The English language isn’t quite evolved enough to appropriately describe fashion icon Anna Dello Russo. Helmut Newton once called her a “fashion maniac”. When asked at a Central Saint Martins Q&A whether couture was dead, she stood up from her chair and paraded the stage in a leggy ostrich feather dress, gleefully retorting in a thick, bellowing Italian accent: “Darling, does it look like couture is dead?” Like some modern-day King Charles II, her crackling joie de vivre is contagious, even over the phone where she speaks from her country home in Puglia (her Whatsapp icon is, of course, a paparazzi image from the front row at a fashion show). Dello Russo is a beloved freelance stylist, a social media sensation, the star of over 10,000 Getty images, and as of today, the designer of a bedazzled seven-piece capsule collection with denim label 7 For All Mankind.
Her fashion resumé makes her the perfect candidate to do so. Initially working in the editorial department of Donna, former Vogue Italia editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani took Dello Russo under her wing in the early 1980s, where she worked as a fashion editor for 18 years. It was in the mid-00s when her flamboyant persona started becoming public. While most other fashion editors were stone-faced and elusive, donned sunglasses and worked in private, Dello Russo’s outlandish outfits made her one of the foremost street style superstars, urging her to venture into fashion and lifestyle blogging by 2010. As her star grew, stories circulated about her iconoclastic wardrobe and lifestyle: does she really have 4,000 shoes? Did her lack of wardrobe space really cause the demise of the relationship with her ex-husband? Apparently so, but all of that changed with the passing of Sozzani in 2016, when she auctioned off the large majority of her wardrobe (which, naturally, was kept in a second apartment just for clothing and shoes) to benefit the next young generation of designers.
Since then, it’s been the younger generation she’s held dear. Teaching masterclasses to students at Italian fashion college the Istituto Marangoni, she then launched the Playground initiative, which encouraged young people in fashion to work collaboratively. I tell her I remember a talk she hosted at Central Saint Martins while I was studying, and she is overjoyed. “You were a student, and now you’re working!” she says. “When people say that from the young generation, that means we set a good example.”
Truthfully, I think everyone wishes they were a little more like Anna Dello Russo. Her unwavering sense of self and her adoring commitment to an often cruel industry has brought positivity to the lives of many. Below, we poke the complex, creatively ravenous and eccentric brain of Anna Dello Russo with 50 questions.
1. Where are you right now? I’m in the south of Puglia in my country house called a trulli. They’re a very typical country house construction, very, very old.
2. What are you doing after this interview? I’m going to have a coffee at the bar in the little square, because when I’m here in the countryside, I have a very quiet life. Getting coffee, going to the square, the bar, walking home. A slow life.
3. How do you have your coffee? A long espresso, with sugar.
4. What are you wearing right now? Cargo pants by my friend Blumarine and a white shirt by Tod’s, because it’s pretty warm here.
5. What inspired your capsule collection with 7 For All Mankind? My capsule collection was inspired by the sexy advertising images of Jesus Jeans in the 80s. It was a denim collection, and on it read: “Who loves me is going to follow me”. As an image, it was very strong. When I was a kid I was drawn to this collection because it was all about sexy, body-conscious empowerment with denim. If you love me, you’re going to follow me – I think this is relevant today. It’s 80s, sexy inspiration.
6. What do you love about denim? Denim for me is very sexy. It’s functional, but gives you a cool attitude. You can make a look and it’s very ageless, and it’s very related to my teenage memory, the 80s. That’s why I give you 80s inspiration in the collection.
7. What’s your favourite piece in the collection? There’s a jumpsuit – the jeans and a shirt, altogether. Very tight on the body, very supermodel 80s.
8. Who could you imagine wearing pieces from your capsule as their daily uniform? Everyone. It’s about confidence. You can be confident in any pieces, girls and guys, genderless people. Jeans are like underwear, they’re very adaptable. That’s why I like when they’re tighter; they’re like underwear that can shape your body, but they also give you a sense of confidence.
9. What’s your favourite memory with denim? When I was a teenager I used to have a pair of jeans – they were UFO, very 80s but very popular. My friends say to me, “Oh can I borrow your jeans,” and I said, “Yes, I can give you my jeans but you need to give me your Versace jacket that I saw in your closet.”
10. Double denim: is it high fashion or is it a fashion faux pas? What is faux pas? No, no, no. It’s very high fashion. For me, denim is a kind of fabric that everyone can use. You can see it in a couture collection, from Dior by Galliano, or Balenciaga, Glenn Martens. Denim, for me, is high fashion.
How would you describe your style in three words? “One word: schizophrenic. Insane, no sense” – Anna Dello Russo
11. Why did you choose to work with supermodel Stella Maxwell in the campaign? Firstly, she’s a friend of mine – I like her so much. Secondly she represents a new generation – very fluid and genderless. And she’s part of my memory of models, which was my inspiration in the 80s and 90s when I started to work. I was fascinated by top models and this world, and now she represents the new one.
12. How would you describe your style in three words? One word: schizophrenic. [Laughs]. Insane, no sense.
13. How would you describe Italian style? Very luxury, quality, sometimes too classic.
14. What’s your favourite era of fashion? 90s, absolutely.
15. How has your personal style changed over the years? It changes every day. I don’t like style, I like fashion. I like being free to change every time, free to adapt my body, my age, my feeling, my humour about the change in fashion. What I love about fashion is that you can never catch it, because it’s always the next, next, next. For me, it’s very important to be flexible and fluid.
16. What’s the best thing about being a fashion editor? Because you have to edit. I love it because it’s one shot, one look, which can be very difficult. When you work, you have to be very focused.
17. What’s the worst thing about being a fashion editor? I don’t see the worst in fashion. I’m so devoted to fashion ...
18. How many pairs of shoes do you own? Now, very few. In 2018 I gave all my collection up for charity to support the new fashion students. I edit very well. You don’t believe me, but it’s true.
19. What’s your favourite pair of shoes? High-heeled Attico boots. Always high heels – my favourite is high heels. Attico boots – yes!
20. Do you believe in aliens? I haven’t met one … so far.
21. Who’s your personal style icon? Carine Roitfeld.
22. What do you wear when you’re at home? Jogging pants and a T-shirt.
23. Where in the world are you happiest? South of India, Kerala, where I can practise yoga.
24. What’s your comfort food? Tomatoes, bread and olive oil. Always Italian olive oil.
25. Who is your all time favourite fashion photographer, and why? Steven Meisel.
26. Who is your favourite model? Gisele [Bündchen]! My favourite, because I’d like to be like her.
27. What’s your favourite film? Blade Runner. I’m a 80s girl, because I grew up in the 80s – but if you think about it, it’s very today.
28. What’s the biggest change that fashion has made through the years? It changes every second, every time, every moment. 2023 is so different from 2022, it’s a continuous evolution. Never stop, never sleep. Fashion never sleeps.
29. What do you think the industry still needs to improve on? Sustainability, that’s for sure.
30. What’s the best fashion show you’ve ever seen? For me, the next one. The next one will be the best one. I don’t want to turn back, I don’t like being nostalgic. The next will be a good one.
Who would you want to play you in the biopic of your life? “Jared Leto”
31. Who’s the most underrated designer? Ludovic de Saint Sernin. He’s the one for now.
32. Is couture dead? No, it’s in evolution too. If you can notice also, the young generation love to do couture. Like Harris Reed for example, starting from demi-couture. If young people still want to work on couture, it will always be there.
33. What’s your biggest fear? Maybe the hospital, I don’t want to be in the hospital. I want to be healthy. I really care about everything regarding wellness and health, because my fear is getting sick. That’s scary.
34. Who is someone you’ve never worked with, but you’d like to? The young generation of photographers I love because they come from new blood, new energy. I would like to work with the youngest. I love the young generation.
35. Who would you want to play you in the biopic of your life? Jared Leto.
36. What would you pick as the theme for next year’s Met Gala? For me the Met Gala is the Oscars of fashion. The best of the best. Now it’s become something very very important.
37. What three things could you not live without? I would say yoga, high heels ... and my cat.
38. Who is the most important person in your life? My mother. She’s still alive.
39. If you could go back in time and say something to your 18-year-old self, what would you say? Believe, believe, believe. You will make it. You have to believe it.
40. What are you most thankful for? Franca Sozzani, the editor of Italian Vogue.
41. What perfume do you wear? I always wear incense, incense, incense, by Montale. It’s an Italian brand.
42. What was the first item of clothing you fell in love with? For me, a Versace shirt. I was obsessed with Versace from the age of 12.
43. Who’s your favourite singer? Now? Lady Gaga.
44. Who’s the most fashionable person to ever live? Elizabeth, the queen. Your Elizabeth!
45. Do you like being called an icon? If you call me an icon, yes! I don’t call myself one. But if they call me one, it’s ok. I have to be called [it].
46. If you weren’t working in your current roles, what would you be doing? Maybe I would work in Bloomingdale’s buying, selling, buying, selling clothes. That’s another thing that I love. Working in a big mall, a big fashion store.
47. Who makes you laugh the most? You have to have a sense of humour in fashion, it’s important to survive – to not take too much seriously. Who makes me laugh all the time? Edward Enninful, because he’s very funny. He has incredible fashion humour.
48. What do people get wrong about you? I really don’t care about that, but maybe people see me as a fashion victim, but it’s okay!
49. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? Always fight for your dream and believe it. Put all your determination and devotion into fashion.
50. Thank you, Anna! Do you have any final words? Let me think of what I can tell you in English ... I am Italian after all. Fashion never sleeps, let’s just say that!
Anna Dello Russo’s capsule collection for 7 For All Mankind is out now.