The Italian rogue

By Polly Vernon

With her infectious cackle and outrageous dress sense, Anna Dello Russo - influential blogger, editor-at-large, street-style icon - is putting the fun back into dressing up, and gathering a huge following in the process.

Italian style icon Anna Dello Russo with her dog Cucciolina. Photo / Supplied
Italian style icon Anna Dello Russo with her dog Cucciolina. Photo / Supplied

Anna Dello Russo - Japanese Vogue's editor-at-large, blogger extra-ordinaire, international style sensation, internet iconoclast - stands, virtually naked, in a hotel room in central London, contemplating a raucous fruit-embellished fascinator. She fixes it into the depths of her shiny, shiny hair, and considers her reflection in a full-length mirror.

Will it do for the London Fashion Week event at which she is expected, shortly? It most certainly will!

"Cherry. Cherry, on my 'ead," she explains. "This is cherry. I like 'ead pieces. I love them. I met Sarah Jessica Parker. I love 'er! I was wearing a watermelon in my hair! She look at me like: "Oh! Where she from?'." Brief pause. "I should go to [British milliner] Philip Treacy for a ..." She says a word, which I think might be "poppy", although I'm not completely sure.

Dello Russo is Italian and her English is both hilariously flawed and peppered with fantastical metaphors which makes her a touch obscure almost all the time, although even when you have no idea what she's actually saying, Dello Russo manages to communicate a sense of rollocking enthusiasm.

For example: "Fashion, in me, is folie, is sickness! I never bored of fashion. It is my vision for life. Reality for me is too tough. Fashion is an escape. Fashion! Is my addiction! Is better than drugs, or ..." she does a little hand mime which I think might be intended to describe a video-game console.

The 48-year-old Dello Russo is the fashion editor who went rogue. In an industry monopolised by unsmiling, flinty-eyed, fearsome women formatted according to the Anna Wintour of American Vogue model, ADR (as she is increasingly known) is a wild, loud, endlessly amused and amusing anomaly.

Where most fashion editors are po-faced and restrained, she is giggly and flamboyant.

Where they are elusive and exclusive, she is as omnipresent as she can be, and inclusivity is her religion, her schtick. Where they are tight-lipped and mysterious, she blogs, twice a week, for five hours at a time, about anything that takes her fancy.

Her blog homepage features a quote from Helmut Newton, describing ADR as a "fashion maniac", and vintage posts include "10 ways to make sure your fancy dress costume won't disappoint French Vogue editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld" (4. Don't rent the outfit, you'll smell like a dusty attic), a link to the video for Empire State of Mind, and quantities of puff for her forthcoming fragrance J'ADR! (geddit?), which will be exclusively available online at yoox.com for Christmas, and which she describes as: "A clutch-bag-perfume ... a golden slipper like Cinderella shoes ... beyond any imagination, beyond any fantasy."

I first became aware of Anna Dello Russo, and her work in the field of being, well, her, early this year. Her name was being invoked more and more frequently in fashion circles, whispered adoringly and reverentially by PRs and fashion juniors, and checked in style columns. I did a little light Googling and was instantly enlightened.

Anna Dello Russo is the product of our age. A significant but definitely behind-the-scenes player in the game of international fashion for almost two decades, she began gaining a public profile in 2006, via the medium of the thesartorialist.com's Scott Schulman. Schulman made a regular feature of Dello Russo and her extravagant style. Dello Russo (catchphrase: "I don't want to be cool. I want to be fashion") makes a point of faithfully recreating designer looks precisely as they are shown on the international fashion-week catwalks. She likes gold brocade-trimmed military coats with absurdly flouncy skirts and matching gold wedges; feathery Jason Wu cocktail dresses, pink cat's-eye sunglasses and glittering explosions of Balenciaga ballgowns. As daywear. Through Schulman's site, ADR gained a fan base.

Somehow Dello Russo began parlaying the Sartorialist's attention into an entire brand identity.

She launched her blog and set about the business of becoming a fashion Name. Which she now definitely is. A thrilling fixture on the fashion week landscape, perhaps not quite as recognisable as Anna Wintour or Carine Roitfeld or Daphne Guinness - yet, at least - but certainly not far off.

Her blog attracts thousands of hits a day. In June this year she launched her first piece of merch: an ADR-logo T-shirt, which sold out in the course of a day.

Erm - how? How did she make this happen?

"At this time, I find a new life. Really. A new life. A new energy!" she says.

"Something happen! Be visible! You know when you feel inside, fresh air, you want to go, you don't know why.

"Before this, no visible! Invisible! Like Cinderella, working like a cow!"

Sure. So you enjoyed being photographed by the Sartorialist, you liked feeling visible?

"At the beginning, no! Because I was shy. Really intimidate by that. In the beginning, we [all Schulman's notable fashion editor targets] were shy! We didn't understand, we didn't have the confidence with the poses, in the middle of the street, in front of everyone! It was funny at the beginning!"

But, Dello Russo says, she sensed this was the beginning of something interesting. She began following the progression of street-style blogging in earnest, became friends with Schulman and his blogger peer/girlfriend Garance Dore and eventually launched her own blog.

"I really get into the mood. I completely understand this was a new media power starting."

Bloggers tell the truth about fashion, she says, unlike magazine editors.

"In magazine, I say, I was in ivory tower. I didn't have time to listen [to readers]. You don't feel the people, you get list of number [circulation figures, I presume] but ... and feedback come one month later. internet is immediate! Make contact, I feel my audience! I understand what they like! They make a break in the rules! They talk to you!"

Dello Russo was always interested in fashion. Obsessed by it. She grew up in southern Italy, daughter of a psychiatrist father and a naturalist mother, with a brother and a sister who had absolutely no interest in clothes. She first realised she suffered from what she joyfully refers to as her "sickness" when she was 12.

"My father say: 'What you want for a gift?' I say: 'One set of Fendi'. He say: 'Okay, let's go to the shop'. I say: 'Is not bag, is set. Which means: bag, wallet, scarf, umbrella ... All matching'. My father say: 'Where you go with this umbrella? Here, is not raining!' I come from south of Italy. He say: 'Where you go with this?' I say: 'I go to the school!' He say: 'With your umbrella?' I say: 'Yes! This is part of the look!'."

She studied history of art at university. When she graduated, her father packed her off to Milan to do a masters in fashion ("Luckily, he is very support"); she studied under designer Gianfranco Ferre, and then got a job at Italian Vogue.

From there, she climbed the fashion ranks, steadily and diligently, until she made the renegade leap into whatever it is she does now. She gave up her desk-job as creative director for L'Uomo Vogue in 2006 to take on a more free-flowing venture as editor-at-large on Japanese Vogue, a post which allows her to explore her other interests, invest time in her blog and her outfit concepts.

Along the way, Dello Russo has collected a vast quantity of clothes, which she keeps in the Milanese apartment next to the one in which she lives with her dog, Cucciolina. I can't quite get to the heart of her finances. Possibly, the Japanese Vogue gig pays so handsomely she can afford those two apartments and the hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of Pret-a-porter. All she will offer is: "Of course, I am journalist! Then I have discount, I am privileged!"

And what of her personal life? I know that Dello Russo doesn't have children and that she does a lot of yoga. She has made fleeting references to boyfriends from time to time. Right now, she says she is single.

"I spend all my life in fashion! I don't have children. I actually have a dog. And I lost my husband anyway. Because he said: 'Too much clothes, in your house!' He said to me: 'Where is the space for me?' I said: 'There is no space for you'. He says: 'Where is the space in the closet?' There is no space in the closet! He says: 'Are you crazy?' Then he left. No space for 'im!"

She was married, she tells me, for a little over a month, and she wore a black Balenciaga two-piece on the day her divorce became official.

"My dog, she doesn't need the space in the closet. She doesn't like clothes. I tried to put on some clothes, she hates!"

Dello Russo has said she was sad when she divorced, but she doesn't seem remotely sad now.

She laughs throughout the time I spend with her - cackles, actually - and then she totters off into the London night, with her cherry headpiece and her assistant from Japanese Vogue, throwing out final words of wisdom regarding the future of fashion blogging in her wake.

"When is starting, any revolution, big earthquake, no control. Like now. We need the time to reset. Select out all the shit stuff. Edit. It already start. It already start."

On a personal level, she wants more Twitter followers than Lady Gaga. "I see the numbers like Lady Gaga! I am jealous!"

And yet again, I am struck by the fact that while I don't technically understand exactly what it is Dello Russo's saying to me - I do get it. I really do.

- OBSERVER

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf03 at 22 Dec 2014 16:31:09 Processing Time: 324ms