The Narcissist Issue: Giovanni Mesa

Sure, we need a new definition of narcissism, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up on fashion. It’s only appropriate, then, that we kick off The Narcissist Issue with an interview with women’s handbag designer, Giovanni Mesa, who says, “What really fascinates me about fashion is that you can be a character.” No matter what he says, fashion’s in his blood.

His grandmother, who fled Cuba with her husband and children during the Communist takeover, sewed bags for Coach. Mesa’s artistic similarities made themselves known early in life. After an intensive arts high school, Mesa headed to Maryland Institute College of Art to study sculpture. Fashion’s beat grew too loud, however, and Mesa found himself moving to New York to drum it out. After a semester at Parson’s, Mesa set out on his own, following in the fashion school dropout footsteps of Giorgio Armani, Zac Posen, and Yves Saint Laurent.

What drew a would-be sculptor to women’s handbags? We find after the jump here as Mesa takes time from designing his spring collection to chat with Queerty about pushing barriers with an eye on the past, how true progress takes baby steps, and why it pays to look good in the 21st Century.

Queerty: What led you to commercial fashion?

Giovanni Mesa: I feel like fashion has art in it, but fashion really is business. I see no point in designing something phenomenal if you can’t see someone out wearing it on the street. I’ve painted and been in exhibitions and won awards, but nothing was more rewarding than when I saw a girl come out [of the club Marquee], trashed out of her mind, with a dress I designed for a designer.

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QT: Fashion that stems from a creative like yourself, that captures the zeitgeist and also manages to capture the consumer’s imagination, often trickles down to the masses and transcends social barriers. How would you feel if you walked into Target and there was a more affordable imitation of one of your designs?

GM: It’s just the natural progression. Things come and go. Things go around. I’d be flattered, honestly. I’ve never gone in somewhere and seen something to copy. But, you will find me in a lot of antique shops and vintage shops looking around. Right now I’m on an army kick, I’ve been seeing some really great army bags, very totalitarian. I’m buying army bags and ripping them apart and sewing them as my bags with the material. There’s something really great about history. I love when a girl knows there’s something special behind a bag, a special twist. That’s what you don’t get at Target.

QT: Do you feel that fashion is, at its heart, about striving and obsession? Do you think that people use accessories and cloth to become something else entirely? This is especially important when you think about the trickle down effect of fashion.

GM: Personally, in the world I’m around, [people] make sure they look amazing for themselves and the people around them. The girl I represent, the girl that I’d like to have my bag, she’s thinking for herself. But, there are also a lot of people who don’t even think and put on sweats in the morning and run out the door.

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QT: Do you think it’s more honorable to be someone who just puts on sweats and it suits them, rather than someone who gets dressed trying to emulate Gwen Stefani?

GM: I have mixed emotions about it, but I really do feel that someone should pay attention to what they look like. It’s a really powerful thing. It’s the very first thing someone sees. If you see someone in a sweat suit looking like a bit of a slob, you don’t really pay attention. If you see a beautiful guy come in and he’s looking sharp, you automatically see him.

QT: You feel that when you look nice, you can get more from the world?

GM: Absolutely! It’s just the way the world works. It’s the way people are.

QT: What are you striving for both in terms of design and yourself?

GM: Well, I really strive to be unique. Lately, I’ve been getting really into ugly shapes. I’m really into big, clunky, almost obnoxious shapes. There’s something interesting about them. This spring is about lack of color for me. Stores always want color for spring, but I’m really into a lack of color. I really feel like we’re in a place in the world [when] pastel colors seem so fake, you know? [It’s] about experimenting with different things, placing, putting, adding different textures, and mixing unexpected things. Right now I’m very into flat leathers with extremely high polished leathers. Dull Napa cow with polished patent lamb.

QT: What’s the impetus behind that? What’s the inspiration?

GM: It’s pushing barriers. I feel like any artist pushes barriers in the art field. To give some examples from the fashion world: Prada pushes barriers. Viktor & Rolf push barriers. It’s about playing around with form.

QT: Is there anything about yourself that you would change?

GM: You know, I always complained about things, like my nose is a little slanted. I complain, but to be honest, I really am obnoxiously happy with myself. I LOVE that I’m 125 lbs! [Laughs.] But what keeps me sane is that I feel like I have a gift, and I have a talent and something to offer. This is the time when I’m most happy, ever – when I’m creating. …I don’t really give a shit what anyone thinks about me physically. So, changing anything? Changing a good pair shoes. I need a new pair of shoes!

QT: [If] you start designing for men: who is your ideal man? Who’s the man that you’re going to design for?

GM: Oh! This is fun. He’s a perv. My man is a perv. My man has a moustache. He’s dangerous. He’s ballsy. He’s like my woman. My woman is gutsy. My woman is not shy. My woman doesn’t care about schlepping an obnoxious python bag. My man is very secure. My man has no shame… I’ll attack my girl bags first…but hopefully men’s is around the corner. Maybe 10-15 years from now. We’ll see.

QT: That’s certainly something to strive for.

Find out more about Giovanni and his made-to-order bags at his website: Giovanni Mesa.