In a world driven by consumerism and constant connectivity, it can be tough to reconnect with traditions and intimacy. Amidst the noise, Manuel Calabrese‘s debut collection — titled “Gentleman” — brilliantly succeeds in creatively addressing the increasing alienation caused by smartphones and social media.
Showing off the collection, this photo series, photographed by Gabriele Rosati, reinterprets traditions, values and sexuality. Calabrese, freshly graduated from Polimoda, uses different materials and merges consumerism around traditional portraiture to craft a colourful and intense microcosm that highlights vulnerability.
Hailing from Italy, Calabrese’s venture into the fashion world was unhurried. Having been a dancer since the age of five, the designer even got into a prestigious dance school in Rotterdam before pursuing a career in fashion. “I was constantly in contact with the most disparate artistic visions of great choreographers, composers and costume designers,” the young designer confesses of his time at the school. This was a way for him to constantly “feel, train and push [his] body over boundaries” but he could not help but feel a void, a “feeling of missing something.” It was there and then that his head was turned towards the clothes industry, eventually leading him to start a career in the field.
For his debut as a designer, Calabrese decided to focus on the decaying idea of intimacy within a consumerist society — a notion he admits is complicated to define. For him, it’s made up of “relationships, moments and sensations we create with people we care about as well as with ourselves when we are on our own.” From going out with a friend to sleeping with somebody, Calabrese finds intimacy in the small feats that, even if unbeknownst to us, fill up our days. This feeling of preciousness is echoed in the materials the young Italian designer chose for the collection, each carrying a very intention sensory load — take leather for example. “Leather reminds me of carnal, almost sexual sensations,” the designer explains. “It embodies a part of a human habit that exists since we arrived on this planet.”
But, aside from appealing to our senses, Calabrese also wants us to come to our senses when it comes to protecting the planet. Coming from the region of Solofra, known as one of Italy’s biggest manufacturers of luxury leathers, the designer has made it a priority to learn about the actual waste and pollution the producing such goods causes — and pass on the message with his designs. “Thousands of leather goods can be trashed for really superficial reasons,” Calabrese recounts. “This inspired me to give a second life to all these huge amounts of goods that were going to be trashed and not used at all. This is my way to sustainability.”
In this particular photo series, Calabrese invents a personal language with his styling and colour choices to express his bafflement with today’s society. “We post nudes and private moments on social media, but at the same time, we close ourselves in rooms when we are sad, sometimes without even speaking to anybody,” the designer argues. With “Gentleman,” he hopes people will get inspired to reconnect with others and also themselves.
Opting to do photo series with Gabriele Rosati in lieu of a traditional runway show also feeds into this narrative. Calabrese explains that as much as runway shows excite him and amaze him in their ephemeral aspect, photographs allow for a better playground with proportions and contrasts. Rather than rushed in a quick strut, the details are explored and nailed to perfection, making the whole project wholeheartedly fragile and sophisticated. A snapshot forever and impeccably immortalised in the scope of fashion.
This pertinence is perhaps enhanced further by the special relationship photographer and designer share. Calabrese and Rosati met in Polimoda’s library, and the Italian designer was “immediately attracted to Rosati’s special attitude, posture and silence” as well as his “sensitive and romantic understanding of everything that surrounds him.” Inspired by the likes of Francis Bacon and Maurizio Cattelan, the duo thoroughly worked to remake “intimate and profound self-portraits” in a contemporary way. “We mostly tried to show something that is a part of our lives — like a completely naked body, a sexual act or even the sense of eating — in its own beauty and power,” Calabrese explains. “The construction behind all the garments completes the concept itself, everything is so religiously embellished, the intarsia leather patterns or even the monumental graphics works are mediums that perfectly embody the importance I give to those moments.”
Now looking forward, Calabrese confesses that he does not want to restrict himself in any way to any medium, admitting his great love for music and fine arts. With a trip to Japan already planned, the young designer hopes to get inspired by this brand new world. As “Gentleman” make its first foray into the world, so does Calabrese, who now looks forward to collaborating with brands, maisons, and mayhaps even starting his own brand.
Discover more about Manuel Calabrese’s projects and creations on his Instagram.
all designs. “Gentleman” by Manuel Calabrese Polimoda Graduation Collection 2019
photography + art direction. Gabriele Rosati
fashion. Manuel Calabrese
models. Li Le + Evans Wiz Osaghae
hair + make up.Lisa Pascucci
fashion assistant. Micheal Biagini
set design assistant. Mirea Papotto
location. Polarys Collective
words. Hugo Scheubel