The first time I passed Sloan, Brian Stanziale’s storefront at 174 Mott Street in Manhattan, I was stopped in my stride by a blazer with exaggerated gold shoulders, and this was some time before Decarnin’s reinvention of Dynasty-style sequins and power dressing. Inside was a wonderland of intricate, reconstructed vintage garments. Sitting down with Stanziale, we learned a little more about his work, the reasons he loves New York and why he thinks The Great Muppet Caper is the greatest movie ever.
Marlo Kronberg: What were you like growing up? Were you always interested in fashion, art and design?
Brian Stanziale: Growing up I was weird. I always wanted to create, but music was what I was really into. I wanted to be the next Usher. It was the worst idea I ever had. Then I went to military school… I was always a weird well-mannered, poorly dressed kid. I didn’t really have any personal style. That’s why I think music was something that was so easy for me. I started studying music and realized that it’s not fun; it’s all business. Then I got into fashion ’cause I’ve always loved clothing. I just didn’t realize that people made a living doing it.
Marlo: Did you get any formal education in design?
Brian: I did. After I went to military school, I started studying fashion design in Chicago at Columbia. That’s where I got the technical background, not so much the creative. I studied and then came to New York ’cause there’s no fashion in Chicago. It’s a barren wasteland of Juicy Couture and Abercrombie. It’s so depressing. It’s just there to cover the body, and I don’t understand that. You’ve got such an opportunity to put on whatever you want and make a statement. I would walk down the street in Chicago in outfits that weren’t even that crazy and people would stop and stare. In New York, you could have a python wrapped around your head while you’re dragging a wheelbarrow, and nobody would blink an eye. That’s why there’s so much inspiration here. People really rise to the occasion in terms of aggressive dressing.
Marlo: How would you describe your aesthetic?
Brian: Space-age hippie of the future. I like stuff from right now, but I want to see right now in the future. You take something that’s really simple and just find an interesting way to present it to somebody. Two things [that are] case in point: the movies Gattaca and the Fifth Element. Everything in those movies is all stuff that we already have. They just showed us things that we have today in the future, like the cigarettes when he gets his three cigarettes a day in The Fifth Element? The color proportion is just off. Another example is the Chinese food restaurant. It’s still a rickety old Chinese restaurant but it happens to be floating outside of his window. They take things that are so familiar and just tweak them. For instance, I’ve got all these amazing old men’s jackets and I want to start making women’s clothing out of them. When somebody wears it, you see what it is instantly. You subconsciously know that you’re looking at a deformed blazer, but it was somehow transformed into a dress.
Marlo: What is your favorite piece you’ve ever designed?
Brian: This is gonna sound really cheesy. When I was really young—maybe six or seven—I would take this huge blanket and I would tie it around my waist and then I would run around and it would pillow up like a big parachute. That was my favorite. Maybe I’ll re-make it. Then I made a little towel halter dress out of two stolen gym towels, but it looked beautiful on everybody who wore it.
Marlo: From where or from whom do you draw your inspirations?
Brian: From—I’m really getting into old movies—Brigitte Bardot characters. I mean, I’ll name the big ones: Brigitte Bardot, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn. You just start watching all these amazing characters, where all they do is just get dressed up for the sake of getting dressed up and they have no fear in their approach to fashion. That’s really inspiring. My friends also inspire me to no end. Whenever I have them come in and try on my pieces, each friend completely transforms them. Each person highlights different hidden things in a piece.
Marlo: Who, out of those women that you mentioned, is your favorite one and why?
Brian: I’m gonna say Audrey Hepburn. But maybe not for the regular reasons. I like boyish women. Women who can pull that boyishness off and still be the sexiest person in the room. In Funny Face when she does the dance in the club, she was like a cat. Every inch of her body was covered, but she couldn’t have been sexier if she tried.
Marlo: Do you have any friends in particular who inspire you? Any muses?
Brian: Yeah, pretty much all of my girlfriends in every aspect. Even the men’s stuff that I do looks just as good on a woman. All of my girlfriends are just naturally effortlessly chic.
Marlo: What is your favorite collection ever by another designer?
Briane: I’m gonna have to say Alexander McQueen. His entire collection of work was my favorite fashion collection. But if I had to say one season in particular? I don’t know the year, but it was the year he had a model come out in a white dress with a calfskin half-bodice and it was super, super full. The robots spray-painted the dress. That can never be recreated. It was so dramatic. It’s one of those things where it could have been so terrible. But everyone that made that moment happen was committed to seeing it as a beautiful piece.
Marlo: What is your process?
Brian: Sometimes I’ll look at something and know right away exactly what I want to do to it. Sometimes I’ll keep the same dress around for a month and try different things. Sometimes it just happens. I’ll just wake up at 3am with this idea and then by 7am I’ll have eight new dresses.
Marlo: You wake up in the middle of the night and start working?
Brian: My sleep is so sporadic; having a factory so close that I have access to at 3am means it’s non-stop.
Marlo: Tell me what we’re listening to right now.
Brian:The most amazing movie ever made is The Great Muppet Caper. It takes place in London and it’s about a jewel thief who steals the baseball diamond—the biggest diamond in the world—from Lady Holiday, who is a fashion designer. The clothing in this movie is so magnificent and timeless. The styling is impeccable. That was one of the songs from it.