New York City carries all sorts of stories on its streets.
Valentina Perissi’s is hard to miss. Maybe it’s her multidimensional leather jacket or hand-painted handbag, but above all it’s her Italian persistence. She chooses neither to walk as fast as others nor to race anyone to skyscraping success, rather she allows her intricate work and experienced talent to pave her special way. Her designs are made of dreams, reflecting the inner compass that brought her to the world’s wildest city.
About 6 years ago, artist and designer Valentina Perissi left the world’s fashion capital, Italy, along with a luxurious career to fulfill her Florentine childhood dreams of living in New York, a movement followed by many Europeans and beyond, who seek to break away from the predictability of their home countries. Moving to New York is not easy, as Valentina will tell us. It is here, however, that she started her own art fashion line, DAFNE, with eye-catching designs that got her Art Basel with Patricia Fields, and other highly coveted opportunities.
DAFNE makes real and vegan Italian leather jacks, handbags, and accessories that are hand-painted and texturized in New York creating a unique look for every city personality. You can try on DAFNE designs at Artisan Barber’s ‘Art Basel on Broome’ event from 6-8pm on January 25th, 2020. The designer herself will be there. Get to know her before you meet her, in The Knockturnal’s exclusive interview with Valentina Perissi.
The Knockturnal: What was it like for a fashionista to be growing up in Florence?
Valentina Perissi: I had a very supportive family. My dad was a fashion photographer. We lived in an apartment with my dad’s studio next to it. I was there often and got to hang out with Emilio Pucci and all these models. These images inspired me so much. My father gave me this DNA. At kindergarten, I was the student assigned to draw on the board for the class. I was always designing. I went into the arts high school, so I went from sketches to someone teaching me how to design, from painting an apple to a face to everything. Sometimes I think I am lucky, sometimes I think I am not because when you’re born in this way, the pull is so strong that you can’t imagine doing anything else.
The Knockturnal: How did you begin working for Roberto Cavalli?
Valentina Perissi: I was in college and to work for Cavalli was another dream of mine because he was in Florence creating these amazing prints and I love prints. I was designing for Cavalli in my head and in my portfolio. For the summer, I was working in retail for Guess. One night, Guess threw a huge party in Florence, and of course, I went. I’ve always been an entrepreneur so I was designing accessories with glue, feathers, and Swarovski crystals, belts, bracelets. That night I showed up to the party with this black dress, and sandals with feathers that I made myself, and my belt and my bracelet that I also made. At one point, a mother and daughter came up to me saying “We love your stuff, where did you buy it?” and I said “I made it”. The daughter said “You should come and work for dad”. Her dad was Roberto Cavalli. We were 15 interns but there were only 2 spots for full-time positions. I was an intern for 6 months and they decided to keep me.
The Knockturnal: After 10 years at Cavalli, you left for Milan. Why?
Valentina Perissi: Cavalli was amazing but it was a family company. I was already in a position where I felt I had reached the limit, and I couldn’t go higher. I decided to quit. Some people thought I was crazy because I had a contract for life, meaning I would have a job for my entire life if I wanted to, but I don’t know if tomorrow I will be alive so I feel like I had to take the risk. I firmly believe if you don’t take risks in life you don’t do anything. Between Milan and New York, I was designing this haute couture for a woman in Japan. I was working for her but I was working from home. I realized- I am making money freelancing, why do I have to stay in Italy now that I don’t have an office? I can finally go to New York.
The Knockturnal: Was New York always a dream?
Valentina Perissi: In Europe, we have all these American movies, TV shows, all this media and we always dream about going there. I fell in love with all of this. You know when you feel butterflies in your stomach? Watching these movies and hearing these American songs put me in this kind of mood all the time. My father took me to New York for 15 days when I was 11 years old. We were in the hotel next to The Plaza, so I experienced New York like a movie. When I returned to Italy, my mom asked “Are you happy to see me?” and I said “Yes but I really miss New York,” because I knew New York was where I belonged.
The Knockturnal: What difficulties did you face moving to America?
Valentina Perissi: As a European, I had 3 months in America and then I would have to go back to Italy. I literally talked to everyone, I was seeing 5 people a day. Everybody loved my stuff but said they couldn’t hire me without papers. Finally, one of the trillions of people I was speaking to reached out to me and introduced me to this woman. This woman was huge. I met her and showed her my designs and she said she would sponsor me. We were supposed to start all these projects with Kimora Lee Simmons, this was the dream come true. I land back in New York after a brief return to Italy, and she passed away. I started to run every day, literally run looking for work. I was just in shock. I could have returned to Florence, but never. It wasn’t easy, I resisted, and after months of teaching Italian or doing random stuff that I never did, I got a job. I wasn’t used to this because I was in my early 30’s, and I already had a career in Italy. It felt ridiculous, but I’m very down to earth, I thought- you know what, this is happening but you’re not dying. You have a passion, you have to keep going.
The Knockturnal: What is New York like in your experience?
Valentina Perissi: I was just a girl from Italy with a dream, and I came to the city of dreams, a city that is beautiful but that you have to give so much to. This city is amazing but if it doesn’t want you, you’re not here. New York is very selective. I saw many people leave. Being in New York every day is like being in school. And it’s crazy because I’m not a competitive person, I know my value, and I just want to work, but you need to be very strong mentally in New York because the lows are so low but the highs are so high. I never knew I could be this much stronger after moving to New York. The energy of this city gives you so much.
The Knockturnal: How does fashion in Italy differ from fashion in New York?
Valentina Perissi: It’s totally different. We pay attention to the details in Italy, to the tailoring, the cut. In the US there is less attention to details, there’s more of a ‘fast fashion’. It’s very interesting to see how huge the marketing is here and the effect that it has. Working for different companies in the US I see less important names making more money than bigger names. If you are lucky enough to get something out there you’re doing great.
The Knockturnal: Tell me about DAFNE.
Valentina Perissi: Around 3 years ago one of my clients asked me to paint some bags for a special event. Family and friends began to ask for them. I started a one-of-a-kind art fashion. I call my collection Art That You Can Wear. You don’t hang your art anymore, you walk in it. I began to design leather jackets and expand from there. Leather jackets and accessories are my main business but next collection I may add some sundresses and other pieces to give more breadth. Everything is made in Italy using real and vegan leather that I paint here in New York.
The Knockturnal: How did you come up with the name and logo?
Valentina Perissi: Dafne is my middle name, and the name my mother wanted to give me as a first name but decided that it was too different, so I was named Valentina. Then I remember when I was young I loved the 80’s movie “Desperately Seeking Susan” with Madonna. She wore this leather jacket with huge pyramids on it, with a triangle and an eye. In high school, I won a design competition to create a billboard for a Pitti fashion show, huge in Italy. My billboard was a huge eye built with little jeans creating the iris, and clouds, and all sorts of colored eyes in the sky. So eyes are a reoccurring theme. I’m addicted to eyes. Vision for me is the most powerful thing, it’s my favorite sense.
The Knockturnal: What do you want people to feel when they wear your designs?
Valentina Perissi: When I started, I primarily made my clothes for women because I’m a woman and it’s still, unfortunately, a man’s world. So I really wanted my women to feel powerful, like wizards wearing a leather cape. I say my women because there are so many different women but my designs are for those who are loyal, brave, and kind. My women know there are no short cuts, they don’t flatter, they lead with integrity and respect. One woman I admire is Diana von Furstenberg. I love what she says about women being strong and being in charge. I saw myself that with age you get stronger and more secure about yourself and about what you want, and this translates into everything you do. This is what I want to translate in my collection. Now I’m making clothes for everyone, regardless of gender.
The Knockturnal: Where can someone find your designs?
Valentina Perissi: People can order online- I ship all over the world. I also do custom designs. I encourage people to email me or text me. I love to develop relationships with my clients. I have customers around the US, then some in Italy and Brazil, and it’s nice because we’ve become friends. At the end of the day, I create something different, but people also like the way I approach them. It is important to be empathetic and make people feel comfortable.
The Knockturnal: Tell me about your collaboration with Patricia Fields.
Valentina Perissi: This was another dream. I did Art Basel Miami with Patricia Fields (Costume Designer, Sex and the City) for the second year. Back in the day in Florence, I would watch Sex and the City and dream that one day I’d work with Patricia. Samantha and Carrie would sometimes wear my designs from Roberto Cavalli but no one knew they were mine. Patricia Fields had created this Art Fashion, and that’s literally what I do so I had to reach out to her, which wasn’t easy. I was making phone calls and sending emails for 5 years trying to get her but I was so determined. I never bother people, I give them time but I make sure they don’t forget. You know the allegory of the water cutting through the rock? I’m like that.
The Knockturnal: What are your New Years Resolutions for yourself and for DAFNE?
Valentina Perissi: My resolution is to keep doing what I’m doing. I feel more powerful this year because the older you get, the more you know what you know. I have had some big companies reach out to me, and I want to do more collaborations. The new DAFNE collection will come out shortly after Fashion Week. In this collection, I’m going to mix and match different kinds of leather, texture, metal, and will use real embroideries on leather. I will offer the crazy paint, funny, cool articles but also add something a little more subtle, sophisticated, chic for every occasion. I’m going offer both styles because some days I may want to wear my crazy jacket and other times I crave just black. We’ve all been there.
The Knockturnal: What is your advice to aspiring designers?
Valentina Perissi: My advice is don’t listen. Everyone will try to discourage you, they will tell you what you want is crazy. Only listen to what the heart inside you says because that’s what’s most important. It’s about making your best art for yourself, and not to show off. Some people want to be in fashion to show off. I do this for myself, and for the people that I love.
The Knockturnal: What is your trick for never giving up?
Valentina Perissi: You have to remind yourself of what you’ve done, not of what you’re missing. Sometimes, I want to give up and think- what am I doing here? Why do I want to live my life like this? I have friends who live in small towns and are genuinely happy but if you put me there I will perish in two days. I love Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”. Why am I making my life crazy? I have to do it because something inside me tells me I have to and this is what makes me alive.