NEW TALENT: Filippo Todisco, a rare pearl in the fashion world

The uncertain health conditions, the rebirth and the discovery of the wonderful Beauty of Life through creativity. Today we meet FILIPPO TODISCO, someone more than a simple fashion designer.

I want to be honest. When I met Filippo Todisco I wasn’t prepared to his incredible story. I knew only some details about his life and seen his collection at Fashion Graduate Italia last November. I wrote a post (here) about the collections of young designers coming from the best Italian fashion schools, describing his creations as something really interesting in the panorama of new generations of designers. 
Graduate collection presented at Fashion Graduate Italia 2017

Only now, after having talk to him, I can clearly understand the great value of his work and vision. It’s not important that he is really young (only 25 years old). The things he said, the so natural way he spoke about his “series of experiences”, his innate talent and the particular concept he had about fashion and life in general, made him one of the most worthy person I ever met.
Filippo Todisco portrait

Filippo was born in 1993 in Milan from a normal family, but his life was signed by two important events, the loss of is mother when he was only a child and his own rare disease, called “Severe Aplastic Anemia". To use his words, a gift of life. With his heavy baggage of wonderful gifts that life has given him, Filippo attended to Istituto Secoli, one of the most renowned fashion school of Italy, graduating in 2017 after three years of hard work, passion and unbridled creativity. 

This interview is not only a simple chat between a blogger and an inteviewee, but a moment of reflection, a deep narration whose keywords are the strenght of will and the urgent desire to live and create.

I’ve read in your biography that you’ve traveled a lot, having different experiences compared to your own age. How much discovering new worlds have change your life and influenced your style?

I traveled a lot since I was a child, visiting great part of Asia, Africa and of the Atlantic and Pacific islands for the love of my parents for scuba diving. They never liked the package tours or the classic tourist destinations. I remember that when I was 7 years old we visited the Indonesian Borneo, with a 2-days trip and being the first Italian tourists who reached the resort. These travels were beautiful experiences, a way to see different cultures through an atypical approach.

Now this influenced my work. Often people said me that my works, especially the ready-to-wear pieces, are always too rich, excessive, only for catwalk. That’s why my vision of apparel is the result of a series of influences coming from different countries and cultures. From Asia or sub-cultural movements so far from a Milan-born boy.

Moodboard and sketches by Filippo Todisco

You traveled all around the world until 5 ears ago. Then what’s happened?

Five years ago, from day to night, I found out I have a rare disease called “Severe Aplastic Anemia". 

Do you want to talk about it or it’s a problem?

Yes, of course. Because continuing our chat you’ll discover that I must talk about it. All I do is based on this fact. My rare dysfunction of bone-marrow changed my life in a crucial way. Honestly that was probably the happiest period of my life, despite the disease. 

It’s really rare and when I discovered it in Italy were been treated only a few cases. Generally it affects older people, but five years ago I was barely an adult. So the situation was more difficult for me. I don’t know the cause of the disease, so I treated it as a normal Leukaemia, with chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immunoglobulin. 

Filippo during the treatment of his disease

Then in June 2012 I got into coma for one month and half, waking up in July. It was a kind of miracle. But when I woke up I could not speak, walking, eating or making anything. In a week I made rehabilitation and cure, making the transplantation in August from my brother, who was incredibly 100% compatible although not my twin. It was just dumb luck!

Is your disease really rare?

Unfortunately yes, in the world there are only 300 cases. It’s all a great question mark. I could feel good for a year, a day or ten year, who knows. I’m constantly under control. The coma produced different things, above the initial inability. I had to re-learn everything, also how to use a pencil. 

Now I have also a rare form of epilepsy, with symptomps like bright flash of light, a world seen in technicolors and then a blackout. Anyway this was probably the most important chapter of my life, because has modified my vision about the world and what I do. This was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.
A detail from the collection “Pancit0-penia”

Why do you say that was beautiful? Seen from outside, for who don’t know this kind of situation, it appears really terrible!

I realize that it could appear tragic. Of that period I’ve a really vivid memory of my parents, especially of my father, who maybe relived the same things he felt with my mother. For them was terrible, because I spent 6 months alone in a glass cage, speaking with people through a telephone because I was completely undefeded.

More than the awfulness of the event, what emerge is your incredible strenght.

Maybe today, while in that period I was anything but strong, aesthetically very particular, extremely skinny, totally shaved and covered by miniscule livids. But it was a happy period, except for the coma that I don’t remember. I lived the treatment as a normal thing to do. Also if I was closed into my hospital room, I had my personal wardrobe with all my clothes, my inseparable Alexander McQueen’s foulard, with music blaring, waking up in the morning and having the most normal routine as possible. 

Fashion sketch by Filippo Todisco

Then, during the day-hospital controls, each moment was like a fashion show. I used to go around with a completely studded mask! I believe that life is a series of experiences and the disease was one of these. Someone travels, someone else works and I’ve cured myself. In hindsight now, I understand what it meant and how much it costed. Thinking about my job and looking how I draw a sketch now, I realized that everything has changed. But the show must go on!
Fashion sketch by Filippo Todisco

The disease is part of your personal path as designer?

Well, it’s the most bulky baggage of my stylistic path, because it’s in everything I do, in my vision about fashion.

When did you get so into fashion?

When I was a child, because it was the way to hold on to the memory of my mother, who died when I was 5 years old for a brain cancer. My love for fashion was born in that moment. I remember her wardrobe, while she was wearing her furs or preparing the baggage to go in Rome for some experimental treatment. My memories about my mother are all connected with fashion, but I don’t really know if she followed fashion trends. Also growing up in Milan was a great occasion to be always in contact with fashion.
Work in progress of a fashion sketch

I know that you seriously thought about Central Saint Martins. What’s happened?

One of my favorite designer, my dream since I was a child, was Alexander McQueen, who attended that school. After long and suffocating years spent at the science high school, having to decide where to study I was fascinated by Saint Martins, that was my first choice. Initially I wanted to make a summer course, that I didn’t, then I made the application tests and I was really happy because they selected me. 

But I was in the middle of my treatment pathway, because in the first three years after the marrow transplantation I had continuous controls every two days. Stay in London was incompatible. So with a heavy heart I had to leave that idea. Then I made another important choice, that was Istituto Secoli.
Work in progress of the collection at Istituto Secoli

Why Istituto Secoli and not some other school in Milan?

Well, I live in a family in which my paternal grandmother was a dressmaker and my maternal grandmother was a patternmaker, working both for over 30 years for Haute Couture and high-level made-to-measure fashion. 

They explained me that in many occasion they worked with designers who were enable to make a simple hem of a pants, who proposed sketches that when realized in paper and then in fabric were unrealizable. Like adherent dresses in fur and not-elastic fabrics, but designed without cuts and darts. Practically impossible. So they adviced me to learn pattermaking and tailoring, because only in this way I can be able to realize a garment exactly like I sketched, from the general aspect to the smallest detail. So Istituto Secoli was an automatic choice.
Work in progress of the collection at Istituto Secoli

I’ve seen als other schools in Milan, like Ied, Naba or Marangoni. All excellent schools, which give great importance to style and research, but it wasn’t what I was looking for my future. I wanted a strong skill in fashion design, but with a meticulous preparation about patternmaking and tailoring. Today, after over three years, I can say that it was the best choice.

Work in progress of the collection by Filippo Todisco at Istituto Secoli

Can you tell me something about your final collection?

I proposed “Pancit0-penia” as graduate thesis, working on it also for the presentation at Fashion Graduate Italia last November. The whole collection was about 35 outfits, more than 250 garments entirely designed until the most detailed stitches.
Moodboard and sketches of the graduate collection “Pancit0-penia

That, if I remember, are really important for your collection, it’s right?

Oh yes, in many cases stitches hold together the different parts of the clothes. The collection has a strong stylistic image, but it’s really complete only thanks to the the modelling and sartorial background I had at Istituto Secoli. 

Detail from the collection “Pancit0-penia”

All the garments are destructured, but not in the common sense of fashion terminology, according to which a destructured jacket has a simple construction and is unlined. I started my progect with a simple basic concept. Normally a garment is cutted and sewed in a certain way. Instead I smashed it to pieces, destroying what a fashion designer usually makes and then reassembling the garment putting in the foreground all the things that are usualy hidden. 

Detail from the graduate collection “Pancit0-penia"

Which means the constructive parts that anybody wants to see because considered awful?

Yes, but not only the constructive parts. Alse the imperfections that a designer should eliminate because clothing for fashion shows or the shops should stay within a specific quality range. These things for me should be emphasized through the construction of the garment and putted under the spotlight, because all the thing we usually define as awful make a garment unique, beautiful and perfect.

The paradox of imperfection… And what about the name of your collection?

“Pancit0-penia” is a particular and uncommon medical term, which indicates a chronic clinical situation with the absolute absence of all the blood cells, typical of disease like mine. Zero-Negative in my vision is the universal blood-type, it’s mine and so it indicates from the individual to the universal human being. In my concept it’s one, nobody and everybody. 

Sketches from the graduate collection “Pancit0-penia"

I structured the collection in four moments, like a tale divided into four chapters repeatable in loop, through a continue process applicable to each man in each moment of his life. 

The first chapter is “Epithelial oedema”, the moment in which the man wakes up in the morning discovering that everything crashed and he begin to destroy himself. The second moment is “Suture”, in which the man try to go on, suturing the tatters of his life. “Scars” is the moment in which the man can breathe a sigh of relief because the wounds are healing. 

To arrive at the final moment, “Amputation”, in which the man who has passed these bad moments going forward, also if loosing something. Then process can start again.
Detail from the graduate collection “Pancit0-penia"

For this reason you spoke about a loop? For you each life experience follows this process?

Exactly, from my absolutely specific experience arriving to a universal concept, it’s the basis of the life itself. Is this process of loss, pain and cure that makes the life so wonderful. Passing time I realize that more than for a single collection, this concept is a kind of personal manifesto as designer.
Inspirative image for the graduate collection “Pancit0-penia"

Do you followed the guide of your teachers during the development of this collection or it was a more natural creative process?

It was a natural process. I worked on the project for almost a year, before the required timetable. When I proposed this theme to my teachers I’d already done 30 garments, with sketches and prototypes. They were able to give me many ideas about the realization of the clothes and the elements to emphasize for the general image, without impositions. My fashion design teacher, Domenico Civita, helped me to clean up the outfits from all the excess I put-in during a frenzied creative process.
Detail from the graduate collection “Pancit0-penia"

The final thesis should have 15 outfits, while I presented almost 40. It wasn’t a real problem, but I was scared because the school is based on the high-level sartorial skills. They teached me for three years how to make everything perfect and I was presenting something that was the opposite. But my collection was really appreciated and they gave me two special mentions!

I appreciate your style at Fashion Graduate Italia. How was the feedback after that experience?

This was a little unexpected, I had a great feedback just after the event, not only from fashion journalists, but also from fashion houses. The first contact was at Gucci. Also if I didn’t yet found my dream-job and I’m doing an unconventional fashion design, I’m on the right way. 

Sketches by Filippo Todisco
What’s your plans for the future?

I’m absolutely desirous of new experiences, new ideas. My first desire is to find a mentor in a fashion house, someone who have my same passion for fashion, with my same necessity to create something not just to sell a collection each 3 months, but because it’s a mental and almost physical need. Working shoulder to shoulder with this kind of person I could grow-up more, especially if his style will be different.

Fashion sketch by Filippo Todisco
 And through Fashion Graduate Italia and your school something’s moving?

Fortunately yes, so fingers crossed! The school has its placement service, but it’s more focused on modelling and tailoring, not exactly what I want to do. Anyway when I was in Japan for a 1-month journey last January, they called me for a special event, that will be called “Istituto Secoli Alumni – Designer to Watch”. I can’t tell a lot about it, but it’s an event launched by the school in collaboaration with important fashion magazines to support and showcase young designers. So I’m working on this new project.
Graduate collection “Pancit0-penia" presented at Fashion Graduate Italia

If you should choose three elements always present in your future collection, what would be?

The first element is surely black, not intended as a mono-color, but as a basis to narrate the thousands facets of a garment. In “Pancit0-penia”, black was the leitmotiv of the entire collection, used with different materials and effects. Black is the basis of what I feel, think and want to communicate.

Mood of the graduate collection “Pancit0-penia"

The second element are the awfulness, reinterpreted and reinvented in many ways. Because I really think that they make a garment as something unique and especially because in my particular vision about fashion all these awful imperfections are the translation through threads and fabrics of the wonderful experience that is life.

Work in progress of the collection
The third element is the trend I’m following to design fashion collections no more for a man or a woman, but simply for a human being. Who can be everything he/she want to be, deciding to wear my creations because are pieces that go above the gender diversity. I like it and I buy it because it represents me. 


A special thanks to Filippo todisco for this beautiful and emotional interview!


Photo credits: courtesy by Filippo Todisco and Ufficio Stampa Istituto Secoli

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