Contemporary art and hip-hop music, deep passions that became inspirational elements for the young Filipino-Italian designer Gianfranco Villegas. After growing up in Florence and his studies at Polimoda Fashion School, where he graduated in 2013, he found himself involved in a personal project, that takes him between Italy and Paris. With SELFMADE by Gianfranco Villegas the designer is one of the finalists of this male edition of "Who Is On Next?", organized by Fondazione Pitti Immagine Discovery and promoted by Pitti Immagine Uomo in collaboration with Altaroma and L'Uomo Vogue. Gianfranco tells us a lot about his path and personal approach to fashion in this interview.
When did you start in the fashion business and when did you realise it could make it your profession?
When I was 5, I was introduced to this world thanks to my aunt. She worked as a cleaning lady for the family who own Allegri, the well-known Italian rainwear company. I used to spend my summers with their family. By the time I was 14, I was already a huge fan of menswear fashion with mentors like Raf Simons and Hedi Slimane.
I then decided to take a place at the fashion school in Florence, Polimoda, graduating from there in 2013. It was then that I finally understood that this is what I wanted to do as a career.
Tell us about the principle features of your range. What distinguishes it?
The label started as a game, like a personal diary of my life, during my first work experiences as a designer at various fashion houses in Antwerp and Paris. Therefore, every collection has personal echoes and every garment is rich in text, just like a personal diary.
The business side then evolved with the attention and support from the Japanese group, The Wall. They decided to back me and to distribute the brand in Japan through some luxury boutiques.
The characteristic that distinguishes the brand is this heartfelt and personal aspect that is found in every collection and every garment.
Where does the inspiration for your work come from?
It starts with my main passions, music, American Hip-hop culture and contemporary art. Then, fundamentally, it comes from my personal life, like the “You’re my Hero” collection two seasons ago, which was dedicated to the relationship with my mother. I also travel a lot and visit many museums, archives of vintage clothing and all sorts of antique markets. I also draw much of my inspiration from real life, from anything I see or hear on the metro, at the supermarket or simply walking along the road.
What is your concept of elegance?
Someone who is sure of themselves, confident in what they are wearing, therefore it can be found in a simple T-shirt, a pair of jeans and sneakers.
It’s not true that when you put on a suit you are automatically elegant.
What is your connection with Pitti? Did you already know about the trade fair? Do you have any memories or stories linked to it?
Having been born and raised in Florence, Pitti is something I have always heard people talking about.
It was one on those moments which revitalised, and even today vitalises, Florence with an international flavour, filling the city centre. It is fantastic that even Florence can have its say during the various international fashion weeks.
You are one of the finalists for “Who’s On Next?”. Out of past participants, who do you like and who do you identify with?
It is an enormous honour and pleasure for me, especially as I am a Florentine designer.
I have a particular connection with a previous winner, Erik Bjerkesjo, who I helped with design during his time at Pitti, while I was still studying at Polimoda. I like his concept and aesthetic of fashion.
What are your feelings and expectations in being a Who Is On Next? finalist?
I am excited but also nervous at this opportunity, particularly because I am in my home town. I hope I am able to express my abilities and my fashion ideal.
What are your dreams and projects for the future?
I am an ambitious type of guy, because I have always worked hard to get what I want.
Last season we decided to take an important step, that is, we presented the collection during the Paris fashion week, and future projects can only get better. Apart from the new presentation/event in Paris, we are also organising an event in Tokyo and, who knows, maybe even in Milan. I am a realistic “dreamer”, therefore I always try to keep my feet on the ground when I make decisions. We are currently based between Florence and Paris. The next important step is to stabilise and become a solid and, most importantly, continuous brand.