Fashion designer Alessandro Dell'Acqua may be Italian, but his biggest fans are in Japan, where the Milan-based designer's four-year-old No. 21 label does a third of its total turnover. Business is most brisk in Tokyo, where Dell'Acqua is cutting the ribbon this week on his very first freestanding store in the Omotesando district. He will celebrate in person with an in-store party and event at the residence of the Italian ambassador to Japan on 3 December.
Designed by Hannes Peer Architecture, who has collaborated on Dell'Acqua's home and showroom in Milan, the store represents the dichotomies inherent in this designer's growing body of work. Here, the store appears sharp, rigorous and masculine, rising from the street like a blackened-cement three-storey box.
Inside, the mood softens with white walls, mirrors, glass and bright strips of neon lights overhead. For the design of the store's black and white marble intarsia floors, Peer took inspiration from Dell'Aqua's traditional Italian parquet at home, while the 'sliced-up' wood table, presented in six separate glass cubes, was built by artisans in Italy.
The store's ambitious scope – three floors dedicated to womenswear and menswear, plus a VIP area – reflects the fast pace with which Dell'Acqua has mounted the brand-a-second career he launched at age 48, after losing the rights to his eponymous label. The painful process of shuttering his first business, however, flung open a new door.
'I was locked in a chiffon world and I couldn't leave it,' he explains of his former career. 'I arrived at a point where I hated that collection. It was a nightmare for me and it's a nightmare for all designers when you are forced to design things only because that is what the customer expects from you.'
Starting from scratch with No. 21 allowed the designer unprecedented freedom. He abandoned his precious (often sheer) eveningwear and instead designed a small collection of 45 pieces based on clothes women could wear all day long. 'I also insisted on not having excessive prices for a very high-quality product,' he adds. The formula caught fire and now the label is sold at 480 points of sale around the world.
'We've gotten to a point where there are no more appropriate shops to sell to,' says Dell'Acqua, 'so we had to open our own stores.' His success catapulted him back into the fashion limelight and also put him up for a second job – as creative director at Rochas, a label he has shown on the Paris runway for the past year.
The designer is currently searching for a location in Milan for his next No. 21 store and hopes to subsequently open in London. But he's open to anything the cosmos may throw his way. 'The label was born by instinct and that's how I'm continuing now,' says the designer. 'I felt immediately young as soon as I launched this project.' Freedom, it turns out, is the most important thing in life.