Dello Russo rode the first wave of a social-media revolution as one of the original street-style stars. Her fans gladly lapped up her cheeky watermelon or cherry headpieces, the full Jeremy Scott McDonald’s ensemble, a dress by Roksanda Ilincic that had black, feathered humps for shoulders, and the jewel-encrusted bodies from Dolce & Gabbana (by Dello Russo’s reckoning, her Dolce & Gabbana archive is bigger than the designers’ own). She went on to parlay her specific brand of designer glitz into an accessories collection for H&M in 2012, which sold out online in only three hours.
Today, in a suite at The Berkeley hotel in Knightsbridge, London, I meet a more somber Dello Russo. There is no sign of a Louis Vuitton bondage two-piece, a Balmain gilt blazer or thigh-skimming skirt – the type of clothes that show off her Olympian body and her endless, toned, tanned legs (she swims and practices yoga every day). Instead, she is wearing a striped matelot sweater and black trousers. She apologizes for not feeling on top form and airily waves away the idea of dressing to look ‘out there’. She seems quite bored by the very idea. This chapter in her life, she tells me, is where she will be stepping away from statement fashion dressing. “Is not conscious, is instinctive. I did well,” she says with a shrug, “but I don’t find it interesting any more. I don’t want to be overexposed.”
She admits that she once owned a “crazy amount of clothes”, which meant buying the apartment next door to her home in Milan in order to store her collection, alongside 4,000 pairs of shoes. Today, she has considerably less to find space for, having auctioned off 30 of her iconic outfits with Christie’s in Milan in February. Dello Russo opened the sale wearing a short pink Redemption gown, with a Swarovski crystal-embellished Gareth Pugh headpiece made specially for the occasion; it fetched €12,000 ($14,000) and is now in the Swarovski Archive. The sale raised a total of €147,000 for the Swarovski Foundation’s scholarship program, an initiative dedicated to nurturing young fashion talent.
It has been a stellar year for Dello Russo. A few months after the auction, she was busily promoting her book, AdR Book: Beyond Fashion. The inside of this veritable cabinet of curiosities (it is not strictly a book) includes her childhood fashion diary and a Panini-style sticker album featuring her iconic looks, plus fashion stamps, paper-doll posters, a scrap book and a guide of holy commandments to navigate the fashion world by the high priestess of style herself.
Aside from a whirlwind book tour to New York and London, however, life these days is much simpler for Dello Russo: “It’s yoga, swim, meditation, and then work and spending time with my love.” Her ‘love’ is Angelo Gioia, a businessman, who she has known since childhood but has only become involved with in recent years.
“I still do Japanese Vogue, but I try to do it a little less,” she says. “I love a special project and this book actually took me three years to put together. And the auction took six months.” Another of her projects is a jewelry collection for Atelier Swarovski, which was launched after a glamorous dinner hosted by Dello Russo and Nadja Swarovski on the day of that auction in Milan. At the mention of jewelry her face visibly lights up. “Nadja has always been very supportive and, in any case, jewels are my absolute passion. The idea was to do an entire parure – how you say? – like the French, with a collection or composition of the tiara, necklace and earrings, that royal people used to wear.”
She half winks: “You could have worn the entire collection to the royal wedding!” Naturally, it’s an unapologetically bold collection of ruby-red and golden crystals, with opulent drop-style brooches and earrings, and sparkling tiaras, which are little girls’ princess fantasies come alive.
Dello Russo caught the fashion bug at four. She thinks her first memory was of a pair of shoes. But, in any case, the die was already cast. Her father Giovanni, a psychiatrist, encouraged her: “He was so supportive. He really understood that was my passion.” And he seemed pretty taken by lo stile Inglese. “He loved British style, like the check, tweed and Church’s shoes. He would be so dressed up in a three-piece suit – who knows where he thought he was going, because there was nowhere to go in Bari,” she says with a laugh. She wanted to open a shop, but her father wasn’t keen on her working behind a counter and told her to study fashion and become a journalist. “My mother was simpler, she loved animals and wasn’t into clothes. I get it from my father’s side; actually, his mother, my grandmother – she was crazy and loved clothes. My father understood that, for me, dressing was my way of expressing myself. He told me, ‘Look forward, don’t care what people are thinking’.” Dello Russo took his advice.
Of course, what many forget is that long before her sellout H&M collection, or before Dello Russo was an Instagram sensation, she was already dynamite in the industry. She was a highly respected fashion editor who had worked at Italian Vogue for 12 years before becoming editor of Uomo Vogue for six years, and then editor-at-large and creative consultant for Japanese Vogue. It was back when her assistant was Giovanna Battaglia (now a renowned fashion editor), and she collaborated with industry greats, including the stylist and photographer Manuela Pavesi (a long-term collaborator of Miuccia Prada) and former Italian Vogue editor Franca Sozzani, both of whom have since sadly passed away.
What does she enjoy from that era? Dello Russo closes her eyes for a second and thinks. “I loved working with those fashion photographers. Mamma mia, [it was] another level. Peter Lindbergh, Steven Meisel, Helmut Newton, Paolo Roversi…” These were the people who helped her realize a vision: her idiosyncratic version of restrained maximalism, in which every accessory is considered and nothing left to chance. Whether it was pared-down suiting on a fresh-faced Linda Evangelista in the 1990s, or something with load-it-on excess a decade later, Dello Russo deftly worked it all with consummate flair.
Today, she divides her time between Milan and the countryside near where she grew up, doings laps in the swimming pool, which has – what else? – her initials AdR picked out in gold tiles. Does she think the fashion industry is still as fun? “Of course,” she says with a smile, surprised at my question. “If I was 15, I would D-I-E for all those sneakers. But I don’t go out any more, really. For work sometimes, but it’s all about finding balance.”
Then she laughs and tells me that in another life she would have been a singer like Rihanna or perhaps even Lady Gaga. Plus ça change. Despite her admission of a quieter life and her toned-down wardrobe, something tells me that we will be seeing more of Dello Russo for many years to come.
This story appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of SALT magazine.
Image credits: Silvia Olsen/Rex/Shutterstock; Getty Images; Kuba Dabrowski/Penske Media/Rex/Shutterstock; Pixelformula/Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock; Wayne Tippetts/Rex/Shutterstock