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Alumni Spotlight
Nicola Formichetti ‘96


Where are you from, and what brought you to Rome?

I am Italian-Japanese. I was born in Japan and brought up between Japan and Italy. I attended elementary school in Japan, and then my parents decided that my brother and I should go to Italy for high school, so I spent four years in Rome, boarding, and they were the best years of my life.

Can you describe your experience at St. Stephen’s? What are some of your fondest memories of that time?

I had an amazing time. It was like a dream scenario: it was my first time being away from home, being a boarder, and I felt independent, but I also had my friends around me all the time; it was just wonderful. Also, in the middle of Rome, the school’s location amongst history, art, and architecture was incredible. [St. Stephen’s] is where I learned my skills, where I discovered my love of art, music, and fashion. With the school, I visited churches, and I discovered Caravaggio; we would go to outdoor concerts at Circo Massimo. On the weekends, my favorite place to be was the Porta Portese flea market. I didn't have any money, so I would go to those super cheap vintage clothing [stands] and repurpose and style what I found, [mostly] vintage clothes mixed with random stuff; basically, what I do today is what I was doing on the weekend in Rome in the flea market.

I was a good student. I was kind of doing everything. Every day after school, I played the piano in the chapel; sometimes, I would play the piano for the theater or the chorus. I was also on the running team; we would run at Circo Massimo, [beneath] the Foro Romano, which was insane! I would say that I was an all-around good student, and then I made trouble on the weekends.

After Rome, what came next?

I had no idea what I wanted to do; I was just living in the moment. My passions were art, fashion, and music. When you're applying to [schools], you have to say what you want to be in the future, and I remember thinking, “I have no idea, can I just stay here forever?” I liked traveling, so I put “hotel management” and other just random stuff. The only thing I knew was that I loved reading magazines. In Rome, there were a few places where you could buy international fashion and music magazines like The Face, I.D., and Dazed + Confused, and that was my bible. I used to read those magazines and then buy clothes in Porta Portese to copy the looks from the magazines. [I decided that] the music and fashion scene in London looked appealing to me, so I found a school in London and I thought, okay, I'm going to pretend to study architecture. I just wanted to be in London; it didn’t matter how I got there.

You began your career in fashion as an editor and creative director at various magazines, including V Magazine, Vogue Hommes Japan, Dazed + Confused Another Magazine, and FREE Magazine; how did your experiences as a creative director for different magazines prepare you to become the artistic director of Diesel and, currently, the Creative Fashion Director of Uniqlo?

I became a creative director already in high school. The school told me to be good at everything all around and to trust my instincts, to get inspired by the people around me and the great thing about St. Stephen’s was that I was around people from all over the world: that was so stimulating. The art, the music, it was all so exciting. In Rome, I learned how to trust my instincts, so when I moved to London, it didn’t matter what I did. I went with the flow, I met people, one thing led to another, I started working in a store in London, and there were many people there from Dazed + Confused magazine so I went to Dazed and I started learning about magazines, photoshoots, and styling--it was like going to school in a way. Still today, I am a student, I’m interested in everything. So, I started as an intern at Dazed; I became a fashion editor, then fashion director, and, seven or eight years later, I was the creative director of the whole magazine. While I was doing that in London, I also started doing Vogue Hommes Japan, and then, ten years later, decided to move from London to New York, where I Started doing V Magazine and other magazines. While I was doing magazines, I was offered design work. I was already consulting with high fashion and streetwear brands in Italy. Then a company called Mugler ( the Thiery Mugler company) approached me to become the creative director in Paris because of the work I had done in magazines and with [Lady] Gaga, and that led to [becoming the Artistic Director at] Diesel, and then I did Uniqlo. I love doing different things within the fashion and music and entertainment world, so anything goes, really; I always try to make myself a student of life. That’s the key. I’ve been in the business for twenty years now, so I could say that I know everything, but no, you can always learn new things and try to do better and better.

In other interviews, you have explained that social media and sites such as Tumblr are frequent sources of inspiration for you. What role does technology currently play in your creative process?

I’m not afraid to try new things and incorporate them into my work. I’ve always done that, even in the MySpace Era. I remember doing casting on MySpace when I was working with Alexander McQueen, and we wanted to cast “cool kids,'' and I said, “let’s go to MySpace, find a cool band, and find the followers.” Today that feels so normal, but at that time, no one did that. For me, technology has always been very useful. So I did casting on MySpace, and then Facebook came along, and then Tumblr was an incredible source of inspiration. Social media completely opened up my possibilities of meeting people and collaborating, and I still use it. Now [I use] Instagram and TikTok. There’s always a diss at the beginning from the industry. Today it’s like, of course, you need to work with TikTokers, but there’s been a bit of elitism in the industry. They try not to open the door to everybody. I’m always the punk who says, “no, let’s work with the TikTokers, let’s work with the Instagrammers,” there was a time when no one wanted to touch influencers. When I did my first Mugler show, we opened up backstage with cameras everywhere, we worked with Twitter, and at that time, people were like, “why are you doing that? Why are you opening up your backstage, showing people?” It feels normal today, but at that time, it wasn’t. For me, social media [has always been] a tool to make [my work] more exciting and approachable. I have a love and hate relationship with it, of course, because sometimes it controls you. The Instagram feed is pretty amazing; when I am researching particular things, everything comes up because the algorithm knows what I like. [That being said,] I don’t forget to go off-grid [sometimes] because that time is just as necessary: reading a book, sketching, writing, copying magazines, researching, ripping things up, putting them on the wall, sometimes, for me, that’s more powerful because sometimes you make beautiful mistakes where I put two images together, and it creates a sparkle in my brain that can help me come up with other ideas. When you do that digitally, it’s useful and easy, but it's harder to create emotions. Social media is great, but the real world is also important. You have to research to know what’s around and what's happening in the world, but you have to have your own voice. You have to make your own decisions to create [new] things, and that's why I need my offline time: for meditation, for chilling, for dreaming, for daydreaming, reading books, writing, all of it.

You have your own label, Nicopanda, a gender-neutral high concept streetwear brand; you are currently the Fashion Director for Lady Gaga, a Creative Consultant for Haus of Gaga/Haus Labs, and the Creative Fashion, Director for Uniqlo. How do you balance all these roles? Also, what is the difference between being a fashion designer and a creative director?

I treat it all the same. I always try to put everything into what I do; I’ll do anything creative or fashion-related if I like the project. Even with a title like “ fashion designer,” you could say that fashion designers need to be able to sew and draw. And yet today, that’s changing too because unless you’re doing insane couture pattern cutting and things like that, a fashion designer is almost a creative director, its someone who can step back, look at the overall vision, and delegate and, for me, that’s the same when I do a magazine as it is when I’m working with Gaga. For me, it's about the overall image and visuals, and that’s true if I’m working on a music video or the red carpet, or a photoshoot. I wish there were a name for it--the closest is “creative director.” I always want to try new things; you can throw anything at me, and I’ll try to make it work. It’s like being in school; you just go with it, there are things you like and things you don’t, but you don’t know until you try, so I go with the flow; I try everything.

Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “never let a good crisis go to waste.” How do you see or how would you like to see the fashion world evolving after the pandemic?

It kind of had to happen. The pandemic was awful, and we moaned a little bit [at the beginning], but then we were like, “OK, what are we gonna do now?” [This experience] made me realize that I only want to do things that I love doing. You step back; you see the entire world and your existence, and you have a lot of time to think about stuff when you're alone at home, and this whole thing made me think, I don't want to waste time anymore, I want to do purely things that I love that feel good for me. I [actually] started doing that just before the pandemic because, a couple of years earlier, I was going crazy; I was traveling so much to Italy, Japan, London, New York, back to back, constantly traveling, and I did that for ten years; I was kind of burned out, and in the end, I was like, what am I doing? I was still doing stuff that I loved, but I had to keep up and do better, and I was thinking too much about making money. I lost the point of the whole thing: I am alive. In a way, the pandemic made me rethink everything.

Two months before the pandemic started, I decided to move to L.A. because I wanted to be a bit more chill, a bit farther away from everything, and just take it a little slower, only do projects that I love doing and that are good for my soul. I feel like that is [also] how the fashion industry is going to evolve. What are we doing fashion for? I am all for making new and incredible things, but to make things for the sake of making things, just to make money? I think that’s going to disappear. It’s better to have fewer things that are good, [that share] important messages or add something new and thought-provoking rather than just making stuff for the sake of it. I [also] love the idea of repurposing and restyling, which I’ve always loved but even more so today. Why can't we take old things and reimagine them, make them new? I think there will be more and more things like that. In a way, it was great this happened to shake things up; it was a detox. I think the same goes with every industry; it had to happen because we were just going crazy before: more and more and more, product, product, product, content, content, content, and it was just insane so, in a way, this crisis made us realize, okay, let's calm down. I’m not saying “be boring”; we can still be exciting and innovative while producing fewer things.

What do you consider your greatest achievement so far, either personally or professionally?

I can very truthfully say that I love what I’m doing, and I have no regrets; I want to keep doing what I am doing and make it better. Professionally, I don’t know; I’ve won awards; I created the meat dress [for Lady Gaga for the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards], which was insane [because] overnight, something that I created became global news. It was strange, but I suppose you can call it an achievement. For me, I always try to make things better and better; probably, on my last day on earth, I will still be making new things. Never look back.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

At the end of the day, it needs to be fun for me, and it needs to give joy to me and others; it’s about love so when I can feel that, that brings me joy, and now, when I don’t, I just walk away from it. It’s also important to surround yourself with people you love and just have fun, be positive, and enjoy what you’re doing. It's very simple.

Has it been a straight path for you, or do you feel you have been tested along the way to achieving your goals? Can you talk about what some of those challenges have been and how you’ve surmounted them?

I believe that everything happens for a reason; everything is a test to make you better, good things and bad things, especially the bad things. My path has been zig-zag, backward, flip, backward, flip, front, and back. It was never ever a straight path. The only straight path is probably my vision; I think that needs to be very straight. Whatever you want to do, your goal needs to be very clear, not what you’re actually doing but the feel of it; [for example,] “I want to create things that I love” or “I want to shift the world,” that needs to be clear and then forget about it, go with the flow, go anywhere, because if you have your vision--the goal--straight then everything else is just its own way of getting there, it’s, [all] just mistakes and achievements. I think I always knew this, but when I started working, every time something bad happened, I used to get [discouraged], and now I look at the bad things and ask, “what am I supposed to learn?” If you shift your mentality, everything is like a game, and it’s fun: “OK, something crazy happened, but it's there for me to learn something from it.”

Professionally, my work is all about collaboration, and I don’t always get the same responses from others, but the only thing you can do is try your best and surround yourself with people that are in tune with you. Today there’s the whole social media “cancel culture,” negative comments, and even if you try not to look at comments or people’s opinions, that’s challenging even for me today because you’re doing your best. You want everyone to appreciate it, but that’s impossible. I have learned not to care too much about what other people think because, in the end, you need to be happy-- there are always different opinions, and people can take things in different ways. Listen to people you trust and surround yourself with good people.

Do you have any advice that you would like to share with the next generation of St. Stephen’s graduates?

I had no idea what I wanted to do; I liked everything. Just enjoy it; you have learned so much from school, remember where you’re coming from, try not to lose yourself and try not to please other people, even your parents; I mean, “thank you,” but at the end of the day, it's your life.

If you feel blocked and you have no idea what you want to do, maybe it’s time to daydream, have time for yourself, do sports, walk around, read manga, create “me time.” College seems so important when you’re a senior, but it’s just a stepping stone to go somewhere else; it’s great for meeting people and learning [new] things, but it's not all about where you go to college, that's just to please whoever so, I know it’s difficult but try to go inside and ask, “what do I really want to do? What feels good? Do I want to stay in Italy? Where in the U.S. or Europe or Asia do I want to go?” Or, if you’re burned out-- which many people are in senior year--just go traveling, right now that is more difficult but try to be yourself because it only gets better, really, you will open up your world and make mistakes; make mistakes all the time because that’s how you learn: I make mistakes constantly, and I am pretty successful so you can make mistakes and still do well. You can learn to make mistakes with style.


You can learn more about Nicola and his work by visiting his website: Studio Formichetti.

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