After Nicola Formichetti’s whirlwind visit with his muse Zombie Boy to promote fashion brand Mugler last year, Formichetti, 34, is in town again to accompany the Haus of Gaga crew for Lady Gaga’s concert. Formichetti has curated an exhibition at Lane Crawford IFC, showcasing headpieces from Ben Recine and Lady Gaga’s archive costumes. Time Out goes behind the scene with the prolific half Japanese, half Italian fashion director to discuss lying to get clothes for Gaga and his own fabulous fashion life.
Much like Lady Gaga, you kind of exploded onto the fashion scene without much warning. How did it all start?
I was born in Japan but grew up in Italy and lived in London. I was just a club kid really. I started meeting people in fashion in London and I just kind of went in without even thinking. I have no formal training, just a pure love for fashion.
You’re globe-trotting all the time and you have a mix heritage. How do you feel about all these cultures you’re exposed to at all?
I’m very grateful to have lived in so many different places, the extremes of Asia and Europe. The down side, though, is that you just don’t know who you really are, so you’re trying to find yourself. When I lived in Japan, I looked like a foreigner, so I wanted to blend in. When you’re a kid, you want to look like all the other kids. So I basically started creating a façade with clothing, fashion and hairstyles.
How do you perceive yourself?
I’m totally the leader of the Misfits.
A bit rebellious?
I think, for me, fashion was the only way I could be rebellious, because I was already different. When I came to Hong Kong, I realised you guys here are all mixed up too! So I was like, I like it here!
How do you feel about fashion collaborations?
I’m 100 percent about collaboration. The fashion world is quite exclusive, and collaboration is the only way to bring in young designers.
You were working as a buyer and a creative director for Dazed and Confused before you began styling Lady Gaga. How different was it working for a high-brow magazine and styling Gaga?
When I first started to work with Gaga, it was quite taboo because nobody works with a musician. If you work in high fashion in Europe and America, you don’t work with musicians because to them, musicians are musicians. But I loved her, so I started working with her. People were like, why are you working with her. But now it’s kind of a normal thing. It’s just been like a crazy rollercoaster. I’m so proud of her.
Of course it must be easy to get clothes for her now. But how was it like at the beginning?
When we first met, she was becoming bigger but not like how big she is now. It was tough, people were tough on her. A bit freaky, a lot of designers didn’t want her to wear their clothes, so I had to lie and get clothes for her! I really believed in her, but we’re just like having fun. Just enjoying the process and always trying to do something better, better, better and better. I’ve learnt a lot through that, and I started doing other things and expanding but we’ll always be best friends.
Every era we see a radical change in fashion. But in recent years, there’s been very little innovation and we’re always referencing past eras. What are your thoughts?
We’re in a digital time, so all the references are merged. I mean, trends start by someone going in an anarchy way. I have no idea, [innovation is] so difficult yet everything is possible now.
You also contribute to Vogue Japan. What is your vision for it?
For me, I’m working on the most cutting edge of all the Vogues. We really push high, high, high fashion. I don’t want it to be a catalogue magazine, I’m really not interested in that. For me it’s pushing boundaries, pushing ideas and inspiring people. I try to bring more European taste into Japanese Vogue.
What is the core value to your styling?
Individuality. I’m not a very good stylist, or advisor. I can tell you look good in that but I don’t really know. I like creating outfits and fashion and evoke some kind of emotion and have people comment about it, whether ‘that’s fucking shit’ or ‘it’s amazing’.
You now have your own brand of merchandise called Nico Panda. Why panda?
Because it’s me! Basically, I used to have a beard, I was a bit of a bear, and my friends used to say ‘you’re such a bear’! Then I would say I’m not a bear, I’m a Panda! I’m Asian! An Asian Bear! So people started calling me Nico Panda and that sort of stuck. I like those crazy dark things but I also like cute things like Hello Kitty!
What are your upcoming projects?
I just designed costumes for an opera in Paris – I’ve never done anything like that. It’s called L'incoronazione di Poppea by Monteverdi. I’m thinking of touring the world with Nico Panda – its just such a great way to meet people and to share. I’m very grateful, to be working with these prestigious department stores and I come from nothing. I’m so lucky. I was floating around and one day I decided to work in fashion, so I worked really hard and… Anything can happen.
Nico Panda is available at the Lane Crawford x Nico Panda pop-up store. Lane Crawford, Podium 3, ifc mall, 8 Finance St, Central, 2118 3388. www.lanecrawford.com/nicopanda.