced me to Yohji Yamamoto. I had a great experience there, as you know, because we shared a lot of good memories. That time was very interesting to me because while I always had a passion for fashion, it was in Japan that I learned more about the technique, to become a real professional, and to go deeper into inspiration and the creative process. After Tokyo, I came back to Italy to start Costume National with my brother. It became a success and it was my life. I have so many emotions and memories from it. It was a beautiful time for me, my work, and my success until last year when I decided to sell the brand because I want to do something new in fashion. I took a one-year break [after selling the brand] and that’s where I am now.
What’s next for you?
I think we are in a very interesting moment because we are in the middle of a real revolution in relation to customers, in relation to products, in relation to creativity. I have this kind of energy and desire to create something that is more related to today, to the time we’re in. When I started Costume National, it was about another time. Today, my creative pulse is bringing me to resee all my experiences with a different key. I try to understand what is my desire today, what kind of approach I want to take today, and which kind of product I like today. So I’m working on a project that tries to address my new vision. To generate emotion is my final vision.
“After Tokyo, I came back to Italy to start Costume National with my brother. It became a success and it was my life. I have so many emotions and memories from it.”
We know sustainability is an issue important to you. How will that play a role in your new project?
I think it’s important now, when you start a new project, to be sensitive to sustainability as part of the vision of the future. I cannot start any project today without thinking about that. I think about every step of sustainability, everything in the entire process, from respecting the environment to respecting the people who make the clothes. I cannot be happy until I address all of this.
Today, we live in a moment where communication with other people is very fast. You push a button and you can reach a guy from Alaska to South Africa. I want to take advantage of that. It’s interesting to work with artists from all over the world. With one email today, you can create a project – why not take advantage of that in a creative way? To collaborate is important to me.
How do you seek inspiration?
Throughout my travels, I find that I always like the same things – let’s say they are my ‘fixed points.’ Inspiration to me is more an attitude of life; to be inspired means to be open to beauty, to be open to art, to be open to emotion. And that can happen whether you want to or not. It happened many times to me that I wasn’t looking for inspiration and when I turned around, it was there. Inspiration is some kind of starting point to develop a project. That starting point is not a marketing action if it’s pure and true. You have to listen to your soul, to your heart. I’m lucky because I still have this part that is looking for that pleasure to be happy with something new. That is an important point, too – to be surprised. To be surprised, for me as a human being, is something that gives me a lot of pleasure.
“I think about every step of sustainability, everything in the entire process from respecting the environment to respecting the people who make the clothes. I cannot be happy until I address all of this.”
Tell us about your relationship with fragrance.
Scents are the door to perception. When you talk about scents, you talk about the most powerful part of the human being. Scents have no frames, no walls, no culture, it’s just your instinct from the deep side of yourself. For example, one time you smell this beautiful smell and it opens one world in your brain without speaking, without talking, without sharing, it’s just ‘wow!’ As we go into the modern technological age, sometimes we forget that the origin of scents is the origin of the brain. The danger with all this beautiful technology is to forget about scents.
When I developed my first fragrance, I started with a memory. It’s been proven that a scent can trigger memories of your childhood. My grandmother used to put a piece of amber in a cupboard for our sheets and linens. I didn’t think about that [consciously] but I grew up with this piece of amber. For my first fragrance, the first note I wrote was amber. Jasmine was another of my grandmother’s that I wrote into the fragrance. This fragrance was like my childhood diary because it was that impressed into my brain and it stayed there. So it’s that relationship with scents – before you can even talk to your mother and father, you smell them. It’s an international world because there is no language and it doesn’t matter where you’re born. It is this primitive language that you develop into a creative way.
Why is Puglia special to you?
Puglia is the place where I was born. It’s important to me. At the same time I left Puglia when I was 18 and came to Japan when I was 20 so I’m really a citizen of the world, in a way. Of course my roots are here and actually Puglia is the most international place in ancient history. Everyone has passed through this land, from the Africans, Turkish, Egyptian, Greeks. So I like this kind of thing where somebody comes and mixes with the people. Here in Puglia, we have blondes with blue eyes, dark color, red hair, whatever. My grandfather had red hair and blue eyes – can you imagine what mix that was? Another thing I like about Puglia is that it’s at the border of the sea. When you see the horizon, it represents freedom of creativity. When you just look at the horizon, it liberates your creativity and your emotions. I’m lucky about that because all throughout my childhood, I developed this sense of freedom inside my blood.
As human beings, we sometimes forget how lucky we are to live in this little planet full of beauty. I like the planet, I like everywhere I can go. I feel lucky to have traveled to the places I’ve been to. When I was young, I was obsessed with Asia. I think that Asia has this mix of spiritual, moody, mystical sense, this sense of scents, sense of spices. I was attracted to that. Then when I was older, I travelled to South America and South Africa. You have to see each beauty with a different eye because beauty is everywhere in the planet.
Sometimes, I ask myself where is the best city you can live in today? I realize that the best city you can live in today is on the Internet because on my computer, I can reach Tokyo in a minute, I can reach New York in a minute. The most interesting energy now is no longer in one city but it is in this machine, which can be terrible because it can kill our inspiration. At the same time, it can be amazing. I can do a lot of research on the most amazing people on this machine. The beauty is in one computer if we can find it in the right way.