Changing Cerruti

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No one can be the new (or next) Nino Cerruti. Nor should anyone try to be. The dashing founder of Cerruti is irreplaceable, inimitable. He is the consummate sartorialist, embodying la grande bellezza – the great beauty – of Italian style. Born in 1930, he inherited his family’s textile mill in Biella, his hometown in Piemonte, Italy, after his father’s death. The factory, Lanificio Fratelli Cerruti, was built by his grandfather in 1881 and produced luxury fabrics. With his experience at Lanificio, Nino launched his first label, called Hitman, in the fifties, which was seen as revolutionary by critics (Giorgio Armani worked there) and later established Cerruti in 1967 in Paris.

In 2000, Nino sold 51 per cent of his company to Fin.part SpA, an Italian company that manages fashion brands. But within the year, Fin.part bought the rest of the company and booted him out. He told the Herald Tribune that the relationship failed because there was a “perpetual conflict of interest”. He designed the last collection for his label in 2002.

After a succession of creative directors, including Roberto Menichetti, famed for reviving Burberry, and Istvan Francer, formerly from Donna Karan, Fin.part declared bankruptcy in 2005. Cerruti was sold to the US private equity firm, MatlinPatterson. The American company installed Nicolas Andreas Taralis, a former designer at Dior Homme, as creative director in 2006. He was then replaced in 2007 by Jean-Paul Knott, an ex-designer at Krizia, YSL and Louis Féraud.

In 2010, Cerruti was then sold to the Chinese retailing company, Trinity, which also owns Gieves & Hawkes, Durban, Intermezzo and Kent & Curwen. Trinity installed Aldo Maria Camillo, previously senior designer at Ermenegildo Zegna (2006–2009) and menswear director at Valentino (2009–2012) as Cerruti’s new creative director in 2012, and finally the magic combination seems to have been found.

In his review of Camillo’s autumn 2014 collection, Matthew Schneier at wrote, “Following founder Nino Cerruti, a succession of designers has passed through its doors, from the famous (Narciso Rodriguez, Richard Nicoll) to the lesser known. The latest to take the helm is Aldo Maria Camillo, an Italian-born veteran of Valentino menswear, who has been given charge of the men’s collection Cerruti 1881 (1881 being the year the Cerruti family’s fabric mill was founded).

After years of Cerruti presenting without fanfare, Cerruti 1881 finds itself back on the catwalk, complete with a front row filled with European celebrities and an aggressive marketing campaign to get the word out.”

Even though Cerruti hailed him as “a worthy successor to Nino Cerruti” in a statement, it also assured that he has “vigorously reinterpreted the codes of the Cerruti brand, like its famous casual chic silhouettes, with his own vocabulary.” It went on to add, “Aldo Maria Camillo is breathing new life into Cerruti 1881, the French Maison, with Italian roots and with youthful and timeless style.”

Why did you take the position of Creative Director at Cerruti?
I thought it would be a great opportunity and a challenge. Cerruti has a wonderful, unprecedented history in the world of international menswear. It is a brand that is part of the collective memory, and not only because of the story of its founder, Nino Cerruti, who embodied and lived the brand to its fullest. As with all the great stories, there came a time when someone had to go back to its origins and continue to tell it with a definitively contemporary flavour.

Before I joined Cerruti, like everyone I was aware of its past. Then, when I began to immerse myself in its archives, to study and read interviews and to research Nino and his career, I found values I also share with him. It gave me a perspective on the man, as I researched a character with whom I feel a close connection, who I feel is like me.

What can you do at Cerruti that you weren’t able to achieve at Valentino?
All my previous experiences have led me to mature, grow and assert a point of view that has gradually become stronger and more certain. Valentino is a great fashion house, with a different history, but also one that is somehow similar to that of Cerruti. It also started with just one man, Valentino Garavani, who had a vision for women’s fashion, with a passion for beauty, tailoring, couture, and tradition, but essentially focused on womenswear. My challenge was to develop menswear collections based on the same demanding perfection, inventing them from scratch. Now at Cerruti I am finally able to explore, retrieve and develop a genuine aesthetic that does not have to be created from scratch but that was born and traces its roots back to the traditions of the fashion house. For Cerruti, it is about continuing a story that was started by Nino, by bringing it resolutely up-to-date. I want to take tradition forward but also to renew it. The legacy of a fashion house like Cerruti is much greater in men’s fashion and carries with it a totally different weight.

What is it about Cerruti that makes it unique?
Cerruti is a French fashion house with Italian roots, a global reference in menswear with its own precise characteristics. Great tailoring, a knowledge and love of wonderful fabrics, plus a flair for research and experimentation continue to be the cornerstones of the fashion house. But love for the perfect product and for constructing an extremely high-quality men’s wardrobe are not the fashion house’s only ingredients.

The uniqueness of Cerruti also lies in the fact that, since the very beginning, it has revolutionised the way menswear is viewed. In both thought and action, Nino Cerruti created a particular style with codes that have been picked up and perpetuated over time by the world’s biggest names in men’s fashion. I’m thinking of Giorgio Armani, or Veronique Nichanian at Hermès, for example, both designers who started out with Nino Cerruti.

Can you tell us more about your strategy in modernising the brand?
It is fundamentally important to remember how innovative and avant-garde this brand was. It answered fundamental questions and needs at that time, even predicting them, by becoming a pioneer. It did this by bending the rules, while still continuing to respect tradition, because without memory, there is no future. I now feel the need to respond as a man of my time to the needs of my time, always while respecting rules and tradition but in a way that is absolutely not nostalgic.

Is Nino happy with your changes?
Absolutely, yes. He was the first to congratulate me in person after the first show. Many of the fabrics I have developed for use in today’s collections come from wool mill Lanificio Fratelli Cerruti.

How do you achieve timeless and contemporary designs?
Timelessness means respecting and understanding the immutable rules of tailoring; it means working with traditional fabrics that are universally known and recognised. This is what brings a timeless flavour to my collections. Contemporaneity, on the other hand, is about constant research and experimentation with garment cuts and constructions to create a new silhouette. Traditional expertise and a contemporary interpretation.

Tell us about the new AW 14/15 silhouette you’re developing at Cerruti?
For me, the collections are new building blocks that come together and increasingly allow me to explore a discourse, an ongoing dialogue. I don’t like the external and sometimes hysterical changes that collections undergo from one season to the next. I appreciate continuity, developing concepts over time that feel like mine as I adjust and refine them step by step.

The AW 14/15 season is part of this ongoing dialogue. It has allowed me to continue developing themes that were already present: the mix of sport and formal, and the use of technical fabrics for tailored garments and traditional fabrics for sport-inspired garments, creating a classical silhouette with a twist that explores new volumes. The search for natural and relaxed elegance.

Why did you add a sportswear feel to Cerruti’s more traditional look?
Sportswear has always been an integral part of Cerruti’s world, even in the days of Nino Cerruti. He was the first to dare to introduce a real revolution by mixing elements of a sporting wardrobe with those that were more traditional, from a more classic wardrobe.

At the time he was a pioneer; no one else had dared to do it, to say nothing of his many collaborations with great athletes and sportsmen of that period, from tennis to Formula One and skiing. Nino Cerruti designed the outfits worn by those competing at an international level. I am now a part of that tradition in the most natural way possible. Without forgetting that sport now has an influence on every way we live and has become an integral part of the wardrobe of the contemporary man.

You have talked about your “quest for softness” at Cerruti.
Softness is not only something that is linked to the need for comfort. It is also a question of creating a look. Effortless is an expression of a way of dressing and of being cool. Another contemporary reinterpretation of something that had already been predicted by Nino Cerruti, who wore a suit jacket with espadrilles on his feet!

What has been the response to your collections so far?
The response has been positive since the very first collection. The international press immediately celebrated the return of Cerruti’s elegance. The buyers decided to support us. In just three seasons we have opened some prestigious retail outlets, such as Matchesfashion, Harrods, Selfridges, 10 Corso Como Shanghai, Luisa Via Roma, Verso, Le Printemps. It’s a wonderful adventure!

by Peter Yeoh

About The Author

Glass Magazine New York and Tokyo editor

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