Photography by M. Sharkey
"I was really nerdy and kind of unpopular in school, and I felt like clothing could have a transformative effect on my life," says Altuzarra, who has just enjoyed his most successful year since launching his eponymous womenswear label in 2008. "I saw the fashion industry as an escape glamorous, and also a very free place in terms of sexuality."
Altuzarra translates to "old man on the mountain" in Basque, but at 28, he's very much a young man scaling new heights as his inventive and thoughtful work beguiles an ever-increasing circle of admirers. (None other than Jessica Chastain, Kate Bosworth, and Mamie Gummer were in the front row at a recent show.) In June, he cemented his newfound stature by walking away with the CFDA Swarovski Award for Womenswear barely seven months after winning the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Award for Emerging Talent in Womenswear. "It was a huge honor -- you see this immediate surge of interest," says Altuzarra on a mild fall afternoon at his studio in New York City's Chinatown. Among those admirers was J. Crew, which commissioned a seven-piece fall collection that, like Altuzarra's own line, drew heavily on his romance with his native France.
"We chose this route of St. Tropez and Brigitte Bardot, this idea of a French prep," he says. "It was awesome working with them, because you have a very clear set of parameters and a very clear trajectory towards a very clear target, so there's not a lot of guessing."
It doesn't take a lot of guessing, either, to see that Altuzarra is a designer with staying power. Get used to his name.
Photographed at Sun Studios in New York City on October 1, 2012