May 18, 2024


Built General Tough

Brioni chief designer: “You have to be able to stand up with dignity”

When you hear the name Brioni, one inevitably thinks of British secret agents, German ex-chancellors, of Cary Grant strolling through the Rome of the 1960s wearing a fine thread. The butt in the corner of the mouth. Glamorous events, satin lapels, men just as much taste as rough edges. Like Brad Pitt, who is currently lending his (advertising) face to the fashion house founded in 1945.

But formal elegance, high society and screen heroes are only one facet of the brand, emphasizes chief designer Norbert Stumpfl in an interview. The native Austrian has been setting the creative direction of Brioni since 2018 and is celebrated for his clear vision by critics and the industry alike. For him, there is also a lot of pioneering spirit and extravagance in the company’s archives, which he likes to dive into for new collections. And the topic of suits is far from exhausted for the 44-year-old despite working from home and limited social occasions.

Mr. Stumpfl, for more than a year there have hardly been any appointments that do not take place in front of the webcam. Who needs a suit there?

He’ll survive, I’m not worried about that. For us, trousers and jacket have developed very well over the past few months, even if the buyer does not wear them as a complete suit, but individually with a polo shirt.

There are voices who fear the long-term triumph of balloon silk.

Sure, we all get used to a certain casualness and comfort, but that started even before the pandemic. Men’s fashion looks to sportswear manufacturers, is inspired by their dynamism and technical materials – and is even eyed, because sportswear wanted to grow up, with sophisticated cuts and high-quality woven fabrics. The result, for example, is suits that take part in a short sprint. Both worlds fertilize each other, I would say.

Norbert Stumpfl, chief designer of the Brioni fashion brand
Norbert Stumpfl, chief designer of the Brioni fashion brand

Have you ever had to hold back at Zoom meetings when a participant was sitting very casually in front of the computer?

I wouldn’t want to expose anyone, especially because as a designer I enjoy a lot of freedom. A rule of thumb is: not too stiff or formal – and in such a way that you can stand up with dignity at any time. A cashmere turtleneck fits perfectly, also the jacket with a T-shirt underneath and a pair of chinos or nice jeans. I only wear sweatpants at home in the evenings when no one sees them.

What does it mean for you as a designer when customers’ lives are turned inside out?

Adaptation without chasing trends, because we are a style and not a fashion house. I cater to specific needs, so every piece of the collection has been checked to see if it speaks to the now, contains a new idea, and makes commercial sense. When in doubt, we preferred to leave something out. This is also appropriate with full stores in retail.

How much change can a traditional brand take before it bends?

As a classic fashion house, I only see ourselves when it comes to quality and craftsmanship. Because our founders didn’t look back nostalgically for a second when they opened their tailor shop in Rome in 1945. On the contrary: Nazareno Fonticoli, who was trained on Saville Row, and the designer Gaetano Savini were real pioneers. They showed men’s fashion on the catwalk for the first time, once even on a plane to America, and dared to use bold colors like orange or yellow for tuxedos. That was avant-garde! I want to bring this innovative strength and eccentricity back into the collections.

What else do you have in mind to make Brioni suits fit for the future?

My most important goal is that they are as light as a second skin. Slip in and forget. Technically, that means: We rely heavily on 200 and 230 thread, which means that 200 meters weigh just one gram. Anyone who touches such fabrics will get goose bumps!

What does the man of the world absolutely need this summer?

A feather-light jacket like our “Leggera Jacket”. It is woven from cashmere and silk with five threads and a double layer, then separated with a scalpel and put back together again. That and over 6,000 invisible seams and darts ensure an unbelievable feeling of freedom when wearing. No wonder that 13 hours of work by the master tailor are involved.

In addition, the so-called worker shirt made of robust material and with four patch pockets is experiencing a comeback. We implement it in dyed, washed silk. And as soon as there is something to celebrate again, a Brioni tuxedo with hand-sewn lapels is of course an absolute must!

Exclusively on Brioni Head of Design Norbert Stumpfl on …

… CEOs in sneakers:

“In a warm country, why not. Sometimes there are also hidden sneaker socks, which you see very often in Italy. I find it important to have perfectly fitting, high-quality trousers. But if you can’t wear it with confidence or if you have doubts, you should just leave it. “

… his own style evolution:

“At the fashion school in Austria I wore my hair long and self-made, quite formal suits, for example in brown or beige with a large plaid. Everyone else was wearing jeans, so I stood out. Years later, when I went to a boutique owned by Helmut Lang, a fellow countryman, in Linz, everything changed. Clear lines, high quality, intellectual approach … Whatever I had left at the end of the month, I invested in his fashion from then on. I still own many of the parts.

When I was studying in London, I wore a lot of Prada because I was working in a brand’s shop. As a ‘uniform’ we got two pairs of Italian shoes, three pants and great sweaters per season. I also donned parts of my own graduation collection, including designs by Jil Sander, Kostas Murkudis and Ann Demeulemeester. I was already a Brioni customer, some cashmere turtlenecks from then have survived to this day. “

… the role of chance in his professional life:

“I’ve always loved drawing, interested in art, architecture and interior design. In my home town of Taufkirchen an der Pram, which is located in Upper Austria and has a population of almost 3,000, there was only one fashion school that roughly matched these passions. So the teachers advised me to do my Matura there, as a compromise. I would certainly learn some useful skills. A good recommendation because I loved these five years with their mix of teaching and apprenticeship training. After that I knew everything about patterns and made-to-measure production and knew every machine that was used inside out.

I found out about the famous Central St. Martins fashion academy in London later, just as by chance, because my mother read about it in the newspaper and told me about it. And I also owe my internship with the unforgettable Alexander McQueen to a coincidence. A photo model was thinner than expected and someone was urgently needed who could make extensive changes overnight. A friend recommended me – and that was my entrance. “

… new characters:

“Based on our history, we are very close to actors, because when the film studios of the Cinecittà became a popular filming location in Rome in the 1950s and 1960s, stars like Cary Grant and Clark Gable came to the city. They wanted to wear fantastic outfits just like their Italian colleagues on set, and that’s how they came up with Brioni. In addition to our great brand ambassador Brad Pitt, I think, for example, Riz Ahmed is wonderful, a British musician and actor who was now the first Muslim to be nominated for an Oscar in the category ‘Best Actor’. He would be a good match for us. In general, we’re looking for real men in show business, not muscle-bound superheroes. Intelligent, talented, with a sense for art and film, as well as a life full of ups and downs. “

… important stages in his career:

“My professor Louise Wilson at Central St. Martins taught me to constantly challenge myself. I got into her master’s degree with top grades and she failed me almost everywhere for a year because she knew that many things were too easy for me. At one point she said to me: ‘I know you can draw. But no one would ever wear what you draw. ‘ That shocked and spurred me on at the same time.

Working with Alexander McQueen was an incredible experience, and luckily I was with him when he was still feeling good mentally and positive. An absolute genius. In ten minutes he had draped a piece of fabric on a bust to go with the couture dress.

At Balenciaga, where Alexander Wang was the chief designer at the time, I was able to experience commercialism at the highest level. At Lanvin under Alber Elbaz, his furious play of colors and rousing storytelling in every collection.

And in my short time at Demna Gvasalia, I was able to experience creative fearlessness in action. Sometimes he would hold up a color palette and ask me, ‘Which tone do you find particularly ugly?’ I tapped one and he immediately said, ‘Well, that’s exactly what we’re going to take.’ In my role at Brioni, I took important pieces of the puzzle with me from all these phases. “