When Carine Roitfeld wore Joseph Altuzarra’s ivory coat to Dior and Lanvin last spring the one with mink tails sprouting from the shoulders, the one that was photographed everywhere the 25-year-old, New York–based, goat-fur-loving designer was suddenly someone to watch. Now the rave reviews he received last week for his fall 2010 collection have had the same effect as an indie band’s great second album, meaning he’s gone from culty darling to sold-out at Barneys (try finding anything from his spring 2010 shoe collection). “Joseph made leather seem like it was the only fabric you wanted this season,” says Barneys New York fashion director Julie Gilhart. “From the very first collection he did, we saw his talent for making alluring clothes with spot-on tailoring.” “No other relatively ‘new’ designer had as tight a collection as he,” adds Joseph Quartana, buyer at Seven New York. “I think the New York industry in general is moving a bit more toward a darker, gothic direction. And Joseph punched that ticket full on.”
Altuzarra, who cites Edward Scissorhands among his inspirations, describes the collection as a “turning point,” and says “it’s weird, because it didn’t necessarily feel that way at the beginning. But it just kind of clicked a little more.” Tailoring has always been his strength, and a winter collection allowed him to play that up more (it’s hard to tailor, say, a floaty summer dress). His mostly black-with-touches-of-crimson glam lineup included tight skinny suits, knee-length dresses slashed and laced in just the right places, and high-collared three-quarter coats that would give a telephone pole a sexy, hourglass silhouette.
“After the show, an editor came to see me and said, ‘All the models look so womanly!’ which I thought was a compliment,” says Altuzarra. It makes sense that the one celebrity he dreams of dressing is Angelina Jolie. But he’s not a costume designer: Altuzarra prides himself on the fact that his clothes are wearable and functional. “You can move your arms in them, stuff things in your pockets. There are bigger pockets in a jacket so you can put your phone in it,” he says. “There is that kind of professional woman that needs a really good everyday coat and I think we provide that.”
Altuzarra grew up in Paris and lived there while he worked for Givenchy, but he finds New York a more hospitable incubator for design talent right now. “All those sponsorship programs or competitions [he won Ecco Domani in January] are really there to help young designers,” he says. Now he can count himself squarely in the game alongside the new wave of New York designers like good friend Alexander Wang, Jason Wu, and Thakoon. Just watch Michelle Obama snag one of his sleek noir dresses this fall.