In a studio/store in a southern district of Milan, we meet Massimo Alba. He is unusual for an Italian designer, in that his space feels remarkably uncorporate and un-slick, more like a hipster hangout than an exercise in branding. There is music playing – Oil on Canvas by British 80s electronic rockers Japan – and on closer examination it turns out it is on vinyl, on a Technics turntable. Alba’s studio at the back of the store is full of toys, objects, books, vintage posters, woven rugs, and old furniture. In a corner stands a life-size model of what looks like a Transformer, and on the floor lies the designer’s Labrador. Outside is parked his customised Triumph motorbike. Meanwhile, the store is clean, with simple metal hanging rails, contemporary art on the walls and wallpaper made from the pages of books.
Alba has good credentials, having worked for a number of fashion labels, with a stint as creative director of luxury Italian cashmere house Malo, and Ballantyne, even becoming owner of the latter. He launched his own collection in 2006 from the small space we are in today in Milan’s scruffy Naviglio area, which has more in common with an area like Shoreditch than Mayfair. Now he has another store in Milan, in the fashionable Brera district, and others in Rome, Liguria, Bellagio and Taormina, and the label sells online. His collections for men and women have found favour with a discerning crowd, and are characterised by unstructured tailoring, exclusive fabrics and the use of natural chemical-free pigments in the garment dying process and finishes. Brummell decided it was time to introduce him to our readers.
We’re currently in your studio in Milan. How long have you been here and how would you describe Massimo Alba?
We’ve been based here for 10 years. We’re a very small, independent company. In my eyes, being independent is the key, because that’s how you can maintain your concept. In a small team, you work so closely with the concept and the people you work with are part of that concept too.
And what is the concept for Massimo Alba?
We start producing each garment with the yarn. We work through an archive, researching the attitude of different fabrics, instead of taking the fabric as it’s found. We dye over it, wash it and finish it in different ways to give it a special quality. We don’t want to create something that’s already there; we want to play with an original concept. When looking at the building blocks, you wouldn’t imagine you could get the effect we’ve created, and that’s what I love.
Your pieces are quite unique in that you don’t need to buy an entire outfit. It’s not about the styling of whole outfits, as you often see in menswear, but each piece works on its own.
Yes. That’s good and bad. Good because you are not forced to buy everything from the same place anymore, and can choose what you like from a brand, without feeling you need to get the total look, but bad if you are too led by trends. People used to think you’d be cool if you bought one certain piece, and I do think this has come back in recent years with mainstream brands and streetwear. Speaking to my son – who is 13 – and his friends, I see this need to buy the piece that’s currently cool. They’re becoming fashion victims! When actually what I think is so important is to find what you like. Instead of wearing a colour, for example, that you’ve been told is nice, we want you to feel good in that colour because it’s yours, not because someone else just decided to use that colour.
Fashion has become very corporate over the past couple of years, and we’re seeing a resurgence of people looking to express their own individuality again.
Exactly. One thing I really appreciate is not having a big logo on the outside of my clothes, which is one thing we decided to avoid in our collections. I really believe that style should be invisible. I don’t really believe in stylists, because I think the clothes you wear should be you, not a representation of a brand. Actually, when I decided to start this project 10 years ago, I was quite shy so I created the smallest label possible to go within my clothes. So small I couldn’t even read it without my glasses!
Expressing your own personality in your clothing – is this why it’s so important to support independent brands like yours?
Absolutely. You have to support independent brands. If you’re in New York, let’s say, you go to department stores with the same brands, then in your Uber you see the same brand advertised and again at the airport. Even if you come back to Capri or Portofino, you see the same again! I think people are clever and they’re moving away from these brands that they see plastered everywhere. The movement we’re seeing in people back towards independent and local labels is fantastic. And we really want to create pieces that express people’s personality, but that they also feel they can live in, and that they’re comfortable in. Feeling comfortable is everything.
Massimo Alba’s spring/summer 2019 collection is available to purchase at massimoalba.com