Raffaele Ascione is a London-based designer and fast-rising fashion star whose sophisticated, high end womenswear combines fluid shapes and flattering volume with intricate detailing, and has been worn by the likes of Jessie J and Lady Gaga.
Following a two-year course at LSC, Limerick in Ireland, his whirlwind career started it's rapid ascent in 2008 when he was headhunted upon graduation from UCA, Rochester to design various lines for MaxMara in Milan.
Going on to cut his teeth with fashion editor-turned-designer Julia Clancey, whose clients included Cameron Diaz and Dita von Teese, and three seasons with the amazing Gareth Pugh, Ascione showed his Graduate collection (after gaining an MA in Womenswear from the fashion mothership, Central Saint Martins) at London Fashion Week in late 2011.
Despite being busy working on private orders, preparing to show his own, UK produced, label Spring/Summer 2013 collection at London Fashion Week and showrooms in Paris next month, I managed to grab a few minutes with the designer who is shortlisted for both Vauxhall Fashion Scout's Ones to Watch and the Merit Awards, to talk about how he got here and where he's going next.
Raffaele Ascione and pieces from his AW12 collection.
So first off, why womenswear? "Since I was a young boy I have been interested in drawing and clothing but when my dad brought back a recorded Gianni Versace Show back in 1989, that was the moment when I knew I wanted to be a Fashion Designer. I used to be very inspired by my aunties in the 80's and really influenced by all the Italian women in my family, so I suppose it was just a natural decision to go ahead and do womenswear. I am obsessed with beauty, so the translation from beauty towards womenswear feels much more logical to me."
"My inspirations come from a lot of different areas - I am not the regular research guy, I don't go to the library and sit down for hours to research to get inspiration. I'm mostly inspired by life and friends - things that I have always loved and am able to celebrate now within my work. I am heavily influenced by pop culture, the hip hop music scene and women; I am very lucky to be surrounded by so many beautiful and amazingly talented girls".
Designers always have very strong ideas as to their customers and who they are designing for but Raffaele says simply that he designs for "a woman who wants to feel beautiful." "I am not an edgy or cool designer, I want to create work that has a strong aesthetic. Its something they feel empowered in. I don't like to say that I design for a certain girl or woman, but I am certain that all my women will feel great in the Ascione clothes."
His clothes have been worn by Lady Gaga, Jessie J, Hanna Simone but, refreshingly, Raffaele is delighted that his designs are also worn by "a lot of friends and people who appreciate my work". He says, "It's the biggest confirmation when your friends want to buy your clothes, then you know you have done a good job as my inspiration came from them." He does confess that he would love to see Claire Danes or Rihanna in his label too though, "Claire for the timeless beauty and Rihanna as she is my girl crush."
Pieces from Raffaele's AW12 collection.
Whilst Raffaele Ascione is exquisitely high end the designer tells me he would definitely consider doing a more affordable range, "Never say never, I am drawn to high end clothing and really enjoy making and working on it, but would always be up for collaborations with more affordable lines and companies. It means your product gets a wider audience, so that makes it certainly more real. And I like to keep things real, so yes, I would happily do that."
As a big Gareth Pugh fan, I couldn't resist asking about Raffaele's time with Sunderland's finest and what he learnt from working with him. Ascione cites learning about "being able to create a spectacle with very limited materials and using logical process", as his biggest lesson, whilst on a more general note explains, "My experience there was amazing, it was a very exciting time for Gareth, so it felt really great to be part of it, and being able to help him with his journey. He was a great teacher, and I wish him all the best for the future. The thing that I learned with him is to always treat your interns like you want to be treated yourself."
Raffaele Ascione AW12 Womenswear.
As I leave the designer to get back to his private orders and S/S 13 collection (which he reveals will feature "the most beautiful lace and zippers as décor" thanks to sponsorships from the legendary 125 year old French lace house, Sophie Hallette, and Italy's renown Lampo Zips) he lets slip that there's a great collaboration in the pipeline, but sadly he can't say too much just yet. Even with such prestigious sponsorships, taking his collections to the next level is an expensive business but, thanks to a social media campaign to raise funds online, it seems Ascione's fans are rallying (NB. if you want to help support the arts, or Raffaele Ascione in particular, donations are still being accepted here).
"The work for S/S is going great, me and my team are having fun, and the end result will be stunning...ahhh I am in love with it." You can't help but wish this amiable fella well. The designer who claims to plan "a little ahead" says that "with full concentration, the main focus is to complete the new collection and push my business in the right direction - and may be get my stuff on Rihanna" :) I don't think he'll have to wait too long for that one.