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    Tiffany Chung

    13 Oct 2020

    Text by Tiffany Chung


    13 Oct 2020

    While this year has forced many of us to slow down, Rocco Manco has been moving full speed ahead on launching his new project, Primary Archive. It’s this creative director’s unyielding passion for everything he does that keeps him going and fueled his 20-year long career. In this episode of Citizens, we talk to Rocco about the places he’s been, the inspiring people he’s met, and his latest endeavour that combines sustainability with his vision of classic and pure design.

    Hi Rocco, you’ve had a long and successful career in the fashion industry. How did you get your start?

    “I started in 2000, after studying industrial design. So, something completely different. After industrial design, I was working in an advertising agency. It was there where I started to work with a sportswear brand and at a certain point they said, ‘why don’t you join our team, we may need a creative guy, or someone with a bit of a different vision of our product’. Yeah, that's how I started. The team was Napapijri which is a well known sportswear mountain brand. I had the chance to work directly with the founder of this brand, a kind of visionary guy, comparable nowadays with the guy from Patagonia. So, he was really into nature and developing technical products for hiking, citywear, urbanwear and this iconic brand grew exponentially and became internationally recognized."


    You’ve also worked in a number of different cities and countries. Have the different cultures influenced you as a designer?

    “Yeah, Italy, Turkey, France, and now I’m in Holland. Basically, in the companies where I worked it was international people around me. So, there wasn’t a big difference. The big difference was specifically in the approach of the market and approach of the brands. Italians are really conservative in terms of developing products and in their approach to the market. They prefer to go deep and be product specialists in the market segment where they stand. That's why you have specific, high quality products, high quality manufacturing, and often traditional design. Turkey was a massive market because they were producers. So, they were focusing on quantities with good quality but always based on time and price delivery. In Holland, they are “visionary”. Dutch people know the market really well and they know what the market wants, they’re really driven by that. But on top of this, if they own a strong identity in their brand, they are great to stick and dive into it really intensively, and I see a kind of passion in that, I like that.”

    Primary Archive.
    Is that why you stayed in The Netherlands the longest? The approach to fashion and design?

    “From a culture point of view, I really like the style of life that you have here in Holland. I can walk downstairs in my pyjamas, go to the supermarket and nobody cares. I feel this helps also to create less barriers between the people. There is a kind of freedom of expression in everyday life. I need to mention as well that I love the fact that I can easily move and do everything by bike in an international city, that’s also unique."




    So, what moments in your career have been the most impactful for you?

    “When I was working with Napapijri and worked with Marco Trapella, he was like a mentor for me. That first experience was the most important, especially with a really interesting person close to me, who easily and naturally teaches something every day.


    Another moment was when I started a brand called ‘CDSB Jailwear’. It was a project where I created work inside a prison. It was me and an associate team of people: psychologists, technical people, administration people and we brought sewing machines into a prison close to Milano and employed prisoners for the production of clothing. The clothing was really cool, it was a kind of streetwear brand with jail wear influence. Until the 70’s, in Italy, but mostly all around Europe, in prison you need to have a uniform. Basically every country had its own mandatory uniform. In each uniform there was rich detailing that I used to create this brand. For example, striped fabrics because in prison they create visibility or show which area of the prison you belong, buttons to adjust the uniform on your body because they were produced in only 2 sizes, no invisible pockets were allowed, everything should always be visible for the guards, etc. So, we took that detailing and we mixed it with hoodies and sweatpants and we taught the prisoners to sew it. Product-wise, it was a really incredible experience. Human-wise, it was even better because I met people who have incredible stories and state of souls, people who will probably spend their lives there. We gave them, just for a few hours, a kind of contact with the world outside the walls. With work, in a way, we made them feel useful and part of a society again. It was a way to look at design from an ethical and social point of view.


    Another one is when I came in contact with Elio Fiorucci. I was lucky enough to work with a lot of inspiring people but Fiorucci was definitely a person difficult to forget. He has been one of the denim fathers in Italy. The one who invented lycra in denim and created the first skinny jeans for women. In the early 80s, Fiorucci was often a guest at Andy Warhol’s factory; there are pictures of him at Studio 54. He was a classic Italian guy from a good family that went to New York and was struck and fascinated by the American culture of those years. In Milano, he has become a pop icon. He used to have a store in the 80s, in the center, called the Fiorucci store. It was famous all around the world for a few things, one was Madonna at the age of 18, before she was ‘Madonna’, performed DJ sets in the store. This was in the 80s and in Italy, not London, where he was bringing in a DJ girl and playing music during the shopping day on weekends. He also invited Keith Haring to create a massive mural on the wall of the store which is now a monument and still there today. I got to work with this guy for a denim school project and then I spent a few meetings with him. Beside being a big source of inspiration, he was a gentleman and really sweet person, deep reader and connoisseur of contemporary culture. Also, we talked a lot about pop which was in a way the first marketing culture that we know in fashion and that still influences us today.”


    Cool. You were a lecturer too?

    “Yeah. That was also another amazing experience. I proposed my workshop in army wear. I have a consistent archive. I always collect pieces and it's mostly workwear and army. I went deep into discovering things like why pockets, reinforcements, or regulations are specifically designed and how to design uniforms and technical gear, not from a fighting point of view, but just for a functional and ergonomic point of view. I really went deep and I always use these references, even in my job today. So, I taught 2-year courses there and it was a massive experience. First of all, for the first time I understood I had something to share and the importance of “sharing”. Sometimes you get so busy just going from one project to another that you forget that you’re still growing and this is still your passion. It's amazing to work with young kids who are there because they are hungry to learn and to create. I started with the story of the uniforms and continued with the explanation of the most iconic garments and their technical design solutions. I let them select different countries and they started to design their own collection based on what we studied together with their style and vision of fashion. Some of these students I’m still in contact with and even some I have worked with.”


    Rossignol x Tommy.


    So, for a young hopeful designer, what skills or characteristics do you think they need to have in order to thrive in the industry today?

    “Always be curious. Don’t be afraid to do something different than what you think you can do. I’ll explain. Sometimes a young designer fresh out of school thinks he knows what he wants to do, for example, shoes for women. So, often they will start jobs and they end up designing basketball shoes. Even though it’s not what you want to do, you should still put passion into it. Be flexible with what is happening in your life, be hungry and learn from everyone, everything will make you a better designer tomorrow.”

    FW18 Tommy Hilfiger, mens.
    Speaking of passion, you describe yourself as a ‘fashion collector and icon addicted’, what do you collect?

    “Basically, menswear. So I can wear what I collect. Army, workwear, sometimes sportswear items like gore-tex jackets, old hiking or outwear pieces. Back in the day, a lot of experimentation was really in sportswear. Sailing and hiking were two big schools where waterproof zip was developed for the first time, vulcanized shoes were developed for the first time, a lot of new tricks that you find in normal products today which at that time were considered at the top of technical execution. I collect those kinds of pioneer pieces together with the most iconic menswear pieces selected by their design, possible in the most simple and authentic tailoring execution.”


    I hear you’re starting a new brand?

    “Yeah, this is related to what we were just talking about. An obsession to collect pieces in a certain way. It’s my passion to collect these state of the art, unique pieces. I also wanted to be sustainable. Sustainable and collectable. A person who inspired me a lot is a person who I’ve collaborated with in the past: Maurizio Donadi. A few years ago he started a project, Atelier&Repairs, where basically he’s using old stock and transforming it into a new collection. He’s always saying, “The only sustainable fashion is the fashion that doesn’t produce.” I like that concept and I started a project quite similar where I look locally and around the world discovering warehouses with dead stock products. Products that have been produced but never sold and are now just trash. I select and I buy dead stock related to my vision of menswear – pleated trousers, army shirts, trenches, and those kinds of things. I inspect each piece, I eventually repair and restore it and add my brand and my story on it. The name is Primary Archive because it’s an archive of primary selected pieces.”




    That’s really exciting.

    “Yeah, it's quite interesting. It's always exciting for anyone to start a brand and be facing every part of it – the website, the communication, the look, how you shoot the pictures, where you get the clothing, how you twist the clothing.”


    That’s really exciting.

    “Yeah, it's quite interesting. It's always exciting for anyone to start a brand and be facing every part of it – the concept, the identity, the tone of voice, the communication, the look, how you shoot the pictures, where you get the clothing, how you twist the clothing…”




    Where do you see the future of fashion going post-Covid? Do you have any predictions?

    “I don’t know if this is the future but I’m really fascinated by the rise of new local brands. I see a lot of young kids, younger designers with really incredible talent, potential, and energy and I see that there’s not so much space in the big industry. The industry of massive fashion is struggling. I really wish that, like in Amsterdam, there are more of those local brands. They don’t need to be super big but they need to be persistent and unique in their product. Nowadays, we all can sell a product or a service globally. So, I wish to see that and I think the future of fashion will be interesting if every city, community, or culture has their own characteristic brands. So, kind of local products and different shades and selections of products. Less big brands and more differentiation. That would be cool.”


    And finally, has anything inspired you during the pandemic?

    “During the special lockdown time, because of this situation of being at home and working from home, I had to finish work and take care of my 5-year-old kid at the same time. Therefore, I tried to involve him in an activity related to what I was doing. What I found fascinating and what I just discovered was his vision: the white blank sheet that only kids have when they see something new, their simple questions that inspire you and let you see things differently.


    Apart from this, it was very interesting to see how clothing has evolved. From an element of image or expression and communication, to a primary functional accessory where comfort and almost the intimacy of it hasn’t downgraded them, but made clothing even more a part of us. I've seen people dust off their wardrobes, rediscover and put on what they really feel like the most. Experimenting with layering, composing unthinkable looks, being even more themselves and giving back value to what they have. Could this have been a conscious fashion lesson for all of us?”

    Tiffany Chung

    23 May 2022

    Text by Tiffany Chung

    ØLÅF CITIZENS : Virgil nicholas

    23 May 2022

    With honesty, well-being, and respect for oneself and each other as the foundation of Danish shoe brand, Vinny’s shoes, Virgil Nicholas has founded a shoe company with real soul. In this edition of Citizens, we step into the creative director’s classic leather loafers and discover more about his work, style, and way of life.


    Hi Virgil, why loafers?

    “Good question. I've always worn loafers and compared to all the other types of footwear in my wardrobe, they‘re the one pair of shoes that I wear to death. A couple of years ago, just before starting Vinny’s, I was looking at my rotation of the same four to five shoes I wore over and over and noticed I was missing that perfect loafer. I realized that's where I have a genuine heritage and story to tell, so it made sense that I bring that to the table myself."


    How should one feel when wearing a pair of Vinny’s?

    “I think the loafer, for me, is like when you put on a blazer jacket. It shapes you as a person, your back gets a little bit more upright and you carry yourself a bit more elegantly. Loafers do the same thing. I want both men and women to feel comfortable, relaxed, well-dressed, and feeling confident. I think when we feel our very best, we're better humans to ourselves and to our neighbors and next of kin. So, it's really about building self-respect."

    Still from podcast.

    From interview with Illum.


    Is that what makes you feel confident?

    “A good pair of loafers, yeah. I think one of my confidence boosters is definitely always a good outfit."


    Do you think good taste is something you’re born with, or can it be developed?

    “I think style and taste is definitely something that you can learn. It’s about what you're interested in, what you’re exposed to and influenced by. It's definitely something that you can adapt and grow into and out of. Personally, the influences from my mom and my dad and their post-colonial heritage, my African heritage, but also the urban references from when I was a kid, shaped my wardrobe. I always go to the same things. I have pieces in my wardrobe that go ten years back and it's the stuff that I love to wear the most. Then, occasionally you add new things."


    With Silas Oda Adler.


    What are your tips for someone who is developing their own style?

    “It starts with knowing who you are. A fashionable look or outfit can sometimes become a way to dress yourself up or to hide who you are, whereas style is about what we actually like and what you can see yourself wearing over and over again that resembles you. Also, read about pieces, find out how the penny loafer came about, the history of the slip dress, or research style icons. What makes hairstyles iconic today? Why do we like 90s fashion so much right now? Why's airport style interesting? I know a lot of men that research trends and decades and fashion and it's really been a way of shaping who they are. I've done the same, more from a research and creative perspective but it definitely helps me to also keep my own style universe sharp."


    Who's your style icon?

    “My dad. He always inspired me a lot."

    With kiddo.



    Do you hope to be a style icon for your son?

    “He already dresses way better than me. I think he already passed me. I just want to be a good role model, that's the most important thing for me."


    Has becoming a father changed the way you work?

    Only that I have to leave work a little bit early. I love to work, so that's why I hate having to leave work early. When he sleeps, I really love to work. Especially when I get to live out my dream. I'm so blessed and lucky that he loves coming into work with me. He's an open-minded kid and really at ease around my colleagues. I can bring him anywhere and that really makes my workflow a whole lot better.


    At parelstudios.

    On the road.


    What’s your favorite place to work?

    “We got our office four months ago and we have a red couch that I love sitting on. The most amazing thing is that our office is an old apartment, so we wanted to create a homey feeling. It's always hard to leave the office which is a good sign of a good workplace, at least for myself."


    Where do you like to relax?

    “Benches in my city. I love just sitting there and people watching. Not having any plans or any distractions, just a good pair of sunglasses to watch people. If you see me on a bench, you know what I'm doing. It’s the most relaxing thing ever."


    As a successful creative, you’ve had a lot of great ideas. Tell us about your worst idea.

    “My worst idea? Ha, that’s a good one. I don’t know, I’ve had a few. There was this one project, it was right after I started my first label, I wanted to create something that was more urban. So, we started making baseball t-shirts and the execution was good, but the name was horrible – it was a combination of three French words. I speak French with my parents, so it’s a big part of me and almost everything I do creatively starts with French. We actually got a lot of traction in France, but no one understood what we were trying to say. It was just the most horrible thing I've done. We had to shut it down quite quickly for numerous reasons but mostly the name was just a killer."


    Name one thing you hope to get better at.

    “I'm always on the go, always thinking about the next step, the next collection, the next campaign, am I picking up my son? I think what I need to be better at is enjoying the present. Enjoying the moment with people that are really dear to me. The thing I really value the most in my life are my relationships. It’s easy to make up an excuse not to meet up or make time for family and friends, but if it matters, then you need to remember to prioritize them. Time flies so fast."


    Counting blessings.


    Tell us something you hate to do but have to.

    Every month, I have to go through all my expenses and find all my receipts. It’s a work thing that I hate to do. I try to be really good at it, but I hate it.


    And something you love to do but rarely get to.

    I love to read and listen to audiobooks. I hate that I don't have or take the time to do it enough.


    Do you have a favorite book?

    The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Love it. It was really a kickstarter for how I started to believe in myself and knowing that anything you set your mind to is possible.


    What's one song you listen to on repeat?

    Gold by Prince. I saw him perform it live at a festival here in Denmark. It was a crazy experience.


    Young Virgil.


    Lastly, name a person, place, and thing that inspires you.

    One of the places that inspires me a lot is Marrakech. I like it because it's a place where I always calm down, but I also see so much culture and so much honesty and genuineness in the population. I think, in general, Africa is fun because it's very true to its roots.


    For people, I've always been a huge fan of, it’s so cliché, but Denzel Washington. I love that guy mainly because he's really talented and he can wear a lot of hats, so to speak. His body of work combined with who he is as a person, from what he says, how he thinks, how he operates, and his composure is inspirational.


    I'm really inspired by tech and how it creates communities. For example, who would have thought even just ten years ago that there would be a car service where you can drive awesome cars without taking anything but your mobile device, logging in, driving it, then leaving it to share with another human being? It’s stuff like that, the whole shared economy in tech, I think is fantastic. It's about being helpful to each other. If the shared economy in tech could be integrated with fashion in a mainstream way, not just in the niches where it is right now, it would definitely be game-changing for the whole world.