Jeffrey Costello and Robert Tagliapietra are the designing duo behind New York-based womenswear label, Costello Tagliapietra. The couple met in 1994 and debuted their line on the New York runways in the spring of 2005. Costello Tagliapietra was an instant hit, picking up the 2005 Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation Award and two consecutive bids as a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist. Since their premiere, Costello and Tagliapietra have gone on to collaborate with Uniqlo, and create an exclusive capsule collection for Barneys New York, both of which showcase the line’s signature draped dresses and elegant silhouettes.
What was it like growing up in Bristol, PA? Yonkers, NY?
Robert: I was born in Yonkers, NY and moved to Pleasantville, New York during my middle school years. I loved growing up in the suburbs in the late ’80s early ’90s… at that time I would have said differently, but, in retrospect, there was a lot going on in Westchester probably due to its close proximity to the city. I was able to go to nightclubs in the city and also the few that were around there, and then spend the days at malls. Style was more of a personal statement and there were a lot of looks that really took root at that time from the Goth kids to the preppy kids to the grunge kids to the metal kids and everyone in between…it has been amazing and hysterical to see these looks become so marketable in the past years and to see this youth generation grab hold of them and reinterpret them from their perspective. Jeffrey: Bristol is not a fashion hub, but it is close to Philadelphia, and in the ’70s, Philly had a lot going on with music and I drew a lot of inspiration from that energy. I spent as much time in downtown Philly or NYC as possible and I infiltrated the music scene as much as a pre-teen could.
Have you both always had fashion design ambitions?
Robert: I went to Parsons for painting, actually. My ambitions for fashion began when I met Jeffrey. I had grown up around the tailors in my family and knew how to sew and loved the idea of fashion, but really wanted a career in painting. It wasn’t until I met Jeffrey and began working with him on projects that I fell in love with fashion and the idea of creating a story through clothing. Jeffrey: I always knew I would work in fashion. As a kid I loved the arts but was obsessed with fabric and what you can do with it. When I moved to NYC in 1980, I started working with a lot of downtown performers and bands on their stage wardrobes.
How do you divide the design responsibilities?
We split everything down the middle. We have been working together since 1994 and have mastered how to do this seamlessly.
Did you know draping would be a signature element of your brand?
For us, we approach each dress as a blank canvas. Draping is one way to express gesture in a garment. We are also lovers of patternmaking and love to see something so flat and mathematic become something so organic and soft.
What is it about the late ’70s, early ’80s you love to incorporate into your collections?
I think for us there was a certain energy during that period that has stuck. It is a period that many people in different disciplines touch on all the time. I think people are responding to what seemed like an explosion of really new ideas that felt youthful, dangerous and really raw. Just skip through Tumblr and you will see how obsessed some of these kids are with this period. There is a colliding of art, music, film, style and design that happens every decade or so, but this one was more aesthetically and musically pleasing to us, personally.
How did your lower-priced line, C&T Costello Tagliapietra, come into fruition? How do you differentiate it from your main line?
We first launched it with a partner as a short-term project. We immediately fell in love with the concept and have begun to go full steam ahead with the idea. C&T is a sister brand to Costello Tagliapietra in which we are forced to think more in terms of clothes you can wear to work, an evening out, a date…these are clothes you want to keep in your closet and wear over and over. These pieces are workhorses and are equally as special, but for someone starting out. The C&T girl, she is one of our friends. She may not have the salary to afford a dress that would basically equate to rent, and she will need that piece to perform multiple duties in her closet! We get it, because it is not unlike how we ourselves shop.
Dries van Noten and Marie-Amélie Sauvé have both been quoted saying there is too much fashion and too many collections per designer. How do you feel about this? Do you feel pressure to introduce Resort and Pre-Fall?
I think the whole system will likely need a reboot and consumers and stores alike will need to re-imagine what the shopping experience can be. I think at the root of this is the constant need for items to go on sale and still have new merchandise on the racks. But on the other side of the equation, it keeps us all on our feet and have more room to express new ideas. We too, will be expanding into these seasons soon and are looking forward to it as a way to both revisit old ideas in a new way but also take risks by testing new categories.
What qualities (professional or personal) do you admire about each other?
Robert: Professionally, I admire Jeffrey’s tenacity and work ethic. He has amazing ideas and a brilliant color sense. Personally, there are almost 19 years of reasons why we are still together and still in love after all these years.
Your design aesthetic is quite the opposite of your personal style of Pendleton shirts and suspenders. How do most people react upon meeting you?
Depends where we are…In Maine we don’t get a second glance. Oddly enough though, in New York we still get stares on the subway and on the street. Daily, there is at least one person who asks, “Are you two brothers…Twins?”
Which designers have inspired you?
We love Vionnet, Courrèges, Dries, YSL, Commes, and the list goes on and on.