The Maison Mansion: A Renzo for Ready-to-Wear

photos courtesy of Maison Albino ©2011

Call him a New Yorker and he’d be dazzled. Of the infinite visitors to NYC one more has left his heart and continues to return while threading the spirit of American culture into his ready-to-wear collection. Less than three years ago, Italian-born French-trained (École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture) fashion designer Albino D’Amato, aka Maison Albino, was preparing for a soon-to-be lavish career while serving as a draftsman and intern for French giants Emanuel Ungaro, Guy Laroche (under the artistic direction of Alber Elbaz, now with Lanvin) and Lolita Lempicka. Now he has weaved together the elegance and elitism of French, Italian, Japanese, and American style into his measures as he architects the female frame. He mimics the French philosophy of couture while loosely capturing the angles of Asian culture. His precision and esteemed quality stem from the blood of Italian fashion culture, and his conceptual development looms in the American dream.

This unusual combination of influences which produced a clean and still exotic collection this past season is what’s buzzing in the material world. What brings this American-loving Roman with French blood and a weakness for Japanese cartoons to creativity with polar opposite esthetics? The Japanese have been able to keep their culture in tact while producing something more international.

“They have a strong French influence in their design. They pay attention to the European taste and culture: American and Russian women went to Paris for their clothing. The Japanese tried to reedit certain architectural elements with the shapes of the kimono, the construction of the panel wraps. They were the first to invent minimalism.”

More prompting about Albino is his fusion and balance between French and Italian design. Euro-gurus would agree that the two have always battled on the field of hierarchy from fashion and football to flavors. The reality is that France and Italy are strongly different. The French own couture while Italians own figure and a tradition in domestic production. Albino recognizes both the experimental approach to French design and the strong traditions of Italian fashion legacy.

“Italian fashion came from families, without a strong design sense and without conceptual designers. French couture was a designer concept about being original. Italians would pride themselves in the best manufacture, made by hand and later with technology for sewing, allowing fabrics accessible to many people. Meanwhile the French had a taste for more rich materials and decoration. This is my spark. The clothing can be elaborate, it doesn’t need to fit the body.”

photos courtesy of Maison Albino ©2011

You don’t have to be an architecture buff to appreciate the distinct taste of the Albino feminine framework. With an admiration for couturier work using difficult materials and challenging forms, this hot-off-the-runway designer has an element of style in his palms that is turning American heads. Architecturally sound and a man of spatial design in cognate, he graces somewhere between Renzo Piano and flowers from the Bellagio Casino. Call it haute-archouture for the female form. Given his architecture background, not to mention his renowned business partner and architect Gianfranco Fenizia, his prominent influences in his geometric landscapes are exactly what has this multi- faceted thinker at catwalk status.

American style is making its rounds in fashion and Maison Albino is on a roll to get the most of his delicate Matelassé silk and Mohair off the runways and to the fashion worlds most elite with New York on his sleeve. This past year we’ve seen a strong influence of American breath in high fashion. Franke Morello hit a high note for their Fall 2011 collection style-targeting the 1950s American house wife. Prada revealed her latest collection featuring Toby Maguire with whispers of the American 50s era and curtsy to the 60s. Signor Albino, has conceptually focused on the dawning of the classic American woman inspired by Geoffrey Beane.

There couldn’t be a better time to exploit American culture at a time when every global newspaper contributes a front page article to the havoc of our economy, the chaos of our politics, and the frivolousness of our Hollywood.  In fact, Hollywood is an Albino target. Evocative of vintage Hollywood glamour and Broadway socialites (Audrey Hepburn meets Grace Kelly with some Honey Ryder action for evening wear). With the riches of European materials, Albino acknowledges the beauty in the different styles of American fashion as he laces up his Fall collection.

New Yorkers particularly, have a “strong identity”. As Americans were the first buyers to invest in Europe they have a precise sense of boutique style. “In the past people didn’t go to shops, they had their tailors, and Americans were the first to go outside of the tailor idea to buy from the fashion houses” Albino emphasizes cinema and theatre as contributions to the American glamour he has tucked away in his treasure chest of personal inspirations.

THE FOUNDATION OF INSPIRATION Among his top inspirations for his Fall 2011 collection is Geoffery Beane, whom he refers to for minimalism (“but not like Calvin Klein” he peeps.) – as always glamorous and chic, with some burrow of surprise or decoration. This style is reflected in Albino’s favorite piece The Surprise Dress with a tweed front, embroidered stitching in elaborate blue suitable for day wear but sassy by night when the jacket slips off to expose a transparent back. This form is simple but with that surprise element reminiscence of GB prints and fabrics. The same subtle contrast between simplicity and surprise is mirrored in his Square Skirt  (left) – a silk-lined mini which weaves a gold-lamented thread through a silk file of black and cream tweed. The extreme geometric shape is reinforced with the weight of a gold metallic zipper lining the bottom edge. “Sometimes I think of a New Yorker asking their mother to go visit a Rothko painting between the 50s and 80s, and I want to put it all together in a piece.” And that’s exactly what he did with his Audrey Jacket. Based off a Rothko painting, this A-line, baby-blue known as “Carta Zucchero” is comprised of double wool with a silk gaza interior and a seamless accentuated the neckline. Another Albino trademark is his approach to natural presence, commonly avoiding visible stitching.

FRAMING THE  DESIGN CONCEPT Leave it to Signor Albino to bring together Las Meninas, with Flemish altarpieces and kimonos. He made a splash with this year’s Spring/Summer collection. He recalls an immediate reaction to a previous Celine collection  which drew attention to minimalism after a period of absence post-90s. “It was a super fast revolution to return to minimalism which was influential for seasons following, something everyone would mock.” Everyone but Albino. It was during a trip to Sicily when began the push towards more rich and opulent colors drove him to the Baroque period. And when Valezquez came to mind, without hesitation he was off with 17th century paintings to hit the drawing board. “The idea was not to take the Baroque elements but the philosophy – curvy lines and mixing round with straight to avoid being logical. I wanted to extract not the decoration of the Baroque period but the philosophy – something exaggerating on volumes at the same time elegant not excessive.” And so he began reworking these ideas on a computer to create prints. “It’s a process like that in developing a concept.”

Albino with his small frame and humble demeanor has dressed some large names: Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, the Queen Rania of Jordan,  Lady Tron members, and several Italian actresses as the list goes on. But Albino doesn’t design with the female figure in mind. “Everyone woman has to wear it” so he begins from structure with fabric. His touch is organic, allowing the fabrics to create shape and with the difficult fabrics he selects “this process creates many stories.” He envisions personalities with his clothing. “Kristen Dunst, Christina Ricci are bold, not physically perfect but big with personalities.” He is news-savvy and trend-aware as he finds cinema and art to be powerful influences in creative direction. He applauds designers Cristobal Balenciaga, Valentino, Jean Patou, Givenchy and he praises Miuccia Prada. When asked which Italian designer has had the biggest influence on the fashion world, without hesitation: “Prada. Miuccia Prada is the only Italian designer I look to and think ‘what can I do?’ She is a person that is not trendy and follows her instinct. She has power to do what she wants and she doesn’t care about market. She has built that in 20-30 years of work experience with new form and material while keeping Italian manufacturers and fabrics but also mixing in art and architecture.

Breaking through in tabloids and obtaining the right coverage is his greatest challenge (not to mention he’s not fancy on being social), and he salutes the efforts of American Fashion Council President Diane Von Furstenberg for pushing new designers and making the right space to show and during fashion week. Her voice for equal opportunity is to put less focus on commercial collections which don’t interest press, and rather push new designers to attract press. “Italians don’t do this” Albino jabs, “They are old, and just want to monopolize the week….new designers are always penalized because there is not enough space.” Finding the right models and competing for spots in the shows are big headaches during fashion week. It applies to many new Italian designers. “In Italy you have to fight.” Albino reveals is frustration with Italy’s fashion bureaucracy “Big names always get two shows on the same day, at distinct and more private locations. There is constant fighting for times and days. Smaller designers get placed casually around the city.”

photos courtesy of Maison Albino ©2011

UP NEXT Accessories have a crucial role in a collection, though fragile and mega-temperamental for Maison Albino this means exploring a complete development of must-have items to complete his looks. “Accessories and shoes bring the  garments alive.”  Also on the horizon? A full line of menswear and more couture pieces. At the time Albino stresses that time and resources are not available for this focus, however he has a few menswear articles in progress. He also plans to eventually collaborate with a French fashion house as well as explore projects with individuals outside of the fashion circle. Almost any given morning, with juice and a brioche in hand next to a stack of journals, Maison Albino can be found starting his day as fashion designer preparing to face his high demand. He is a name of increasing design power among the niche market for minimal style and complex texturing. A patron of the arts, and with a streak for the Indie scene, this designer prefers to show his collection in an art gallery to a warehouse. He is an advocate of intimacy and immediacy. His studio, tucked off a side street 10 minutes from the center of Milan is enclosed by a white iron gate behind a lush garden of budless greens with a steel door. The showroom rests at the foot of  an atrium with glass towering walls with and rustic bamboo plank flooring. Metal racks frame the interior, adorned with pieces of his 2011 collection. visit


About Angela Gleason

visual designer | writer | pianist in the basement | painter in the night | fashion critic | lush | Italian savant check me out:

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