Entertainment & Arts

Milan Fashion Week: How Paul Surridge took the reins of Cavalli

Models wearing Paul Surridge designs at Cavalli catwalk show Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Surridge's first collection for Cavalli debuted in September

Putting together a fashion show is a lot of pressure. But imagine doing it with eight weeks' notice.

That's the challenge British-born Paul Surridge faced last year when he took over as creative director of Italian clothing brand Roberto Cavalli, with less than two months to go until Milan Fashion Week.

But, he tells BBC News, the tight turnaround was arguably a blessing in disguise - as it didn't give him time to stop and think about the huge job he'd just inherited.

"When you think about whose shoes you're filling, there's obviously a lot of pressure. But at that time it was sleeves up, heads down, get on with the job," he says.

"A good leader is someone who gives good instructions and knows what they want. My job was to communicate and get answers quicker. A new team, a new feeling, a new aspiration. Being in the office 24/7 until the show was done. It was a huge challenge."

Cavalli is known for the colourful and glamorous red carpet dresses generally seen on film stars, but Surridge says he was keen to expand.

"When I joined the company last year, I made a quick visit to the stores," he says.

"Cavalli is an aspirational brand that's synonymous with lifestyle, luxury, glamour. But today, a brand has to grow, be relevant and accessible to some extent, and I just felt that there was a lack of daywear at Cavalli.

"Everyone knows [the company] for the red carpet dress, but that's one person on a carpet for one moment in a lifetime. How do we capture the new millennial mindset? So I kind of set out focusing on daywear."

Image copyright Alamy

What do the critics say?

  • "'Who?' Was the resounding refrain when it was announced that Surridge had been chosen to succeed Peter Dundas at this house. However, if you pay any attention to menswear, then you'll know about Surridge." - Vogue
  • "Surridge's debut collection, the result of an eight-week baptism of fire and revealed in September to positive, if not ecstatic, reviews, took Cavalli into fresh territory. The look is modern, pared-back, daytime-friendly, resisting the excesses of decadence and glamour for which the label is best known." - Vanity Fair
  • "Surridge understands that the Roberto Cavalli woman isn't looking for minimal design, or a dark and shapeless silhouette. But he's also hoping to lure a new client to the Roberto Cavalli court. To do so, he's trying to move away from 'the very covered styles of intellectual fashion', to present something more sensual instead." - The Financial Times
Image copyright Alamy

Surridge's appointment came after a turbulent time for Cavalli. It had streamlined its various brands and seen the arrival (and departure) of designer Peter Dundas, who lasted only 19 months as creative director - a relatively short spell.

His debut collection in 2015 received mixed reviews, and shortly after he joined an Italian private equity fund bought a 90% stake in the brand and outlined plans for a creative and commercial overhaul.

Surridge took over last summer despite being a relatively lesser-known figure, but steadied the ship and made a success of his first fashion week show, despite the limited timeframe.

So what does his day-to-day job actually involve?

"A creative director today is a curator," he explains.

Image copyright Roberto Cavalli
Image caption Surridge has designed dresses for (left to right) Aura Garrido, Alison Brie and Isabelle Huppert since joining Cavalli

"In fashion particularly, it sets the mood, the colour card, the pattern direction, the textures. Is a collection athletic? Sensual? Sexy? Transparent? Stretch? All the adjectives that circulate a collection."

Surridge has previously worked in menswear positions for Burberry, Prada and Calvin Klein. But at Cavalli, he is overseeing womenswear too.

"With a women's collection, there are infinite possibilities," he explains.

"It's more about the emotion, collaging together different references. An evening dress with a flat shoe or an evening dress with a high-heeled shoe changes completely the impact of the attitude of the woman, how she walks, projects herself.

"Menswear is more about function and practicality. It's more structured, how you develop a men's collection."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Roberto Cavalli founded the brand in 1970

He stays in touch with Roberto Cavalli himself, who is now aged 77, but it doesn't sound like the company's founder interferes too much.

"We've stayed in contact," he says. "Sometimes he'll send me a text, and I'll respond, obviously... He's an ambassador for the brand, the lifestyle. It's important he feels he can still see the celebration of his name through the work that he's doing."

Surridge was born in Hertfordshire, and trained at Central Saint Martins, but has lived in Milan now for more than a decade.

"I feel British, my culture's British. But when I go home they say I have an Italian accent, and I'm like 'what?!'" he laughs.

"I don't miss it, but when I go home I realise that I have missed it," he says of the UK.

"I watch The Crown on Netflix and I get all nostalgic and romantic and think, 'God I'd love to have tea with Elizabeth.' And you think wow, the UK is incredible.

Image caption Surridge revealed the company's pre-fall collection in December

"[London] is an international city. I call it the New York of Europe. Milan is home, it's where I belong now, but then I go home and see everything in London - Sadler's Wells, the arts scene, and then I think I need to come back more often."

He says he currently gets back to the UK once every three months or so.

"I think as I'm getting older, my parents are getting older, my nieces are growing up, I don't want to become one of those designers who just buries themselves in their work, a great creative designer is someone who lives."

Image copyright Alamy

Roberto Cavalli's autumn/winter 2018 collection will debut on Friday at 15:00 CET (14:00 GMT) as part of Milan Fashion Week.

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