NEW YORK—The suspense is over for Italian designer Domenico Vacca as he opens the doors to his new eponymous flagship store on May 4.
Vacca, who carved out a position for his brand by bringing fine Italian tailoring to New York 15 years ago, has since injected the same flair into the sartorial style of many film characters.
In the last 10 years he has worked on 50 movies and dressed Glenn Close in “Damages,” Denzel Washington for “American Gangster,” Jeremy Piven in “Entourage,” and more recently, Terrence Howard in “Empire,” among many others. He has also dressed Hollywood stars for the red carpet, including Daniel Day Lewis when he won the Oscar for “Lincoln.”
Now it is the designer’s turn to shine, as he unveils the space that has undoubtedly preoccupied much of his time since moving out of his Fifth Avenue premises last year. The new concept store has been painstakingly designed to fit his vision of an exclusive fashion hub that also serves as a hangout to some of the film celebrities with whom he has worked, as well as New York’s business elite.
Domenico Vacca’s Tabula Rasa
The 10-story building that now bears his name was formerly known as The Branson at Fifth (15 W. 55th St.). Vaccca managed to extricate it from its checkered past as an illegal hotel, giving the building a total makeover (complete with rebranding) that cost over $20 million, with a nod to its 1920s style. The double-high Italian marble facade is arresting, but things become cozier as one enters the retail spaces, with steel gray and earth tones in the menswear section, and luminous creamy decor in womenswear.
He likes restoring old buildings and is partial to the art deco style, which characterizes the many spaces in the building. The same decor permeates through the retail spaces, the cafe, the barbershop and hair salon, as well as the 35 residences and the exclusive members-only club.
The latter is something that Vacca is passionate about, because it speaks to his longing for that Italian feeling of togetherness—much like a big family coming together to relax and socialize.
“I wanted to create something that didn’t exist. Right now, if you want to go out at night to a club it’s becoming very complicated,” he explains, pointing out the fact that going out to a members-only club entails knowing the doorman, the promoter, and then there is a minimum amount of alcohol that one must buy, and added to this injury is the insult of not being recognized by the staff among the sea of other club members.
“So then, if I have to explain everything, every time, what’s the point of being a member of a club?”
So a yearly fee of $20,000 will do away with any talk of a tab, allowing each member to bring up to three friends to hang out, eat, and drink till 1 a.m., five days a week. The number of members is, at least temporarily, set at 500, not for the sake of exclusivity, but because Vacca feels it is the right number of people for which to cater in a way that is personalized. For instance, apparently Jeremy Piven is known to do impromptu drum solos should he find himself in the vicinity of a kit, so there are plans to have a complete drum set, just in case.
Vacca emphasizes that he wants the staff to get to know the members and vice versa, so that members will always have a feeling of familiarity—and the staff also gets some respite with two days off work.
But ultimately, the centerpiece of this new concept store is Vacca’s Italian hand tailoring, characterized with a touch of modernity and color, but timelessly elegant.
“When I design for film I have a little bit of fun,” he said. “I think that when we started, we were bringing our design into the movies, and now we’re bringing some of the movies into the collection.”
He looks around the world for inspiration, but Vacca is adamant that he is not slavish to trends. He has access to the best fiber mills around the world that are very exclusive and malleable to allow him creative freedom. With 10 stores around the world, Vacca seems content to have hit the sweet spot.
“We don’t have a thousand stores so we can still play with our collections,” he said.
Are American Men Getting More, or Less Adventurous?
When he opened his first store in New York, 15 years ago, menswear was dominated by black, gray, and white. Dressing for men was a necessary chore, at best.
“We brought some flair into men’s wardrobe. We taught American men that getting dressed in the morning is not a problem—it’s actually fun,” said Vacca, whose current menswear range is nothing if not colorful. The trick, he said, was to help men understand how to put colors together, at which point they could start to parlay that confidence into having fun.
Ironically, the designer known for impeccable tailoring, chose to dress down for the media preview of the store, wearing distressed jeans, a gun-barrel-blue pullover over a white shirt, and lace-up ankle boots.
He is hopeful that menswear and womenswear will soon generate the same amount of sales in terms of volume. He offers as proof his current collection of men’s shoes, which he calls “insane,” referring to the loafers that come in a range of rainbow colors. “Ten years ago this would have been impossible—it would have been just lace-ups in black, and loafers in black, and then you’re done,” he said.
Apart from suiting, leather jackets, ties, shoes, and accessories, the designer has also launched his first eyewear collection, and his signature tableware featuring the alligator print motif that is also on all the bags alongside fragrances for him and her.
The Chic Quotient in Womenswear
Just as he brought much-needed flair and color to menswear, Vacca likes to think that he also brought “that chic European look” to womenswear. Now he would like to bring that element to younger women as well.
Taking their cues from celebrities, younger women’s idea of chic is the “high-low” trend of pairing a Hermès bag with UGG boots.
“I strongly believe that you can be trendy and chic at the same time,” said Vacca, adding that there’s a common ground that nobody seems to be exploring at the moment.
Judging by his choice of dress on the occasion of showcasing his new premises, it’s hard to deny that he might be getting pulled into the American look more than vice versa.