Interview by Lucas Pantoja
“Everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else.” This sentence taken from the book ‘Infinite Jest’ as written by David Foster Wallace, appears on the website and within the self-named brand of Italian designer Massimo Alba. While on the website you can find Massimo’s story of how this quote has stuck with him, for me his clothing is all the story I need to understand how a line like this has made an impression on the designer.
His collections are filled with specially crafted garments composed of high-grade materials ranging from: cashmere, corduroys, silk, and velvet to name a few. The brand’s pieces are those which only tend to look better as they age, built comfortably, and typically subtle in their designs.
Having spent much time working and creative directing within the fashion industry since the 80’s onward, for a number of brands [Agnona and Ballantyne to name a couple] — Massimo then went on to established his namesake company in 2006. Since its founding, the independent brand has gained momentum and built up a community of fans, as it continues to flourish whilst extending its reach with clothes finding themselves on different customers across the globe.
With every collection from Massimo Alba I seem to discover something new about my own taste in clothing. What fascinates me the most is how one shirt of the same model, size, and color palette has a different feeling than the one folded up beneath it. Maybe it’s the distinctive garment dyeing techniques which the brand practices that make each article of clothing unique in it’s own way; or maybe it’s a feeling which can’t be defined by words alone.
For those curious enough, I’d recommend making the discovery themselves and visiting a Massimo Alba boutique if ever the opportunity arises. I first payed a visit to the flagship in Milan’s Brera district around the time I moved to Italy, knowing not a soul in the metropolis. I’ve since made great friends through the brand, as well as acquired some clothing companions which I hold very dearly. During Milan Men’s Fashion Week Fall/Winter 19-20, I had the pleasure of visiting the Massimo Alba showroom in the Navigli district of Milan for TFP; to get a first look at the new collection, hangout with friends, and interview Massimo himself:
Lucas: Throughout your brand and universe, you often mention specific authors, titles, and quotes from books. Could you elaborate on that? What do you look for in books?
Massimo Alba: I’m very superficial, so the first thing I look for is a cover, they’ve always fascinated me. Looking at books as objects; seeing different books together, inside stores, the smell of the paper. I enjoy opening a book, reading a few sentences or a couple of pages, and being inspired by that. Basically, I am obsessed with the word and the casualness of discovering new things by chance.
Lucas: That’s very interesting and your approach to books certainly shows in the brand. I’m always fascinated by the different phrases which appear throughout your collections — particularly on the handkerchiefs that seem to be a mark of your brand.
Massimo Alba: And well, handkerchiefs to me are something which you can gift to people. Eventually they may even be passed onto somebody else, or end up lost only to be found by another person. Then, at the end of the day you might pass by the flea market and find yourself a new handkerchief. It’s nice to think that handkerchiefs can have their own lives. When there is a message written on one, I like to think that whoever picks it up may then interpret the writing and become inspired in their own way.
Lucas: When I first discovered your brand and I went to your flagship in Milan, I saw a plain t-shirt with no logo on it or any extra embellishments. At first glance this was just a shirt, but after holding and observing it for a longer period of time; eventually putting it on I realized there’s more personality in this. It wasn’t just any plain shirt. So in your own words, what gives life to your clothing?
Massimo Alba: I am always looking for that same thing which you found; in books, records, a pair of shoes, and in people. I am obsessed by the fact that for some strange reason you found what you were meant to find. For instance, it’s very important for me to see how my son selects his clothes and what he and his community of friends are interested in. To try and see the world through their eyes. Today it’s clear that we have this strong presence of street style, but we’re going to have to change or else it’s going to get a little bit boring don’t you think? In my opinion we have to create a mixture; of the way in which I dress and the way my son dresses — but keeping in mind that I’m a grown man and he’s much younger. So starting with myself, I like being comfortable and not showing off logos, using soft colors and materials. From that, along with a curious attitude; I begin designing my collections and I always discover something new. Like how two colors match together differently. Then, it’s nice to let everything happen in its own way by chance.
Lucas: In the way you mentioned finding this ‘thing’ earlier, in books and in records. Maybe we can’t really define what it is, that attraction we have. I’ve thought about this before, entering your store, surrounded by many different garments but for some reason walking over and picking up one particular item, not any other. It doesn’t even happen to be my favorite color, but it’s as if there’s a communication going on there.
Massimo Alba: Yes, and this is exactly what I like in life. Being open to the uncertainty of whatever happens.
Lucas: Many people often struggle with dressing themselves. In your opinion, what’s the key to dressing oneself?
Massimo Alba: It’s all a matter of feeling comfortable and being authentic. You have to discover your own taste and point of view. Today, everything has a lot to do with communities, marketing, influencing, Instagram, but in the end you have to be yourself — and to then feel comfortable in your clothes.
Lucas: What hopes do you have for the brand in 2019?
Massimo Alba: As you know, we have stores in Milano, Roma, Sestri, and we’ve recently opened a new location in Courmayeur. Now, I really hope to take a step and establish the brand even more within the United States by opening a store in New York; a city which I feel really comfortable in. What do you think about that?
Lucas: I think that would be great. I’d love to see a Massimo Alba store in New York. I know you recently took a trip to the west coast of the United States, how was that experience?
Massimo Alba: We rented a car and took a long trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles with some stops along the way. Also we had the kids with us which made it all the more fun. I like being able to hold together different points of view from different ages. To not be closed minded in statements and words, but always be able to discover new things.