Made in Italy but a product of London, Angelo Galasso is the designer whose on-the-money interpretations of classic tailoring have become wardrobe staples for playboys and plutocrats. Among the ostrich hide, crocodile skin and super-luxury of his flagship store, GQ talks shop with a man who has come to reinvent menswear.
The Financial Times may have once described him as “this generation’s most inventive image maker”, but if your idea of style is ultra-minimal, then Angelo Galasso is probably not your man. Nor will PETA members be his biggest fans, but the Italian king of extravagance is perfectly happy with that. He makes no bones about being very much the Maximus of the fashion arena.
From his London flagship store next door to Harrods, Galasso supplies the international crowd, from Macau to Moscow and Manchester, who call London home and aren’t fazed by paying up to £5,000 for a pair of jeans, as long as some mink or crocodile is involved in the process. And there are plenty of men who want exactly that.
Galasso, born in 1959, hails from Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot, where his father was a local chief of police and his mother was a teacher. As well as growing the vast majority of Italy’s olives, the region has proud southern Italian tailoring tradition (as well as once being a world centre of the sock industry before China put paid to that). Here, tradition is the key word and it is something Galasso has both embraced and rebelled against his whole life.
“Where I come from”, he says, “from the moment you are born you are seen as a typical boy, so if you start to do something that is atypical, say you like dressing differently, people immediately tell you.re crazy. But I came from a big family so you always had to fight to get any attention. That is why I moved away to Rome and then London, where people like you to be an individual and you are encouraged to be different.”
And it isn’t hard to see why he has ended up in London. He has that easy Italian charm that the Brits are suckers for and a Marcello Mastroianni twinkle in his eye. This is coupled with an ability to wear a blazer and jeans in a way that only an Italian can.
But, he goes on to say, the philosophy behind his brand is rooted in tradition. “Our philosophy is to use the classic Neapolitan cut for jackets and to construct shirts in the old-fashioned way. Italian men, unfortunately, can be very boring because they don’t.t want to change. They think to be different is to be flashy. My customers, however, want to stand out, so we might do a few things differently, such as make a watch cuff, but everything is made in ihe Italian tradition”.
Galasso came to fashion later in life. He originally left home, having got married aged 17, to become a car salesman. He left Puglia for Rome eight years later to work in an investment bank. “I started making clothes in my own time”, he says, “and people in the bank kept asking where they came from and then asked me to make something for them”.
This snowballed and he left the bank to start up his own made-to -measure business, the idea being that you would to measured up in your office. “Soon I had 14 women on motorcycles going around Rome taking measurements”, he laughs. He soon opened a shop, and it was the watch-cuff shirt that first made Galasso famous when he launched Interno 8. The “8” should always be pronounced the Italian way, as “otto” – getting this right is one of those little verbal ticks that mark you out as a man of the world, like knowing to pronounce the “T” in Moet (you would get even more Brownie points if you know that “Interno 8” was inspired by his entry phone for his apartment in Rome). At the time, GQ suggested he should be hailed as the patron saint of office workers because he had made open-necked, high-collared shirts fashionable -though he actually offered more than 70 different styles.
The watch cuff, where the doubled cuff of the shirt has a “window” in it so that your wrist-watch can be on display, has even been displayed in London’s Design Museum. And, like all good design, it doesn’t inspire indifference: people either love it or loathe it.
By the time he had a chain of 80 shops, he became bored, so he sold them all and moved to London, where he wanted to open a different concept. “I like London, it is an excellent place to live and to start a business”, he says. “It’s not such a good place for a holiday, but that’s what Italy is there for.”
In the meantime, in 2004 he joined forces with former Formula One Renault team principal and now-departed Queens Park Rangers chairman Flavio Briatore to create Billionaire Couture, named after the latter’s Sardinian nightclub. The simple concept was that billionaires should dress like billionaires, as indeed should millionaires – a concept right up Galasso’s via. Such luminaries as David Beckham, Sir Paul McCartney and P Diddy were reported to be fans -the watch cuff was even renamed the Cuff Daddy in the rapper’s honour. But perhaps the high-water mark of Billionaire Couture’s extravagance came in 2008 when Galasso came up with an umbrella in treated black crocodile skin, which was offered for sale at around £30,000 – and this in the teeth of recession. It went on to sell three pieces.
Unfortunately, according to Galasso, it would appear that the creature that Briatore most resembled was a shark. Last year, the former F1 boss and was taken to court by Galasso for breach of contract. The Billionaire Couture case continues, but all mention of Galasso has disappeared from the company’s website, while Briatore is described as having a “dynamic and innovative management style”.
So now Galasso has his new venture under his own name, but the same old extravagance remains. “My philosophy is that if there is something that costs £10 less then it is not as good”, he explains. “So I will never compromise and cheat the customer”.
He is all about giving men the courage to be different. “When I was six years old”, he says, “my mother took me with her when she went to fix brides’ dresses for their wedding day and the first thing they would all say is, ‘Please make me different’. I think men have the courage to be different, too, but sometimes they move at a slower pace. They start by buying something from me for a dinner party, say, and people comment on how they look a little different. So when they come back they tell me they want to change a little bit more. Then they will come back with a friend or a woman and that’s when they are ready to change completely.” He also likes to think he provides an education and to illustrate this he rather surprisingly uses a cheese metaphor -although you could argue this is typically Italian. “If, for example, you think about mozzarella, ten years ago you could eat it anywhere in this country but it is only now that people have experienced real mozzarella that they can identify between the good and the bad. And likewise with clothes; I tell people to experiment as this is how they will learn what suits them. And in my experience what they learn is that they like tradition with a little twist.” In other words, men will realise that they prefer fresh buffalo mozzarella to the rubbery residue you find on the top of a takeaway pizza, but what they really like is a rich burrata -a mix of mozzarella and cream from, appropriately enough, Puglia.
Despite the fact he says London is for business and Italy is for relaxing, he is still a believer in the excellence of his native country’s tailoring tradition – everything is made in Florence. His inspiration is as likely to come from Portobello as it is the Ponte Vecchio. “I love to find things in markets, be they in London or Las Vegas I try to find things.” As an example of this, he has one-off black cotton shirt whose back is an extraordinary hand-painted silk scarf dating back to the Fifties he picked up in Rome.
A growing business for Galasso is bespoke shoes. They come in every exotic skin you can imagine: crocodile, stingray, ostrich, python, mink, goat, veal… he would have the inmates of London Zoo quivering in their cages, especially as customers order up to 20 pairs at a time. Or more, if they’re tempted to get their children in on the act as Galasso offers smaller sizes, too. There is something a little strange about seeing a tiny pair of crocodile-skin shoes, but if you’re the kid who has everything…
And what about the £5,000 pairs of jeans? “They’re not jeans, they are works of art,” he laughs. “The art is in the detailing and the finishing. These are trousers you could keep until he day you die.”