Nicola Formichetti: Lady Gaga’s Style Guru
The hardest-working man in fashion brings his signature styling to Mugler, Lady Gaga, Uniqlo, and Vogue Hommes Japan—and takes it directly to the masses with social media. Exclusively for Lifestyle Mirror, Nicola Formichetti models Mugler’s not-yet-released spring 2013 menswear. Go inside his beautiful mind. Photographs by Nicholas Ong.
You may not know how to pronounce his last name, but you’ve definitely seen his work.
Lady Gaga’s meat dress. Rick Genest showing off his shocking skeletal face and body tattoos on the runway of famed French house Mugler. Gaga enclosed in an egg on the Grammy’s red carpet.
Stylist, creative director, and fashion editor Nicola Formichetti juggles a mind-boggling array of high-profile fashion jobs with the greatest of ease—and has the addictive Instagram to prove it. He’s currently the fashion director for Lady Gaga, creative director at Mugler, creative fashion director at Uniqlo and fashion director at Vogue Hommes Japan. Oh, and he also finds time to be a contributing editor at Dazed & Confused and V magazine. Formichetti keeps apartments in New York and London and spends time every month in Tokyo and Paris. Next up: his own high-tech clothing line called Formichetti, launching in 2013.
(And for the record, it’s pronounced for-mee-ketti.)
Just before Mugler’s Paris Fashion Week show, we sat down with Formichetti in New York to talk about what it feels like to reinvent Mugler, his inspirations—and what Gaga’s really like.
BORN THIS WAY
Globe-trotting may be hard-wired into Formichetti’s DNA. Born in Japan in 1977 (“Gemini…a two-faced bitch!” he told W magazine) and raised back and forth between in Rome and Tokyo, his dad was an Italian pilot for Alitalia; his mom was a Japanese flight attendant for the airline. “My earliest memory in fashion was probably hanging out with my mom, going shopping,” he says. “She was a Japanese lady living in Italy so she was obsessed with Italian fashion. She loved the ’80s famous brands Versace and MaxMara.”
As a high school kid, he became obsessed with British magazines like The Face and i-D and decided he needed to be a part of the London underground scene. He moved to London under the guise of attending architecture school. “I joined the architecture school and I stayed there for one week and I went clubbing for three years,” he says. “That’s my university. I didn’t actually go to university. My parents don’t know but maybe they know now.”
In 1998, Formichetti a landed a job as a shop assistant in a boutique called The Pineal Eye that sold the work of young designers in London’s Soho neighborhood. “I stayed there for two years cleaning, doing mannequins for the windows, sales assisting,” he says. “I met lots of people from the fashion industry because people used to come there to borrow clothes or just hang out. That’s where I met Hedi Slimane and Raf Simons and all the young designers in London.” The success of the shop also put him in the orbit of Alister Mackie and Katy England from youth-culture magazine Dazed & Confused, who asked him to do a monthly column in 2000. “Every month I would have this page in Dazed & Confused and then a page would turn into two pages, then it became three pages and then at that time co-founder Jefferson Hack commissioned me to do a fashion story so I started doing styling,” he recalls. “I became the fashion editor of the magazine. And then after I became fashion director, then I became creative director.”
He began consulting for Uniqlo and worked with his childhood idols on shoots. But after some 10 years in London, he moved to New York for a change. “I think I seriously have some kind of psychological problem,” he says. “I get bored very easily, I’m maybe like a kid. So that’s why I have to do lots of different jobs because I’m not so good maybe in an office…I’m not a workaholic because I play hard too. Maybe I don’t think of work as work. For me everything is fun.”
Formichetti’s career was surging. But it was all about to change after he met Lady Gaga on a shoot for V magazine. He styled her as a futuristic Marilyn Monroe on the beach in Malibu. “She arrived fully dressed, in hair and makeup, wearing shoulder pads and this leather dress and heels and shades,” he has said. “I was going, ‘This bitch is crazy!’ She is the real deal. We fell in love with each other, totally… I’ve never really experienced the power of pop music and performance and fashion like that.”
People always ask him what Gaga is like behind closed doors. “She is exactly the same when she’s in front of a camera and when she is cooking,” he says. “I never wanted to work with celebrities. I have no interest. I don’t really care about their egos and their publicists.” But Gaga was different. “She’s very respectful which is so cool. Also she works so much. I’ve never met anyone who works more than me, and she for sure works more than me, and I work crazy every day,” he says. “She already had her own style and I’m just helping her to do something new. We put a meat dress on the red carpet. It’s so funny. When I saw her wearing the meat dress backstage and Cher hugging her, I was like, That’s it, okay, I’m done. I can die.”
Unlike the models Formichetti had styled for photo shoots, Gaga took his work and wore it on the street—and exposed him to the entire world.
She also introduced him to the power social media. “It was Gaga who told me all about Twitter,” he has said. “I love the idea that you can talk directly to a designer or an artist in this way. We don’t need anyone else in between.”
He’s used Facebook to hire assistants and MySpace to scout models for photo shoots. “People think that I’m some kind of technology crazy person but I’m not,” he says. “I use social media like everyone else and I just happen to use it for all my work. And I don’t try to hide it.”
REMAKING AN ORIGNAL
Formichetti’s tech-savvy was one of the reasons Mugler came calling in 2010, asking him to inject new life into the brand. At first, he was skeptical about the creative director position—and scared. Formichetti had no formal training as a designer, and growing up, he held Thierry Mugler to almost mythic status.
He called Gaga for advice and he recalled her saying, “Go for it. We’ll just do something amazing together.”
For his first womenswear show in Paris, he collaborated with designer Sébastien Peigné. Lady Gaga walked the runway to the beat of her song “Born This Way.”
Fashion editors complained that the catwalk stage—a raised platform with columns—obscured their view. The show live-streamed on the Mugler Facebook page, which doubled fans overnight. He has said, “I wanted all the younger generation out there to have better seats than Anna Wintour.”
At the Lifestyle Mirror shoot in New York, he talked about the dualities in his work and how he plays with both the elite and the masses. “I’m always a mixture of east meets west and high and low,” he says. “I love street culture, I love high couture, high fashion. I love westernized things and east things…For me photography is the most important thing. Fashion comes always second. For me it’s the visual. The meaning is much more important than the label.” —Maridel Reyes (@maridelreyes)