Jeffrey Costello and Robert Tagliapietra
Apart from their signature "Look" and fresh spin on women's fashion, design duo Costello Tagliapetera share more than a tendency towards plaid and a love of their bulldog Sam. For the two CFDA veterans and award-winning designers, inspiration came by way of their respective grandmothers (both of whom worked for couturier Norman Norell) and grandfathers (from whom came the model of 'dressed up' khakis and plaid). In 1994, a night out at the Sound Factory led to a decade long partnership. Starting with creating custom pieces for clients like Bruce Springsteen, NIN and Madonna, the pair eventually made a pivotal move towards ready-to-wear. In 2003, the Brooklyn based designers created a 12-piece capsule collection for Vogue, which landed an editorial feature in March 2004. Costello Tagliapietra presented their first runway show 6 months later (Sept. 2004) and officially launched the CT label in 2005 with looks made from weightless, wrinkleproof Italian knit jersey. Since then, the success of the brand is evidenced by multiple awards and capsule collaborations, most recently with lifestyle brand Uniqlo. Keep reading for an informative Q&A on success, shared style and special spots...
Working side by side
We met because of a mutual attraction and I think what kept us together is that we have a strong friendship and bond that has only grown over time. Working together has become second nature for us, it is something we have done from the time we met. Separating the work from the personal is difficult at times so the easiest solution is to set rules and stick to them. We share everything work-wise though sometimes one of us will take over one duty vs. another duty and you learn over time the limits and lines you can and can't cross. After twenty years, there is little to wrestle for and we have learned to strike a balance very easily.
Plaid is historically associated with lumberjacks and bagpipers; seemingly it has become the uniform of choice for the 'Costello and Tagliapietra' duo. Is it coincidental style--how did your signature "look" come to be? Who do you wear (or do you make it all/buy vintage?)? With such a pronounced personal brand identity, why womenswear? How do your personalities come through in your design aesthetic?
Style is an amalgam of different experiences, exposures and influences. We met in 1994 at the end of the grunge period. I think for me (Robert), having just finished high school, the Riot Grrrls were a huge influence and movies like River's Edge and My Own Private Idaho and early Eighties ska bands; these all influenced my style of dress. We met at the "soon to be closed" Sound Factory each with a flannel tied around our waists and wearing suspenders and T-shirts. It was mutually a sort of anti-fashion reaction to the label loving people around us. As we grew together, our style evolved. Through sharing a closet for twenty years, you inevitably influence each other.
The way we saw our grandfathers dress--there was a casual approach, but still a preciseness to the way they dressed themselves. The way they were able to make khakis and a flannel look dressed up, this is something we love. This is also something we look for in our womenswear--a dressed up wardrobe that is modern in that it does not require discomfort, but instead it wears with the ease of a T-shirt. We make most of our own clothes with some vintage and menswear brands here and there... most everything we wear does get some customization from us though.
#perfectcardigan in Midnight as worn by makeup artist and model Niki M'nray; photo provided by Costello Tagliapietra
The NYC womenswear industry is sometimes found to be cutthroat; it has been said that success is mildly dependent on skill and largely dependent on knowing someone in the tight knit circle of the editorially elite. What defines “success” for CT? What takes top priority in your creative/creation process (i.e. comfort, style, ethical production houses, etc.)?Not sure if everything in that question is entirely true? I think that with ANY business there are people who get into it for different reasons, are successful with different skill-sets; some do it entirely on their own and some do it with the help of connections or money.
Timing always plays a big part in anyones success or failure and there really is no right or wrong way to own, start or have a business. For us it is the love of the process that led us to where we are and we hope to be able to do what we do for years to come. It is the ability to understand your customer and too be willing to work super hard that can lead to success but it is also finding out what that word success means to you personally. Sometimes success is as simple as seeing a customer try on a dress- look at herself in the mirror and stand tall and smile because she feels beautiful and confident in what you have made for her!
Costello Tagliapietra Fall 2014 LooksIt looks like you're moving beyond jersey and have included structured suits in your 2014 collection--what's next? Who do you design for--who is the Costello Tagliapietra woman? Who is one person you would design a custom piece for?
We have included woven in our collection since our second season. Jersey has just been something that we do well and that people have picked up on.The suits this season, we would not consider structured... the tailoring is light and more dressmaker. It is a soft tailoring and it is really just the pattern that makes it appear structured. Again, these are jackets that are as comfortable as a cardigan.
I think every designer describes their women with the same five to ten adjectives. For us, having worked for so long with private clients we know our women have worked in numerous fields, have been businesswomen, mothers, wives -they are present, thoughtful, unafraid to embrace their femininity and are completely in control of how they present themselves and who they are as people. We do custom pieces a lot and that was how we began our partnership in the first place! We have been very lucky having had the opportunities to make clothing for amazing women... Oprah and Madonna were especially exciting for us!
Screenshot of the CT Tumblr site
You've "cut out the middleman" so to speak by moving from a traditional ecommerce site to a self-managed tumblr. Why the switch? Have you seen a difference in terms of sales and/or connecting with your customers?
We did not overanalyze this decision. When we worked with Melissa Jones and her team at DreamtheEnd this was something that was suggested at an early meeting and we liked the idea of something that felt kinetic. A website that could offer a different experience every time you visit. This site feels like a living thing growing and developing over time.
NYC has an endless supply of specialty shopping spots, ethnic restaurants and cultural neighborhoods. What are your favorite spots around town? What local haunts would you recommend as a "must see/try" for visitors? Where was the last trip you two took together?
Red Hook is great on the weekends for restaurants like Hometown BBQ and GrindHaus and great shops and galleries along the way. Night life… we love anything LadyFag is hosting and Standard and LeBain are always great.
Our last trip was to Maine and whenever we can make time, we head up there to relax.