Designer Q+AMeet Brioni's Justin O'Shea, the Man Who Put Metallica In Italian Tuxes
Are you into gin-soaked benders, chinchilla coats, Metallica, and Scarlett Johansson? Then you'll probably like this guy's suits (and our no-holds-barred Q+A).
Justin O'Shea is a contradiction. He's from mining country in Australia, yet made his name as fashion director for the luxury womenswear e-commerce site, Mytheresa.com. (And as a street-style all-star.) He drinks hard, and likes rock 'n' roll, yet has no compunction about knowledgeably and enthusiastically discussing pencil skirts or silk shirts. And he curses often—even while talking about silk shirts.
In short, he's a very modern animal (emphasis on animal).
In April, Brioni, the ultra-high-end Italian suiting brand, announced O'Shea as its new creative director. Even though he had no previous design experience. The reaction was, well, varied. Some wondered what the Aussie knew about taking charge of one of the world's greatest teams of tailors. Others, however—the people who know O'Shea as a kind, generous, straight-shooting fixture in the fashion world with a proven eye—said, Why not?
Over the last four months, O'Shea has set about quickly and fearlessly overhauling Brioni. He changed the brand's logo to a custom gothic font. He featured Metallica in the first campaign. And he unveiled his highly-anticipated debut collection at a runway show during women's couture week in Paris. (The backdrop was a wall of Marshall amps.) His motto from the jump has been simple: No compromises. Contradictions? Yes. But no compromises. That's easier said than done, of course—so to find out how it's going so far, read on.
Will Welch: You've taken Brioni in a radical new direction. Did you negotiate exactly how far you could take it ahead of time with [French parent company] Kering?
Justin O'Shea: Well, I had to give a pretty clear indication in the vetting process for the job. I answered all those lame questions like, Who's the Brioni man? Who's your customer? What's the inspiration? What's the blah blah blah? So I was pretty clear. I was like, Look, this is what it's gonna be. I'm not gonna create 73-fucking-thousand mood boards for you. If you want me to do the job, give me the job and just trust me. And if you don't like it, then fire me. And the beauty about Kering—what separates them from all the other big fashion houses—is they're like, Cool. They were like, You seem pretty confident. We like the vibe. So let's go for it and see what happens.
What was that first thing you pushed for?
The chinchilla coat.I was like, [dramatically] Chinchilla. And everyone was like, What? And then they said, OK, we're gonna look into it. And I was like, Oh my god, I can't believe you agreed to that. No one's gonna say anything? This is awesome. I love being creative director.
Brioni is known for it's master tailors. How did you introduce yourself and your new vision to them?
Well, before I officially started I met the two master tailors as a bespoke customer. I was like, I would like to make a suit. And they were like, Sure. What would you like? And then I described what became the new Brioni Continental suit. They had no idea I was gonna be the creative director.
What did they think of the suit you asked them for?
They didn't understand at first. They were thinking I was gonna get something quite classic. And what I was doing was merging something historical from the '70s with a modern-day fit. But eventually they were like, Shit, we really want to see if we can make this for you. You know, I'd heard that these guys had been at Brioni for 30 years, so I was expecting older guys. But they were 40-something-year-olds. And I was like, Wait, when did you start? And they were like, When we were 14 years old. They were the first graduates from the Brioni school.
How did you finally tell them you were the new creative director?
Well, my first day on the job, I went out to Penne, where all the tailors are, and I was like, Oh, hey guys! They were like, Wait, we just made you a suit. And I was like, Yeah, exactly. That's the new Brioni suit.
And they said?
They were like, Oh, no. They were like, It's time to leave the neighborhood.
Just slowly back away.
Exactly. Don't make eye contact. The thing is, I'm so focused on the suiting, but I need their expertise. Brioni's already created pretty much every suit that's ever existed, so I have the greatest archive of all time: It lives in those guys.
You've been fearless in the new role. You redesigned the logo, you're redesigning the stores, you're taking a totally different direction with the actual garments. How did you feel the day of the Metallica campaign release—and the day of your debut show?
It was interesting cause obviously I'm quite specific. I know exactly how I want everything to be, so there's no room for error or misinterpretation or going outside of the brief. People always say, Justin is very black and white. So obviously if it doesn't work out then you get fucking pulverized.
If it sucks it's your fault.
Exactly, and that was the bit which I loved the most: The opportunity to fail miserably or to succeed greatly. With the Metallica campaign—fucking waiting for that goddamn campaign to come out was so painful. Everyone was like, What's Brioni gonna be? Are you changing it? Is it gonna be about suits or other stuff? So I fucking locked myself in a box for that whole period. I was like, I cannot answer these questions.
Metallica sets a pretty clear tone.
Yeah. So the day the campaign came out it was such a weight lifted off my shoulders. Not only because people can finally just love it or hate it, and know what it is and what it's not, but also, secondly, because I just love the images. This is Brioni. It was the first men's brand. They were literally the fucking leaders of menswear, you know? In the '50s, '60s, early '70s. They had it, but they lost it. And I was like, I just want to get that back for the brand.
What about the show?
I rented a nightclub for the preparation of the show. I get in there, and everyone's standing around like, OK, so what do we do now? I'm just like, Fuck. It's actually happening. Every day you're getting closer and closer. I'm not lacking self-confidence, but it was daunting. I had moments where I was like, Fuck, what are people gonna say? And then on show day, I turned up at 10 in the morning, and we got into the space, and I was like, What do I do? What's happening? When do we start? Do you need me to do something?
Because by then the production apparatus is putting it all together, right?
Yeah, everyone was like, You actually don't need to be here now. Like, You've already done it all. I was like, Surely I've gotta be doing something. Finally they put me in a room. And they're like, Have a coffee, chill out here, and stop annoying people.
How did you digest the show? The aftermath, the reception, the reviews?
I got totally wasted. I went on a bender for a few days. I zoned out for the period when all of the press was coming out. I didn't look at reviews, I didn't look at nothing. I just enjoyed how happy I was. And that was the only thing I wanted to do was just hang out with my mates, get drunk, and just fucking enjoy the moment.
Justin Breaks Down Brioni's New Signature Suit: The Continental
Take me through the suit. The Continental is a three piece, right?
Well, I feel like two just doesn't cut the mustard. Why have two when you can have three? I've never met a man in a three piece that didn't look more presentable than a guy in a two piece. It sets you apart. You know, it's not that much extra work to wear a fucking waistcoat. But you'll be the best-looking dude wherever you go.
Why the peak lapel?
It's more manly. It's bigger, it's sharper, it's tougher. Some men are rounder, some men are more angular. And I just like the angles.
One button with a quite deep button stance. That gives you broader shoulders and a slimmer waist.
Double or single vents?
No vents. Cleaner lines.
This suit hugs you at the waist. I'm trying to think of a cooler word than "hugs."
Yeah, it's got contour at the waist.
The way this jacket is constructed basically creates a mold. Think of it like your shell. It's your armor. It straightens you up, it gives you better posture. You feel stronger, more confident. And once you start wearing it, the canvas on the inside will actually start to contour to your body. So then it will literally be yours and yours alone.
Why do you like the wider waistband?
I think a lot of the details on most men's suits are too small. Like, the waistband—it's always thin. That's like having a thin lapel. And when I look at things—to me, thin doesn't look rich. Bigger is better.
What about the hem of the pant?
I think it's most elegant not to have a break. The pant should just finish at the top of your shoes. You know, I was in a pub the other day, watching the European football final with a mate of mine, and Scarlett Johansson was there. She was like, What pants are you wearing? They're the best pants I've ever seen. I didn't even know it was Scarlett Johansson. I was like, That girl looks like Scarlett Johansson. And then my mate is like, It fucking is Scarlett Johansson. I was like, Well, how am I supposed to know it's fucking Scarlett Johansson? Why would she be sitting in a pub with you of all people watching fucking Euro football? So she's like, People don't make pants like that. Where do you get pants like that? And I was like, Well, I could tell you, Scarlett.