[T]hey’re casually and endearingly referred to as the “Fashion Bears,” yet the burly, hirsute designer duo, Jeffrey Costello and Robert Tagliapietra, are two of the USA’s most highly regarded creators of sublimely gorgeous, feminine prêt-a-porter womenswear. Typically outfitted in a manly, lumberjack style with plaid shirts, suspenders, and substantial beards, the Brooklyn-based couple (they were married in October 2011) has been together both professionally and romantically for over 18 years.
Costello was born in Bristol, Pennsylvania. After moving to New York in 1980, Costello first established himself in styling and wardrobe, working with actresses and musicians like Depeche Mode and his (at the time) across-the-hall neighbor, Madonna. He met native New Yorker Tagliapietra in 1994 at the Sound Factory nightclub, at which time Tagliapietra was studying painting at Parsons School of Design. They worked together on Madonna’s “Bedtime Story” video and for Nine Inch Nails and Bruce Springsteen. In 2004, they put together a 12-look portfolio and sent it to Vogue that impressed the magazine’s tastemakers and resulted in a March 2004 issue spread. The following year, they debuted their first women’s collection at 2005’s New York Fashion Week and made a splash.
Subsequent seasons’ collections have been met with acclaim. In 2010, they created 14 summer dresses for pop culture-savvy Japanese chain UNIQLO while a new, moderately priced line, C&T Costello Tagliapietra, is now exclusively available at Barney’s New York. While prepping a collection in a Manhattan Fashion District studio and gearing up for September, the good-natured pair—Costello is “the quiet one” he volunteers—took time out for a VIP Lounge chat.
What do you think of your nickname, the Fashion Bears?
RT: It’s adorable. For us, we came into this industry a little blindly. Throughout the 90s, we costumed musicians, bands, and actresses. When we started in fashion none of us had worked for any company or brand. That blindfold has helped us. We didn’t have any expectations and hang-ups. I think that’s why people responded [to our work].
What is the best international city in which to find and buy fashion these days?
RT: I think fashion’s become so global because of the Internet. Japan is amazing and Tokyo is brilliant for street fashion. The kids are so free and creative. But I grew up in New York, and there’s nothing like shopping here. In terms of clothing stores, we love vintage clothes. There is a place around the corner from us, in Brooklyn, called Olaf’s Men’s Vintage that is amazing for vintage men’s clothes. Highly curated.
JC: You have your standards like Barney’s, which is great. They take chances with new designers so you can always find something interesting.
You’ve done clothing for UNIQLO, which has three stores in NYC. What are a few cool international labels and shops you are happy to find stateside now?
RT: UNIQLO is pretty remarkable. I know they have a bit of a plan to expand now but it shocks me that they haven’t yet because they’re so prolific in Asia. There’s Muji and SuperDry, which are quite great.
You can own any hotel room in the world, which would it be?
JC: One of the cottages at the Sunset Marquis. When you walk in you feel like you’re in a house. You’ve got the fireplaces. They’re just homey.
You can have your last meal in any restaurant in the world. Which would it be and what would you order?
RT: In Tokyo we love a tofu restaurant, Sora No Niwa. It’s a little hole in the wall, and they actually make the tofu for you at your table. I’m not a big vegan person, but it was an amazing experience.
JC: I’m so enamored by Japan. When we go to Tokyo, anyplace with sushi. For my last meal, I’d be happy with sushi.
RT: And in Provincetown, Spiritus Pizza. The second we go there, we have to get that pizza.
If you could pay 50 bucks for any one convenience on a flight, what would it be?
JC: Legroom and privacy. I’d pay more than 50 bucks for it. I’m a big boy! If I fly coach, it’s like you’re stuffed in a tiny little space. If I could have an extra five inches of legroom that would be amazing. Maybe elastic seat belts.
RT: There’s nothing sadder than the last time we flew. I was at the last bit of that seatbelt.
What is your number one travel tip?
RT: Don’t check bags. We used to pack everything, but the more you travel the more you realize how little you need and how to get through.
JC: And slip-on shoes.
What are the most essential items in your suitcase?
JC: I guess it’s our suspenders.
RT: We try to pack as light as possible. Kiehl’s does this face and hair wash all in one. Cross Terrain. We bring a three-ounce bottle of that, and definitely lip balm, because I always get really dry.
If you could meet with anyone from the past, who would it be, where would you meet, and why?
RT: This probably sounds strange, but I love Anne Sexton’s poetry so I’d love to meet her in New England and have tea and coffee. On the other hand, I’d love to go out dancing in the 70s with Halston.
JC: I actually met Halston. I was young.
Now for the question you probably get asked in almost every interview you do. Will you be creating a line of menswear?
RT: That’s on the horizon. We’re starting to think about it much more now. We started with womenswear but oddly enough, a lot of our private clients in the 90s were men. Womenswear is and was more creative, but today men are a lot more willing to take risks with their fashion and are more interested in different kinds of fashion then ever before. So, it’s a good time to think about men’s. We do make a lot of our own clothes, and it’s been in development so in the next year, we’re hoping.