Anna Dello Russo is crouched on the floor amidst her fashion finery, dressed in a Ziegfeld-style feather headpiece, thigh-high boots, and a coin-strewn Altuzarra dress that weighs a minimum of 30 pounds.
"Ees-a bizarre!" she grins. I can't help but agree, although, in fact, this is relatively tame for Dello Russo, a woman who has carved a second career out of, and attracted a legion of new fans through, her outlandish dress sense. A split second later, however, I realize Dello Russo means "a bazaar," which is exactly what the room at her hotel, the Greenwich in Tribeca, resembles for today's photo shoot: a Marrakech souk, with Dello Russo hawking her fashion wares.
There, in a word, are the two sides of Anna Dello Russo. On one hand, she's a fashion editor, one whose enthusiasm for her subject is so unbounded she occasionally inspires chagrin among her fellow editors. On the other, she's a fashion collector, with holdings so famously massive that she requires a separate Milan apartment to house them. She's got enough that she could indeed sell her treasures. And thanks to a design partnership with H&M, in a sense she soon will.
For the uninitiated—who are relatively few these days—Dello Russo is creative consultant and editor at large of Japanese Vogue. But that day job was long ago superseded by her larger-than-life, 24/7 role of simply being Anna Dello Russo, woman of a thousand outfits—never a single one repeated. She's more than a woman. She's a brand. In the mold of a megastar, Dello Russo has her own fragrance, a sold-out line of limited-edition T-shirts, and most recently, an accessories line with H&M. She even released a single, "Fashion Shower," to accompany its debut.
This phenomenon of the celebrity as self-made brand isn't new. But the phenomenon of ADR—as she's known online, and in her catchphrase, J'ADR—suggests that not only is it here to stay, but it's infiltrating the rank and file of working stiffs, too. Before the era of street style, editors were chic if not particularly glamorous behind-the-scenes types. As the name suggests, they edited the magazines, but didn't star on the covers. But Dello Russo has begun to do that, too—for 10 magazine and Interview. "You should put your passion on yourself before translating the passion to your work," she intones in the heavily accented, slightly broken English that has become one of her trademarks. And she approaches dressing herself in much the same way as a fashion shoot. "Like a job, but on me" is her description of dressing for the four-week fashion marathon. The editorials she devises for Vogue are echoes of her own style: models splattered with head-to-toe, eye-popping prints, balancing oversize logos on their heads atop catwalk-fresh "total looks," or sporting designer shoes, galleons, or teapots nestled in coronas of curls. Dello Russo arrives at any number of fashion shows clad in more of the same.
That wasn't always the case. Dello Russo began her career at Vogue Italia in the early nineties. She often glosses over this formative training, the 18 years when, she says, Franca Sozzani "made my profession. She made me." Or at least, her first incarnation. If you spy Dello Russo in fashion show footage of the period seated alongside Sozzani or the late Anna Piaggi (another eccentric par excellence), she's virtually unrecognizable. "I was really fashion victim—I still am really fashion victim," Dello Russo says matter-of-factly. "I was following a different type of fashion at that time, which was minimalism. Big trend. Low-key, totally androgynous. I used to wear lots of men's clothes. Yohji, Comme. I was also not visible at this time."
The idea of today's trope tornado as an "invisible" minimalist is mind-boggling, especially when Dello Russo is arguably the biggest and brightest rebel against fashion's current reductionist moment. "It was also my security at that time," she explains. "When I used to be 28, of course I would like to be cool rather than be by myself. For a certain moment you prefer to be part of the group and not be outside. Plus, this group was called Vogue—which was, for me, my Mecca, my Babylon. Anything for them!" That is the Anna Dello Russo familiar to fashion's lifers, if not necessarily to her new fans. "Everyone remember me in a kind of boyish look," she admits. "Because it was also easy to work in. Because I used to be a fashion editor then."
Today, however, Dello Russo has arguably become bigger than the magazine she helms: Her Vogue may be Japanese, but Anna has gone global. Her staff e-mail signature is the distinctly Warholian "Anna Dello Russo Factory," but Dello Russo's own fame is far outstripping any 15 minutes, showing no signs of abating. Once restrained, she's now playing to the back of the house. (She was born in Bari, in the south of Italy, which may help explain her aesthetic affiliation with the signature style of fellow southerners Gianni Versace and Domenico Dolce. "I'm obsessed by gold, logos, flashy stuff, a statement," she says—which could be a line from "Fashion Shower.")
It's fair to say that Dello Russo's transformation over the past decade to street-style superstar has raised fashion industry eyebrows, and occasionally hackles. "I can't wear that, Anna has worn it," is something I've heard more than one stylist snarl. It also doesn't help that she has pricked the elitist "insider" bubble to broadcast high fashion far and wide. While many of the old-guard editors sniff at online coverage, Dello Russo blogs, tweets, and Instagrams; she'll stop for any and every street-style photographer, not to mention any fan. Her ritzy, glitzy fashion is easy for anyone to understand, and with the advent of the H&M collection, easy for anyone to enjoy. "The message is having your own fashion week," she says. "You can play with low budget, but you can renovate your wardrobe like if you were front row." Undoubtedly that kind of thinking scares and irritates some fashion folk. If Dello Russo hears their muttering, however, she doesn't care. "I found some confidence with myself. Be back to my roots. Fantasy, crazy outfit. It's like a new life," Dello Russo states. "After that," she declares of her invisible moment, "it was kind of a revenge."
Dello Russo's "revenge" on the fashion industry was to cast caution to the wind and explode as a fashion icon clad in the highest of high-octane high fashion. "I used to be like Cinderella, working hard in the kitchen," she says with a smile. "Now finally I've been invited to the ball." She's cast off her minimal moment; seeing her in a lampshade-skirted Mary Katrantzou number feels like a flashback to eighties Lacroix rather than nineties Lang. But it still makes Anna something of an outsider. The fashion paparazzi may throng her in the Tuileries in Paris, but the attention and adulation is outside the tents. Inside, though her graciousness ensures she has many friends, the response is inevitably more muted.
But if that's so, it may be because Dello Russo—for all her love of fashion—has become bigger than the system itself. "This public side of me give me a certain power and freedom," she declares—the "power and freedom" to help define fashion for the masses, Dello Russo-style. Her Vogue spreads continue to reach the privileged and self-selected few, but it's the wider world she is speaking to with her H&M collection, her blog, her hunger for media attention. Her message is a seductive one: of positivity, fun, and infectious optimism achieved through style. Perhaps it's so potent because it's what's missing from much of fashion today. Or maybe Dello Russo's outfits, and persona, are quite simply louder than anyone else's.
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