Milan Fashion Week AW19 – an interview with Act n°1

Womenswear label, Act n°1 was established in early 2016 by Luca Lin and Galib Gassanoff in Reggio Emilia, Northern Italy. The brand’s name denotes ‘the designers’ infancy like the first act of their life, which inspired them in developing the brand.’ Despite the brand’s relative youth, the duo have already made a significant impression on the Italian fashion scene, winning the 2017 edition of Who Is On Next? organised by Vogue Italia – Italy’s most coveted prize for young designers.

Staging their second show at Milan Fashion Week in the most personal of spaces, the bedroom, the designers hoped ‘to express an initiative to empower girls and tell their stories throughout the performance.’ Not only did they wish to communicate this message through their designs, but also through the physicality of the obstacles staged by piles of mattresses on the catwalk; creating a visual performance befitting the brand’s storytelling ethos.

In the duo’s typical style, juxtapositions between oriental landscapes and transparent PVC on deconstructed silhouettes reinforced the designers blend of nostalgic tradition and ‘90s subcultural elements. Street style and ethnic influences fuse in their collection featuring quilted robes with watercolour landscape prints alongside bomber jackets and hoodies, all accented with the brand’s iconic septum ring.

With strong influences from their respective Chinese and Azerbaijani heritage, Lin and Gassanoff state that ‘turning ethnically influenced garments into an actualized way of clothing brings value back to one’s origins.’ The nostalgic sentiment and artistic references are made thoroughly modern through the brand’s approach to multiculturalism and embrace of anti-stereotypical aesthetics.

What are your AW19 inspirations?

We took details from the bedroom interiors and intimacy. Working with details like mattress quilting, experimental printing on tapestry jacquards, Chinese watercolour paintings and adding technological materials like PVC. The idea was to take different ready-made pieces from wardrobes for deconstructing and then use them for layering. So the process was very natural and spontaneous.

You have said your brand name, Act No.1, refers to the brand’s infancy – as in the first act of your lives. How do you feel your brand has developed since 2016?

It has grown both commercially and from a press point of view. We now have over 60 stockists worldwide including I.T, H.Lorenzo, Selfridges, SKP and Harvey Nichols Dubai.

Your brand appears to strongly reflect your own personal biographies. What are the mains sources of inspiration from your family’s origins and how do they translate through your designs?

We both kind of have similar stories, that’s what made us start this project together. We have grown up in different countries from our origins but with a heavy presence and influence of our culture and have always been between different communities and traditions. So we want to represent that colourfulness and acceptance of being different and the respect we have to have towards each other.

Luca: My parents are passionate about collecting Chinese art and furniture. So we always do research in my parents’ house for some prints.

Galib: As an Azerbaijani family, there always were carpets around, patched on the floor, hung on the walls and so on. Also, so many jacquard and tapestry pillows and bedding. That’s why we worked a lot on patch and tapestry in this last FW collection.

According to the show notes for SS19 you wanted the collection to raise awareness of the child marriage issue affecting Georgia, Galib’s native country. Are there any social issues the new collection seeks to engage with?

Yes absolutely. We put mattresses on the runway to create some obstacles for the models, like in real life, representing real life issues women still face from their communities. But somehow, they walk over all those problems. And as you can see from the show, men had no issues crossing them. That represents how unequal we all still are.

Do you feel it is important for your collection to tell a story?

We think if what we do doesn’t have any storytelling or message then we are just creating a piece of clothing with no meaning. Above all, we have been given a platform like social media and digital media for us to communicate easily about some issues that affect people around us through our creations or shows.

What did winning the 2017 Who Is On Next? prize do for the brand?

It gave us absolute credibility in the industry and we saw major commercial growth after that.

Art and streetwear both seem to be prominent elements of your designs. What is the purpose behind synchronizing these disparate styles?

We take fine art or traditional craftsmanship elements which give a sense of timelessness to the pieces. Then we match them with our wardrobes, like sweatshirts, bomber jackets, denim and pullovers.

What is the inspiration behind the distinctive septum jewellery?

The septum is the tribe element, it’s kind of about developing our tribe. Behind that, there is also some 90’s subcultural influences too, which aesthetically inspires us. And of course, it gives distinctiveness to the brand.

With so much focus on the historical origins of your designs, what does the future look like for Act No.1?

We have influences and inspirations from our memories, but Act n°1 is all about the future. As we are hoping to inspire future generations to make some changes in the stereotypical way of thinking and behaving.

Do you have any upcoming projects or collaborations planned for 2019?

We are working on some projects but nothing to communicate yet. So stay tuned.

All clothes Act n°1 AW19. All images © Greta Langianni