GCDS: The Ascent of a Millennial Brand

GCDS designer Giuliano Calza, 30, along with his brother Giordano, 35, in only four years, has created a label designed around a world of comics and kitsch. A community of social media stars and the popularity of his brand in China and South Korea are expected to drive his sales to 20 million euros by the end of 2019 from 10 million euros in 2018.

At the September Milan RTW shows, nothing was more surreal than the streetwear-to-ready-to-wear brand’s Spring/Summer 2020 catwalk where top influencers and models sat front row.  Manga-like models wearing enlarged pupil contact lenses darted down the runway, and a two-story pink dinosaur (that Giuliano ordered online from a Chinese website) chomped its thorny teeth and swung its tail at a colourful crowd.

Calza’s vision for GCDS – which stands for God Can’t Destroy Streetwear, he explained – is expressed through an attitude and a whole world of symbols collected from his travels, especially in China, childhood memories and hopes for the future.  

NOWFASHION’s Sofia Celeste chatted with Giuliano at a dinner in Milan, commemorating a branding launch with Italian pasta maker Barilla, along with a short promotional film featuring legendary Italian actress Sophia Loren, filmed by director Nadia Lee Cohen.

SC: GCDS is growing rapidly. Even with a small staff, you were able to achieve revenues of over $10M last year. How do you explain this trajectory?

GC: Today we celebrate 30 employees. Revenues are rising each year as we expand to various other categories like knitwear, beauty, kids, and leather accessories. I think people in general can feel the enthusiasm of the GCDS team and everything I plan to do. Usually it’s very organic because we’re a young group of people at work. Generally speaking, projects and collections are not driven by anything other than framing today’s youth and having fun whilst doing it. 

SC: Your fashion shows are becoming the high point of MFW here. You actually had a dinosaur in the middle of the runway; you host huge after parties, while a lot of brands, older than yours, are still relying on Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, the Italian fashion chamber, to fund their shows. How do you explain this success? Who is financing all of this?

GC: In the beginning, I had funds from Camera Moda as well, for my very first show in Milan “SEAriously GCDS.” I’m not sure about the others, to be honest, because I was lucky enough to have my brother Giordano on my side, always taking control of the business plan and our financials, in general. I built my team by hiring people I could see potential in, or a positive vibe, but most importantly, those who possess an extreme will to work. It literally was all built on hard work and a meticulous attention to detail. Waking up every day, being organized, and having good relationships with factories and suppliers makes the work that much easier.

SC: How do you handle licensing of the Manga cartoons, for example? Is that tricky business and expensive, or are they more than willing to promote their own brands?

GC: In many cases, I just offered them a licensing fee, but we are fortunate that now they are more willing to work with us because it’s not just merchandising. It’s a show, and a method of story-telling born out of the love of past memories. The dinosaur was my idea, right after the FW 19/20 show, we decided on the [Jurassic Park] concept for the show and purchased it. Surprisingly it was not as expensive as we imagined! You just have to have creative ideas and direction – then everything’s possible.

SC: You said in an interview with I-D that social media isn't reality and that you want your customers to express themselves in a real way. Yet, many of your major supporters are social media stars who live and breathe this sort of "reality"... Also, your consumers are connecting with you online and on social media platforms... so how can we interact with social media without it becoming a reality?

GC: The fact is… life on social media is not reality. I love all of these superstars, and what I see, is just them maximizing these tools. When referring to my crowd, I think of us as a generation that is finding time for activities other than the internet, and with it, a sense of reality through the clothes we live in, while building a fantasy. Living a happy life, for me, is way more important than just seeking fame on IG. I just choose to do what I like, and people seem to sense it. This is my way to use it responsibly.

SC: LGBTQ transgender activist Teddy Quinlivan headlined one of your fashion shows – how is LGBTQ part of the GCDS community?

GC: It’s a really tight connection. I love Teddy and she is an insane beauty and is very sassy and smart. I didn’t choose her because she is part of the LGBTQ community or anything like that, but rather because I stand by her as a human being. I am a part of the community, and I think fashion can’t deny the importance of its members as muses and creatives. But still, it comes natural for me to support and be supported by them without some long strategy behind it.

SC:  You’ve experimented with cosmetics and beauty products.  Could GCDS expand more along these lines and have you thought about what a cosmetics brand for a streetwear brand could look like?

GC: Of course. A year ago, I launched a line of lipstick, recently adding nail polish and other beauty products. I think it has to be controversial or different, otherwise it only contributes to the seemingly endless amount of useless products. I think the branding process is fun, and I want to deliver a quality Made in Italy product to a global market.

SC:  Speaking of expanding in terms of products, how did the branding with Barilla come about, and how do food and fashion complement each other?

GC: I love pasta and being able to work with Made in Italy excellence is part of my “study.” I feel like every day presents a fresh starting point, and Barilla was an experiment. It turned out absolutely amazing, and I’ll never stop exploring these kinds of interdisciplinary relationships, because this is what the world offers us today. 

SC: For now, GCDS is very much a family business. What talents do you bring to the table, and how is your brother different from you?

GC: Me and my brother Giordano are very much complementary. He is gifted in ways that I am not, and vice versa. So, I can take care of all the creative side while having a strong shoulder to lean on. I like to bring creative differences to the table… especially in Italy where many are afraid even to follow their own path and approach things differently.

SC: Brick and mortar is going through a tough time. What channels are the best for your brand? 

GC: It depends. We are sold in more than 400 stores worldwide. Today, we have four brick and mortar stores: our first flagship in Milan, one in Florence, a recently opened one in Hong Kong. We’re opening in London’s Soho district in November. Several more worldwide openings are planned in the coming two years. We sell a significant number of accessories online, but more shoes in our physical stores, for example. 

SC: What did living in China, one of fashion's key markets, teach you about the modern consumer?

GC: I learned a lot about how to be open-minded and to not be so quick to judge other people’s differences. The Chinese market has been hit by a changing of culture and has faced it in an exemplary way, evolving with these changes. Markets and people in general should study these changing trends – embracing new cultures and getting to know the target of where they plan to be.

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