Four Generations of Altuzarra Women Pose in the Brand’s Fall 2020 Collection
Sep. 11, 2020
By: Steff Yotka
In preparing for this year’s soon-to-open Costume Institute exhibit “About Time: Fashion and Duration,” Andrew Bolton continually used the refrain: “Fashion is a mirror of time.” That applies on the broadest cultural scale, of course, but also in small personal histories. For Joseph Altuzarra, a designer of Chinese, French, and American heritage, designing a garment isn’t just about making something in step with right now, but also about expressing stories of life and lineage through fashion. “I like the idea of clothes that are markers of time and that are passed down from generation to generation and become these almost talismanic objects that connect the past and the present and the future,” Altuzarra tells Vogue.
For much of his career, the aspect of his heritage that’s gotten the boldest headlines was his Frenchness. Altuzarra not only moved his runway shows to Paris, but also explored Breton costume, South of France seaside dress, and the strictness of French tailoring in his work. For fall 2020, Altuzarra celebrated his Chinese heritage, turning a box of garments he inherited from his grandmother into feather-trimmed floral dresses and soft suits that pay homage to her life in both Shanghai and California. To finish the narrative of the collection, Altuzarra asked the women in his extended family to wear the clothing in a touching set of portraits. His grandmother, Jeanette Wei, mother, Karen Altuzarra, cousin, Lily Kwong, and daughter, Emma Altuzarra-Weissman, are each photographed at home by another member of the Altuzarra family.
“It was very good fun, and it was very moving,” says Joseph’s mother, Karen, who was photographed by her husband, Joseph’s father. “In our showroom we had the original pieces hanging and I remembered them,” Karen continued. “I knew my mother wore that at her wedding, and I’d seen the pictures of my grandmother [in other pieces]. Then, I saw them walking down the runway and it just felt that time had all telescoped into this one moment. It’s a cumulation—I really thought it was wonderful.”
In the new imagery, the women wear a broad range of Altuzarra pieces that reflect their own family heritage as well as the brand’s signatures. “It was so sweet to FaceTime with my grandmother and to have her try on the pieces that were inspired by her wardrobe,” Joseph says. “She loves this one tree in her retirement community, and she wanted to take a picture in front of it. It was very sweet to go through that with her and to also not have total control over the project, to let it be just this very spontaneous, loving memento.”
Separate from celebrating their family heritage, Karen says that the images also highlight the fact that Joseph’s designs work on women of all ages and sizes. “Granny’s not even five feet tall!” she says with a laugh. “That’s another thing I like about this: If I were somebody’s grandmother, which I am actually, but if I were looking at those photos I’d say, ‘Hey, I could look beautiful like that too and I don’t have to look like a model.’ ”
Together, the foursome of Altuzarra women reflect not only the Altuzarra brand but also fashion’s changing tides. In this time of crisis, intimacy and togetherness feel all the more important. That’s why other labels have included their behind-the-scenes heroes, from patternmakers to best friends, in photographs this year, too.
“One of the things that I’ve really, really enjoyed throughout this whole time is the openness in our industry and the openness to being vulnerable and being honest and real with each other,” Joseph says. “I think for so many years there was this veneer of success that you had to maintain, and failure was something that you had to hide at all costs. I’ve gotten on so many calls and Zooms with other designers and for the first time I am really talking to people about how hard it is and the challenges that we’re going through. In a lot of ways these conversations dovetail with this project. It’s just bringing a lot more vulnerability and openness and intimacy into the process and really into fashion.”