What do celebrities like Harrison Ford, Al Pacino, Daniel Day Lewis, Glenn Close, Renée Zellweger, Diane Keaton have in common? Beyond being some of the biggest and influential stars in Hollywood, they all rely for their glamorous appearances on the red carpet on the refined touch of a virtuous fashion designer from Puglia, Italy, that brought his grandmother’s sartorial tradition into the realm of luxury: Domenico Vacca. His Flagship store on 5th Avenue is a point of reference for the Made in Italy in NYC. A fascinating space evoking the elegance of the “Imperial Puglia” style.
by Tommaso Cartia
Stepping into The Domenico Vacca store is an experience, it is like entering another space. Other from the frenzy of the metropolis, other from what one can expect from the usual haute couture store. Truth is that there’s no corner of the store that doesn’t satisfy the eye with beauty when you meet the fabulous and stylish dresses and the luxury goods. But the true luxury that one can enjoy is to feel like you are at Domenico’s home, inside his taste and aesthetic. The utter beauty of the dresses tune in with the aroma of the real espresso that you can savour at the traditional Italian bar; with the barber shop and the salon that are a modern interpretation of the barbieri you can find in the small towns in Italy; with the art gallery that hosts Vacca’s ever changing artistic infatuations, and with the exclusive club where the land of Puglia echoes in the marmoreal “Trani’s stones” of the terrace.
Thanks to his cosmopolitan sensibility and his articulated knowledge not only of the tailoring art but also of traditions, history, costume and folklore, Domenico Vacca is considered a true ambassador of the Made in Italy. Title with which The New York Times accorded the fashion designer along with the Apulia Region that has invested him with the “Medaglia di San Nicola”, for his excellence in fashion. The medal was presented to Vacca by the President of Apulia Region in person, Michele Emiliano. The Domenico Vacca brand is always rising to new heights and is gaining praises and awards all over the world. The most recent one was the Premio Margutta 2019 that Domenico won in Rome. But his beginnings, despite the background of the idyllic world of the Imperial Puglia he grew up in, were not the easiest…
Tell us about your beginnings, about the difficulties that you had to face and what do you bring of the beauty of your land inside your fashion.
I was born in Andria (Puglia), one of the cities where the Emperor Federico II of Swabia was present and built many monuments; from my balcony I could see the Castel del Monte, that today has received the certification from the UNESCO World Heritage. That castle was a big inspiration for my studies on proportions that I bring into my creations. Our churches with their frescoes have developed my sense of color, as well as the Trani stone, with its beautiful cathedral by the sea, the color of the sea and the green of the countryside along with the olive trees and the vineyards are present in everything I do. I was lucky to be born in the so-called Puglia Imperiale, where everybody is a little bit of a gentleman, lovers of art, is passionate and ready to conquer the world. My world has been New York and all the other cities where I brought my brand during these years.
Success didn’t come easy, you had to rise through the ranks, and it required a lot of determination and the will to continue the legacy of your family tailoring tradition.
No, it wasn’t easy, but I had a dream that day by day had turned into my life’s project: to create fashion collections and to become, like my father used to say, a citizen of the world. I come from a family that has been in the fashion business since the 30s; my grandmother, Sabrina Orciuolo Di Bari, had an atelier that produced gorgeous dresses and my other relatives tailored men suits. I started the Domenico Vacca brand from scratch, my parents didn’t want to continue my grandmother’s work. From Andria to Milan and then New York and the other cities in the world, it has been a tough journey. I didn’t have the capitals to invest that other big brands had, I was not coming from the rich North of Italy, I just had a localized family tradition, built on artisanal work and authenticity. But luckily, struggles let me concentrate in what I’m doing even more and stimulate my competitive side. When I decided to launch the brand with a store on Fifth Avenue, most of the people thought I was crazy, for them positioning myself next door to the biggest established brands was a suicide.
But your intuition was a winning one. In less than a year the popular Italian newspaper La Repubblica labeled you as the “Ferrari of fashion”, and then you won the prestigious Best of the Best from the magazine Robb Report, the bible of luxury, that awarded you as the best Italian collection.
Yes, and right after I realized my first wardrobe for Hollywood, dressing Denzel Washington for American Gangster. From that moment on I had the pleasure to be appreciated by other celebrities such as Daniel Day Lewis, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Harrison Ford, Forest Withaker, Jeremy Piven, Terrence Howard, Glenn Close, Renée Zellwegger, Diane Keaton, and Marisa Tomei. I also dressed the wife of President Trump, Ivana and many other politicians.
In a fashion world where the trend is to produce everything in series most of the time to the detriment of quality and durability, the Domenico Vacca method seem to go literally in the opposite direction, how would you describe it?
The idea has always been to bring Italian tailoring on the most prestigious fashion avenues; to make you experience the art of tailoring: from the selection of the materials, to the measurements and the personalization of the clothes. My satisfaction is giving our clients the chance to wear unique clothes, sewed by hands by the best Italian tailors and to teach them how to dress, what elegance is, and what Italian wearability and lifestyle is. It is impossible to dress Italian without understanding the Italian way of living.
What’s the inspiration behind your Flagship store?
At the beginning, our challenge was to bring the true Italian style to the United States. Many Italian brands where present here but they sold just though the big department stores: Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue and others. These stores were dictating to the Italian brands what they thought the taste of the Americans was, distorting the collections and the wearability. The result? The bastardization of the Italian style. We tried to put an end to this phenomenon by not entering the big stores and selling a pure Made in Italy product. I consider myself a purist when it comes to tailoring, I couldn’t accept any compromises. Today, what we came up with 15 years ago has become a part of the way the Americans dress, everybody copied us. So we realized that the challenge was not educating the American to dress the Italian way anymore, but to give him the possibility of living an authentic Italian lifestyle experience. The Domenico Vacca store was born with this concept, a place where fashion, beauty, culture and food combine to gift our clients with pure emotions. I put all of myself in this palazzo, all that I love and that I wish to share.
Going back to your relationship with Puglia, I see that you are always on the front line when it comes to promote your land. In between tradition and modernity, what do you think should never be changed from your region, and on the other side, what do you think should change?
Puglia’s history should never be changed and should be promoted even more. Its antique palazzi, churches, monuments, villas, should never change, they should be restored and opened to the public or utilized by some businesses under the direction of people in charge of the custody and preservation of Apulian art and culture. Quality tourism is growing fast, and we should keep on going in this direction trying to be more optimistic and to have a better civic sense and less bureaucracy from the institutions that often slow down the work of the entrepreneurs that want to invest in the territory. When I’m in Puglia I rediscover the true values: friendship, honesty, and above all… the simple life.
I had the pleasure of meeting you several times, and you always struck me as a genuine person, far away from the stereotype of the inaccessible fashion guru. So, I’d like to ask you, what is that you consider cool and elegant in the times we are living?
Being genuine, accessible, welcoming and elegant. These four traits define what’s cool, trendy and fashionable to me. To be elusive was an attitude that probably worked in the past, but I believe that are your work, your creativity, your cultural background and your authenticity what makes you a so-called guru. I want to feel close to who loves my creations, I want to share with them my journey. I am quite a confident man, so I really don’t need to pretend to be somebody’s I’m not.
What are your next entrepreneurial challenges?
We are planning a new store on Madison Avenue. Then we’ll concentrate on the European, Russian and Middle Eastern and Chinese markets. We are also about to enter the luxury hotels business with the Domenico Vacca brand. I’m working on a book, on a TV show, and there’s also an educational program in the works, to teach fashion in the Italian and American universities: we’ll create the very first Academy of the Made in Italy.
Eleonora Pieroni, Domenico Vacca’s partner in fashion and in life, is an Italian model, actress, TV host and recording artist from the Umbria region, who lives between Rome and New York City. She was a finalist in the Miss World competition and became Miss Mare Blue Italia in 2011. Eleonora became famous for recording an Italian and English cover of Nel blu dipinto di blu (VOLARE) by Domenico Modugno, one of the all-time most popular Italian songs.
Eleonora is well known to be Domenico Vacca’s female icon, representing the class and the elegance of the modern woman. Stay tuned for the upcoming, exclusive interview with Pieroni that will be featured here on the pages of Red Carpet Magazine New York.