Play Time with Altuzarra

Designer Joseph Altuzurra tells Kelly Lim why we shouldn’t be afraid of sex and discusses the philosophy behind his new Play bag.

Sex! Sex! Sex! The conversations around this most provocative of subjects have become ever-more cautious in recent months out of fear of crossing the wary lines drawn up in response to the #MeToo movement.

But for New York-based, French-born designer Joseph Altuzurra, 36, being afraid to talk about sex is not the right response to the current insecurities rippling through society.

In conversation at 5 Carlos Place, MatchesFashion’s multifunctional space in London, he says: “Sex is part of our lives, it’s part of how we connect with each other. Women are sexual people, and so are men. It’s an amazing time to have a conversation and communicate and have a respectful way of looking at it.”

Sex appeal has always been part of the Altuzarra’s own design signature. Time and time again, his brand has found strength in sensuality for women. Check out his 10th anniversary capsule collection, released in January, with its archival pieces and iterations of empowered sensuality. There’s also a practical sophistication to the trans-seasonal outerwear, tops, bottoms, and dresses.

His new hobo bag, named Play, enjoys the same dual game play. Seductive yet classy, its playfulness can be either innocent or naughty. Rows of bondage-like buckles and soft leather straps beckon experimentation. And there’s a functional versatility about the bag, adjustable to be worn across the body, on your shoulder or in your hand.

On the spirit of the bag, Altuzurra says, “There are parts of everyone’s personalities that are public and private and I really wanted to capture that in this bag. It could be equestrian and feel kind of uptown, or bondage and feel kind of naughty.”

Altuzarra cites provocative 20th century photographer Robert Mapplethorpe as inspiration, evident both in the explorations of sexuality and desire in the photographer’s portraits, reflected in the Play bag and his Fall 2019 collection. Exploring private desires within the public persona, Altuzurra offers choices with his take on femininity. Choices for women to decide themselves how they want to make a bag their own – the flexible usage of the bag reflects the fluid, different sides that make up our identities.

The Play is a world away from the minuscule bags currently starring on Instagram. Play is conceived as an all-encompassing life bag, a real accessory for real women, designed to suit all circumstances and attitudes. The multi-functional accessory, which took 18 months to develop, comes in two sizes and a range of colors.

Altuzurra says that he made a conscious decision to only release Play when he felt it was absolutely ready, explaining that it was important for the spirit of the bag to embody the core of the brand. “Clothes should be for you. I offer one idea of how I think women can look. You have a choice to come to me or not. What I like about the clothes in our brand is that they don’t dictate how you have to wear it, you can wear it in multiple different ways and it can look like you,” he says.

He describes the women in his life as a core inspiration, naming Carine Roitfield in particular. “When I started this company, I wanted to make clothes for women who wanted to feel sexy and be sexy. That is a very Carine approach to clothing but I also think what’s so modern and refreshing about her, and a lot of women that I know, is that they don’t feel like, oh now I’m 60 or 55, my sex life is over. Carine is so inspiring to me because she embraces her body, her sexuality, and is not afraid to show that version of herself.”

Altuzurra celebrates wanting to feel sexy at any age and wants to speak to a sense of empowered sensuality through his brand.

On his 10th anniversary, he reflects how his steadfast approach to sensuality has expanded to be more inclusive: “When I started, I was 25. My friends didn’t have kids and most of them weren’t married. Their lives were so different compared to their lives now… Their lives have become fuller. I’m not a woman, I will never be able to fully understand but I feel like I have more depth of understanding. Maybe it has widened my horizon of women; the pressures they go through everyday, the different roles they feel they have to fill in, and how as a designer I can try to make their lives a little more beautiful or a bit easier.”

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