Meet Corrado Di Biase, Paris’ Next Designer To Watch
Puglia native Corrado di Biase started his career ten years ago designing shoes for Fendi in Rome. And after clocking time in the shoe departments of some of Europe’s best houses—including YSL (where the Tribute was introduced his second season) and John Galliano—he struck out on his own. Di Biase returned to Rome last season to present his first couture collection as a special guest of Sylvia Venturini Fendi, the newly appointed president of Rome’s Haute Couture syndicate. This season, di Biase is debuting his first ready-to-wear collection at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on March 1.
How did you get your start?
After my studies, my dream was to go to Paris and do ready-to-wear. I sent a ton of letters—everyone said it was easy to get an internship there, but it wasn’t. Valentino and Fendi were the only two truly international houses in Rome at the time, so I sent my CV there. Frida Giannini was designing bags for Fendi at the time, but she had no room on her team, so she passed me along to the shoe design team. So I didn’t choose shoes, they chose me.
How does shoe design inform your process for ready-to-wear?
Not to sound pretentious, but when you are a shoe designer you can design anything. There’s not the same range of possibilities with bags—you can make them in precious leathers or nylon. Shoes require a special mix of technique and creativity. If you pick up on clothing details, they have to be concentrated on such a small space. And then there’s the practical side—you have to be able to walk in them (even if at Galliano we do crazy shoes just for the show).
You have to have a beautiful object and a proportion that is really, really perfect—it’s almost like watch-making; all the pieces have to work together perfectly. When you buy clothing from H&M and you put it with an Alaïa belt and a beautiful jacket, no one knows it’s H&M. Shoes are a different story. To look beautiful, you have to have beautiful shoes. And it gives confidence like no other piece of clothing. It’s amazing when you do shoes; you realize how much they can change a person.
Knowing shoes makes things easier, because it makes you more of a perfectionist. You look at all the little details. My coat with a whalebone shell (pictured) was the first thing I did for the collection, and I instantly zoomed in on the stitching and zippers because the slightest variation jumps out at you. You see everything.
I’ve seen your shoes. Are they comfortable?
More than you would imagine. People think that high shoes are not comfortable, but personally I think ballerina flats are even less comfortable because you have your feet on the pavement, which is not ideal.
What did you take away from Fendi? From YSL?
When I arrived, Anna Fendi, Sylvia Fendi’s mother, told me, “When you think of Fendi, think that nothing is impossible.” So I knew that I could always do something exceptional.
Stefano Pilati is the only person I know in fashion who is always thinking about how a silhouette will look translated in the street. He is obsessed by patterns and details; Fendi is quite baroque by comparison. Stefano can spend forever agonizing about 2mm on a black cashmere cape that looks like nothing until you see it on the girls and it becomes amazing and you understand why 2mm changes everything.
At Galliano it’s all about working the dream. It’s crazier but working with John is really inspirational because there are so many different ideas happening at once; it’s an extreme process. The beautiful thing about John is that you can show him anything. He loves other people’s minds. Most designers just love their own mind. You can say, “Hey, this is about a girl from Afghanistan who moves to New York via London” and the final result is always unexpected and interesting.
So how did you get around to doing your own brand?
It’s really simple: When you do shoes, you just do 10 percent of a silhouette. I wanted to do the other 90 percent and own that. Instead of thinking “I would do other sleeves with that,” I decided to give it a shot.
What are your inspirations?
When I started to draw, things started to come together. The inspirations come from Pierre Cardin and Courrèges in terms of fabrics, because I hate flou. I think a good jacket is much more interesting than an evening gown. And I love the Memphis [design] movement of eighties Italy for color. People like Marie Antoinette, not because I love her as a person, but I love the idea of someone who gave a lot of importance to clothes. My idea is to give clothes the importance they had in that period, but for today. I am the first to buy Uniqlo, but when you do clothes that need an atelier, you address people who have an almost historical sense of the importance of clothes. They are as important as furniture or art.
Having done the art bit, how are you taking it to ready-to-wear?
The haute couture collection was a mix of industrial fabrics with couture fabrics; in the same spirit, you will find materials like felted wool mixed with organza, whalebone shells, and big zippers—but this time you can wear the skirt in real life because there’s no gaping hole in the middle. There’s a clear carryover, but it’s wearable. But it’s not a total look—it’s always more interesting to me to see someone wearing Alaïa with a Christopher Kane Perfecto [jacket] and Nikes. I’m not into muses; it’s also trickier to be elegant all on your own than if you dress the trends top to toe.
Is the street important for you?
The best explanation I can think of is: Two years ago I bought a small flat in Paris, with a garden. For the longest time, there was nothing in front of me. And then the city built a low-rent housing unit just opposite. And then I started to see all sorts of diverse populations—immigrant populations—who were just putting things together the way they see fit. Traditional, but not really—the occasional knockoff [thrown in]. And it struck me that these people don’t care what other people around them think. They are reinterpreting their tradition and dressing to please themselves. And that really changed the way I was thinking about this collection.
What are your main themes for Fall?
The collection is named Miami’s Burning because I love to tell stories. The story is of a bourgeois Frenchwoman who moves to Miami and takes a beautiful younger lover, and he betrays her so she goes nuts and burns down the hotel, but she escapes from the scene wearing his shirt. The whole collection turns on the boyfriend shirt with ladylike clothes like a mermaid skirt. There’s also a print I developed myself that mixes black and white Art Deco elements and palm trees with blazing orange. There’s a skater coat that blends the couture and the sporty sides of the two players.
And your own shoes?
Everything’s in place, but it’s for when I am a little bit better known.