Leaving his PR position behind at an esteemed Italian brand in order to start a new: Milan-based womenswear designer Alfredo Cortese took a big jump into the unknown and decided to explore his creative potential by founding his very own ready-to-wear brand named A.C.9. However, it is not the first time that the Sicilian-born self-made fashion designer decided to reinvent himself. After studying chemistry back in his 20s, the now 31-year-old self-proclaimed fashion designer bought a one-way ticket to Milan deciding to explore photography through the prism of fashion and documentary. An experience that motivated him to move to Cuba, where he worked as a photojournalist, before returning to Milan where he eventually focused on building a career as a fashion PR. Whether his astrological sign – Capricorn with Gemini rising, as he likes to point out in this interview – is to blame for his regular life changes remains to be proven. That being said, we can already see that the saying "the only constant is change" is probably the one that best describes the life of this enthusiastic self-starter. We met Alfredo Cortese at the launch of his inaugural collection, intrigued by his unusual background and the utilitarian quality of his clothes – dresses that can be folded up in their entirety. And here's what he had to say.
You've worked as a fashion PR before switching and becoming a designer on your own. What exactly has motivated you to explore "the other side" of the business?
My curiosity for "the other side," as you say, and rejecting the routine of a classic 9-5 job, as well as the desire to express myself, are certainly the main reasons. Let me give you an example, so that you can understand what I mean: imagine you are doing PR for a brand, the collection arrives before the show and you would have added or modified something – or even made other garments instead! You would have moved that embroidery, lengthened that dress. Or imagine that if you were on a set for fashion shooting, and all you want to do is have your say. At some point, as soon as you stop and think, with maturity and experience, I realized I could do this on my own. With time, my brand project started to take shape and manifest itself into something that is true to myself.
Alfredo Cortese Spring/Summer 2020 lookbook. Photo courtesy of PR.
So, wanting to be in charge of a creative process on your own was the main reason. How did it feel to take the big jump and opt for this considerable career change?
In the beginning, I was testing myself, understanding my own taste and vision – and I was surprised by the results. I didn't expect it. I had never explored the process of creating a collection. That of creating a unique product, with a strong and desirable identity, and with characteristics that distinguished it from others. I can trace the A.C.9 values back to my astrological horoscope: the aesthetic side, freedom of expression, and pure charm to my ascendant sign, Gemini, and the rational and practical side of the pocket concept to Capricorn.
Can you clarify what the brand's name means?
I didn't want to use my name and surname ... I don't like telling someone to wear something with my name on it, but with the style that "AC9" represents instead. AC are my initials, but also my father's, and the "9" represents a special number to me. The full stops, separating the letters, are a statement of thought, of form. Of purity. Of geometric bond.
Your collection's lookbook reveals smart, wearable, and entirely packable women's ready-to-wear pieces. What was your inspiration behind creating such a functional collection of what seem to be wardrobe essentials?
Initially, my desire was to create a functional line of products. However, I didn't want to sacrifice the "fashionability" of my collection, which is why each dress in the collection has many well-constructed and well-balanced details. These are dresses that can be worn at any time of day, depending on the personality of the woman who wears them. If you see the photos, the model is without shoes – and this detail says a lot about my concept. I wanted to give the woman space to express herself on a blank canvas. It's not just an elegant dress – the style of the dress is up to the wearer's own interpretation. And then the dress itself can become its own container; it is a concept of elegance that is transformed with immediacy and speed. The whole dress can be folded in on itself within its pocket.
Let's talk about your collection's style, cuts, and fabrics…it mostly features bold monochromatic hues and easy-to-wear fabrics…can you give us more details?
All 12 of my dresses are inspired by staple pieces with a contemporary Couture charm. The tank top. The polo shirt. The T-shirt. Many are built with unexpected volumes. Enriched with sudden asymmetries. It is a story of opulent simplicity. The form itself becomes language. A certain visual simplicity is combined with some elements of regal decoration – the back of a dress reveals fabric arches, for instance, or a romantic train made futuristic by the minimal cut. There are also dresses that bear the athletic neckline of a tank top, or the simple knot that supports the structure of the dress. I have combined apparently dissonant elements with the purity of form. Also, the choice of a single fabric, a mix of cupro and nylon, gives a technical personality to all the dresses. I chose only three colors, but I never mixed them together in the same dress. It's a purely aesthetic choice.
What is the most challenging part of launching your own brand today? Especially when you consider how hard it must be to launch a new women's ready-to-wear brand from scratch, in such a saturated industry.
The bureaucratic side is definitely what is the most challenging. Developing the concept and selecting the fabrics is fun, creative, and stimulating, but, on the other side, the more administrative side of the business is challenging for a new designer like myself. In the present day, you can't only be creative. You also need to be extremely business savvy. It's not only about creating fabulous dresses; you actually need to have a commercial mindset. It's also important to surround yourself with people who believe in you and in what you do. People who don't care if you didn't graduate from the best fashion school, or if you don't have a decade of design experience in a big and hyped fashion house. These people are the ones who inspire my collections and keep me going when times are tough.