“I couldn’t be more happy or optimistic about the future of the fashion industry in America,” says Joseph Altuzarra. The fashion darling is still brimming with emotion after winning the industry’s most coveted accolade, the Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund Award, this past November. It is one of the most esteemed recognitions for designers and their contributions to American fashion, with past winners including Billy Reid, Sophie Theallet, and Alexander Wang. “It is an industry that continually and consistently encourages and supports young, up-and-coming designers and helps grow businesses. Despite the popular belief that there is a lot of cattiness and competition, the fashion industry is actually a welcoming community. I count many of my peers as friends.”
Framed favorites of past collections
The prize also comes with a large boost in national exposure, an established mentorship program, and a hefty $300,000 prize. “I think winning the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund has really helped us to get to the next level, and it also reminds me of the fantastic support we have in the industry,” says Altuzarra. “I felt incredibly lucky that I was selected to be a finalist in the competition again. The group of designers was terrific and all so talented and interesting, not to mention wonderful people. I wasn’t expecting to win, and when I heard my name called, I could hardly believe it was happening. It was a dream come true.”
Altuzarra has been on the path to such success since his graduation from nearby Swarthmore College more than six years ago. Majoring in art history and studio art, the undergrad prescribed to the typical college uniform of jeans, T-shirts, and baseball caps, a look that proved comfortable for enjoying the sights of the city. “I always loved going to South Street as a college student, and I also love Rittenhouse, for the obvious reasons: It’s beautiful, cosmopolitan, and peaceful. And my favorite place to eat is still, hands down, Susanna Foo.”
As he approached graduation in the spring of 2005, Altuzarra boldly sent résumés to New York design houses without a slim fit leg to stand on. He lacked the experience in design needed to attain a job in fashion, but Altuzarra’s letter made a believer out of one house: Not long before graduation, he received a phone call from the office of Marc Jacobs offering him an internship position. From there Altuzarra continued to hone his skills at prominent design houses such as Proenza Schouler (its founders, designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, were the 2009 Fashion Fund Award winners for Accessory Design), as well as the famed Parisian house Givenchy.
The SS12 Collection from sketch to runway
“And that’s how it all started,” he explains. “At Marc Jacobs, I learned about the process of how a collection is made, from the initial idea to the sales floor. It was an amazing experience to watch Marc and the design team develop an idea into a drawing, and then into a collection. That process is something I still very much adhere to now. At Proenza Schouler, I learned a lot about how a company works, about all the moving parts beyond design, which of course helped me in the development of my own company a few years later. At Givenchy, I was taught to design and cut in a very specific way. There was an emphasis on research and drawing, and a lot of work went into the finishings of clothes and the way they were made. It is really where I learned to be a designer.”
It wasn’t long before Altuzarra had established his own brand and cultivated a growing number of followers, including well-known socialites and celebrities, some of whom he calls close friends. His collections were recognized for their sophistication and creativity while maintaining a youthful appeal—specifically, his Spring 2011 collection, loaded with sporty and floral motifs that range from the very technical to the very flirty, including black leather and buckles as well as soft knits mixed with floral prints.
Women, he claims, are his muses, whether his best friend, Vanessa Traina, or the women he passes while walking to work in the morning. “I don’t think I am influenced by places as much as I am inspired by women. Women are different everywhere, but the women I dress today all share one thing in common: They all have fast-paced, busy lives, but they still want to look beautiful and put together. I think women in Philadelphia have an incredibly developed sense of style, which is quite different from New Yorkers. I think they are quicker to embrace color and print, as opposed to New York women, who will more often than not stick to black or gray. I could imagine women in Philadelphia going for my pastel-blue printed eyelet blazer, with a pair of faded blue jeans and a white button-down shirt—a perfect outfit for a stroll around Rittenhouse Square.” Special order, Saks Fifth Avenue, 2 Bala Plaza, Bala Cynwyd, 610-667- 1550