Costello Tagliapietra on Uniqlo and Designing for Nine Inch Nails

costello tagliapietra
Photo courtesy of Costello Tagliapietra
Designers Robert Tagliapietra and Jeffrey Costello

Jeffrey Costello and Robert Tagliapietra are unbelievably chill. Considering that their fashion label (Costello Tagliapietra) has a slew of industry accolades and that they're about to launch their second Uniqlo collaboration—in stores April 21—their groundedness is downright refreshing (their bulldog Sam no doubt has something to do with it).

The duo sat down with FashionEtc to talk about Uniqlo, their newfound love of texting, and designing costumes for Nine Inch Nails, Madonna, and Bruce Springsteen.

How did the Uniqlo collaboration come about the first time?

Robert Tagliapietra: The stars were in the right kind of alignment. We had never really done a collaboration before so we didn't know what to expect. But we always said Uniqlo was where we wanted to go because it wasn't trying to do designer clothing, it was doing what it does best, which is great sportswear.

And their fabrics are amazing.

RT: Well that's the thing. They're not trying to do a chiffon dress, they're doing beautiful jersey dresses. And they're working with most of the same mills designers are using because they're buying in such huge volumes.

The first collection sold out really quickly.

RT: It was crazy. It was more than we thought. They [Uniqlo] were constantly e-mailing us; they were so excited with how well it was moving and how much attention it'd gotten. We didn’t really tackle the press too tough because it all kind of happened so quickly. But it got so much attention.

So when they asked you to do the second one, did you say, "YES!" or were you thinking, No, we've already done one?

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Photos courtesy of Uniqlo

A preview of looks from the Costello Tagliapietra/Uniqlo collaboration

Jeffrey Costello: It was under a different guise this time: We're doing it around T-shirt dresses.

RT: The whole concept was to do six dresses or pieces that kind of played on T-shirt dresses. So it was kind of a project; that's how we looked at it. It was this fun project. Unfortunately, in our hands, T-shirt becomes something—it's not really a T-shirt. [laughs]

I read that you did Nine Inch Nails's costumes?

RT: We did the Fragile tour in '99. We started working with Trent [Reznor]. It was an amazing project and it was super-exciting for us because we even saw our names get credited on the DVD, which is coming out. My name next to Trent's—that's super-exciting! [laughs]

How did that happen?

RT: At that time, when I met Jeff, he was working with Madonna. He had always done these projects.

Just Madonna … ?

RT: No! Again I was ridiculously excited. [laughing] Back then it was different. The music industry was different. Musicians were making money. And therefore there's actually a business machine operating … After that we worked with Bruce Springsteen for a while.

A bit of a different look.

RT: Yeah, it's kind of funny. We did a lot of menswear. And we were just talking about this: What possessed us to go from menswear to womenswear?

In your Fall collection you had a lot of alpaca. It's the fabric of the season. Everyone's using it.

RT: My mother started an alpaca farm. [laughs]

JC: That’s how we got into it.

I hear it's more environmentally friendly.

RT: It's super-environmentally friendly because they just chew the grass, they don't actually destroy the roots. The fur itself is the only humane fur we know of. They don't actually kill the animal. The actual fur pelts are from the animals who pass. The fur is worth so much money, there's no way they'd skin this animal for the pelt. So the actual fur—

JC: The yarn …

RT: Well the yarn is the yarn, just like wool would be. It gets harvested once a year. But the actual fur is only when the animal passes. What's nice about it is there is this burgeoning American small business concentration on alpaca.

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Photos courtesy of Costello Tagliapietra

Looks from the Costello Tagliapietra Fall 2011 collection

As smaller designers, how did you fare through the recession?

JC: We definitely got hit hard by the recession; we're not going to say we didn't. And it was kind of ironic, or kind of annoying, because that was the one season we thought we were going to explode. Things were going really well and all of a sudden …

RT: It was just bad timing. Our business idols were always the Jil Sanders of the bunch. It took 20 years before people recognized who they were. We put these unrealistic expectations on young designers now to become huge businesses in two years. I don't think for the long term that it's very realistic. This business is riddled with the carcasses of bad decisions.

Was there ever a moment where you felt you'd made it?

RT: We're really hard on ourselves and I don't think we've ever felt that. That's another thing we're always talking about it. By nature I'm a bit of a worry wart. I don't ever allow myself to feel comfortable and happy about things. I think at some point I'll feel that way, but I get nervous about feeling that way too because I'll get complacent.

JC: I think the next time we sign a deal of some sort I'm going to force us to celebrate. [laughs] Pop a champagne or something. 

Designers today have to design, tweet, and Facebook. How do you balance all of that?

RT: You don't. And that's the thing: We try to do everything, and we're still a small company. When it's a big company—this is why people are breaking down a little—there is a lot of pressure. Years ago, a lay person didn't know what Gianni Versace or Jean Paul Gaultier looked like. Fashion cultists knew who they were. Nowadays it's like everyone's a celebrity. It's a funny thing.

JC: You almost have to hire an assistant to pretend they're you to tweet.

RT: We do our own Facebooking. It's a bit of an addiction for us. [laughs] We were actually operating without cell phones for five years.


RT: But we broke down. Now it's texting. We didn't know about this world of texting until last week and now this is all we do.