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The Greatest #4 Interviews: Brendan Mullane // Vittorio Storaro // Jonathan Wilson

The Infinity Issue

 

BRANDAN MULLANE

There is a struggle of reaching a goal between innovation and tradition. A brand like Brioni meets a powerful mind, open to visions with an eye on contaminating society. People are mirrors, proof of our needs and direction. The interpreter of thoughts spread out through menswear, made of spin tailoring and twisted by spicy elements: Brendan Mullane talks of his view of infinity. 

Brendan Mullane

I’ve always found the process behind men’s fashion more interesting than women’s, maybe because of its difficulty or the fewer number of garments, but mainly because I find it collectively more elegant. Do you agree with me and what is your approach towards men’s clothing? 

Having worked in companies that have male and female fashion departments I can say that I agree with you. I am not going to say that it’s easier to do womenswear, but women are easier to dress. In general male fashion is surrounded by these rulebooks about what you should and shouldn’t do. What I like about these rules is that you have to study them and then turn them around, because by knowing them you can really push the boundaries. In this sense it’s far more difficult, because it is like architecture to some extent due to the limits; but I like it because I think that it is harder to make and be really pure in creativity. Working for a brand like Brioni, you can’t rely on styling, because there is only so much styling you can do to a tailored suit. I mean, you can change colors and shapes, but you have to understand what you are doing, the DNA of the brand, and then push that. It is really easy to put a lot of stuff on, but it’s really difficult to take them off, to make things really pure, to have a look that is perfect within three pieces. I love the fact that you do a lot of work on a look and when you show the collection everything appears to be very clean, but when you explain it you discover how difficult it is though visually it is really simple. That is the fun part for me, because you are really challenging yourself as a designer. 

Today we live in widespread chaos, in private and working life. However, it happens and very suddenly that we see a balance. Could you tell me a moment in your life when you felt the sensation of doing the right thing and what you felt in that moment? 

I have to say that I like the fact that my personal life is quite a mess, while my working environment is very quiet. It’s exactly the opposite. I have a full calendar in which I write events in with pencil because of the continuous changes. When a designer changes a job, especially in the beginning like everyone does, you have doubts and you ask yourself “Am I doing something wrong?”. When I first arrived to Brioni, I spent lot of time in the factory watching and that was the moment where I felt that sensation of doing the right thing. Obviously it has been a tough decision because I used to have quite a comfortable life in Paris. I know that the vision I have presented of the brand and what I am going to do is also true for the vision of the brand itself. It’s such a nice feeling because I am not nervous about the job that I am doing. I am even more critical than I was before which is great, but probably not for those who work for me, I feel totally relaxed in such an environment. I am not scared to take a challenge, I have lived in many different countries and abroad for most of my life, I believe that if you want something you have to go and get it. 

Brendan Mullane

I know many designers and most of them say they can gauge the beauty of a garment and the quality of the finish by turning it inside out. What is your opinion towards the fact that most clients pay more attention to the outer appearance of a garment? 

I am going to be mean, but what you are saying is a typical womens’ point of view. In a Brioni suit there are more than 3,000 hand stitches inside, but nobody even sees them because they are hidden. When my team and I are doing fittings, we spend nearly as much time on the outside as we do on the inside. Men definitely look at the inside, and it is also a mark of high quality. A jacket, for example, has to hide or show something that makes it special and different from the others. When I draw, I make a silhouette, a 3D silhouette, and a technical drawing as if the garment had been turned inside out; I do the same thing when we have fittings. You have to know the basic finishing rules especially for menswear, most of the effort has been focused on the inside. If you look at some women’s clothes, they do not have pockets on the inside, maybe women look less at the inside, but I am sure they do that in terms of a bag

From my point of view, fashion is the mirror to our society. We live in an era of recycled trends, which many people find fruitless. We often find ourselves back at the starting point or facing another battle. How do you face a situation that makes you say to yourself “Again”? 

I’d like to associate this debate with art. In art, when someone reworks a past movement they call it “appropriation”: basically they take a piece of existing artwork and they transform it a little bit and you use it to create a new piece of art. In fashion people just say that you are rehashing something, so what is the difference? Fashion is a bit of art, isn’t it? Moreover, if you give somebody something that their brain automatically recognizes, they are more likely to accept it. We are going so fast in such a short period of time that you can’t always create something new. The important part is how you do the appropriation, you can put it in a completely different context and this can change everything. The key thing to understand is the needs of the people. I can give you an example: everybody is now listening to Daft Punk’s music, they made this happy sound in a period when people were nervous and unhappy, which has strong references to the eighties and nineties. The most important thing is how you interpret the reference, it shows how clever you are. Everything has been done so even if you are looking at the most amazing artist, you can catch references to the past. As long as there is still creativity and authenticity inside, it’s always acceptable. Every field has its own trends and reinterpretation, it happens in every generation. You have to keep your mind working on the idea and as long as you can still justify it to yourself then it doesn’t bother me. Nowadays if somebody says something is brand new, it is a lie, because the time schedule in fashion is so chaotic that you can’t produce something 100% original. Even now we are working in an industry where you are not really allowed to create by living in your own bubble, in your own mind. 

Linked to the recycling of fashion, you said that you don’t want to disrupt Brioni’s style, but respect the rules, and aim to directly link with its audience as much as possible. How do you feel playing with a reality envisioned by someone else? 

I always try to go deeper inside to understand the real spirit of a company and why it works. These two elements are the basis of creating my new Brioni aesthetic, which is refreshing. I am trying to make people look at the brand in a different way, by balancing timelessness with a contemporary viewpoint . Being respectful of the soul of a brand is what allows for new results and goals. If you are looking at Brioni and you can still recognize the signature, but in a new light, it means that I have done a good job. I always say that you have to measure the spices that you are putting in a dish in order to maintain the original taste. It’s such a great exercise for me too, because sometimes I see amazing pieces, but I have to say if they are not respecting Brioni’s character which is very useful and stimulating. Of course I archive them, because I know that in a few years they are going to be right for us and I really enjoy working in advance. 

My job is writing. Silence and being alone while I am writing is fundamental to my process. What is fundamental for you whilst creating something? 

I am the opposite. I need some kind of music or noise while I am working. I like to work in a team, but I also like to take things in and digest them. It is useful to work in a team as it’s vital to have someone who gives a different opinion on what you are doing. Moreover you have to be in a creative environment in order to create: you have to be surrounded by images, with music playing, books, pictures of exhibitions that you have enjoyed. You can’t put someone in a white room and say “Now draw!’’ Of course you can do that because in a plain room you can see how creative you really are, but at some point you need to go out to distance yourself from it and then come back. Personally, the fundamental element is my team, surrounded by music and fun. There must be something that inspires you, even a piece of furniture, of art, something that keeps you going forward. 

With mens suits there is always an element of uniformity. Personally I am fascinated by the idea of uniforms and the other repetitive forms of dress that have become unconsciously embedded in our society. Have you ever thought of drawing a uniform? If yes, which one would you choose to reference? 

I love to imagine that in a couple of years I will see a group of men wearing Brioni and they might be seen as Brioni’s army. I am sure it is every designer’s dream. Speaking of a proper uniform, I don’t know, I love horses so I would probably design a three-piece suit in which a man can go horse riding or something like that, never say never. Every menswear fashion designer has a reference to military garments inside, because it’s loyal to the Bauhaus motto where everything was pure, clean and functional. 

Brioni is synonymous with elegance, handmade craft and research. Taking these three words, which people would you associate them to? 

I’d like to associate these three words to the world that surrounds me rather than fashion. ‘Handmade’ I would refer to a Swiss architect, Paul Zumthor, who is able to manipulate all the natural materials in a very contemporary way whilst still maintaining this beautiful unique feeling. ‘Elegance’ I would say Tricia Donnelly: she creates these amazing giant marble sculptures and it is what I consider elegance in a piece of art; they have this beautiful aesthetic full of drama, not to mention the time she spends bringing out the elegance. Concerning ‘Research’ I would associate it to Sou Fujimoto, a Japanese architect because he really pushes his work beyond the limits, he really indulges in research. He is a character of the moment, who researches the past in order to go forward.

The theme of the current issue of The Greatest is Infinity. Infinity can be also read as a place with no limits, where everything is possible and where there are no boundaries for our dreams and hopes. What is your interpretation of infinity? 

Creation is infinity because it is endless. I choose creativity because everybody can be creative, you should always try to do something more than 100%, because if you live following this mantra you can exceed the boundaries of our society. We should push the limits in order to reach infinity and find our individual happiness. On the other hand, I also see infinity as my holiday period, when I am laying on the beach and hoping that it never ends. 


VITTORIO STORARO

Vittorio Storaro is a cinematographer who writes with light, talks with colours and thinks with old frames in mind. 

Vittorio Storaro

There are many professional figures within the arts, who express themselves through different mediums such as directing, acting, composing, writing and painting. Their aim is to express something to the audience inspired by what happened in their lives. From an emotional point of view, the first matter of a novel is the atmosphere. To what extent has light and darkness in life influenced the visual atmosphere of your works? 

I have always thought that everyone approaches professional life in an unconscious way. At some point you understand what your place is and why you are doing something. Like Albert Einstein used to say, nobody is an idiot, nobody is a genius, it is just a matter of loving what you are doing. When you feel great emotion toward succeeding in something or you feel negative in failing, that’s the step where there is no difference between personal and professional life. My friends often tell me “Vittorio you are always working!”. Usually my answer is “Not at all. I am always on holiday, because I have the luck to do what I love”.
My father was a projectionist of an important film distribution called Lux Film. He had such a great love for the moving image and I am sure he would have loved to make them. He instilled in me his love and passion, which attacked me like a fever; his dream became my dream. At the beginning I didn’t catch the meaning at all, but I loved the atmosphere. However, when I found the right way and my place in that world, I understood that I was just looking for my personal balance. I remember the thrill that I had when I tried to apply to the “Centro Sperimentale della Fotografia” in order to be a cinematographer. I remember the effort that I made to pass the exam, because I knew that, if I failed, I would have lost any kind of bearing in my life. Many people think that studying is not as important as practising a job. I don’t agree at all because I think that the consciousness of what has pre-existed in us is fundamental in order to have the right instruments to realize your own ideas. I am lucky to be in continuous need of research and maintain that I am an eternal student of life. 

Vittorio Storaro

Curiosity and the desire to provoke and urge are fundamental in life. I think that the most important part of the creative process is the phase of assimilation; allowing the artist to pause and reflect on their work. These pauses are breathing moments that feed the outcome. What do these pauses represent for you? 

I wouldn’t call them pauses, because we are not really stopping while we are assimilating something. For example, during a walk in Rome with a friend of mine, he took me in a tiny church in the centre of the city because he told me that inside there were some spectacular artistic pieces and nobody knew that. Well, there were the original marble angels by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. I have always seen the copies on Sant’Angelo Bridge, but never the real ones. That experience was a fantastic moment of assimilation more than a pause. The astonishingthing is that, wherever we go, whatever we do, we can learn something if we pay attention. We must keep our eyes open and focus on the moment that we are living in, because that moment won’t come back. Even when we are suffering there is a certain beauty, because it is a part of our life. We have to make sure that we understand that passage, unless we are going to have some regrets in future. Regrets are such big mistakes, because it means that we didn’t live in the moment as we should have. 

In a novel as well as in life, dichotomies are really important. They are valid instruments to highlight our opposing thoughts. By using an example and its contrary, you express a positive and negative approach to the audience. Is it the same with colours and lights? 

After my academic studies I understood an important thing, I had been prepared as a technological laboratory. I understood all the machines, technologies and names, but I didn’t know their true meaning; at that point I realized that I needed to go deeper into the emotional aspect of life. So I started to read, feel, touch and taste as much as I could. I was a virgin in that area. I understood that the only way to get the real meaning of the opposites was to divide them. Divide light from shadow, then natural light from artificial light and so on. By doing this, it became clear that each of them represented a part of me, in a symbolic way. It became a sort of visual dictionary. For example, I could present a reflective part of a character with shadows or something between light and darkness, a female or masculine part of our life. I understood that it depends on the transition between day and night, the sun and the moon, and step by step, I started to get the possible meaning of them through a philosophical interpretation. Trying to catch the dramatic and symbolic meaning of the elements helped me a lot in finding my consciousness, until I worked for “Apocalypse Now”. I spent a year and a half in the jungle to make that movie, with a lot of physical and mental stress. When I came back home, I received another offer for a totally different project in France, but I realized that I had no more ideas to work on, so I decided to stop researching, to better understand what was behind the light. I restarted some books, studied new ones and I rediscovered colours, their meanings. Of course, I had already used colours in big movies such as “The Conformist” (original title “Il Conformista”) and “Last Tango in  Paris” (original title “Ultimo Tango a Parigi”), but I really didn’t know what they represented, I used them following my instinct. By studying colours, I understood the reason why I used them, even in an unconscious way. This research on colours helped me in my private life too. I started to see everything from a different perspective: I used visual and symbolic metaphors to understand the relationship between my wife and I. We were two opposites, though similar: two opposite sexes, figures, like the moon and the sun and I was looking for our balance. 

As an audience we recognise, through lighting, a deep change in atmosphere. I would personally compare light with the rhythm of words and adjectives. You have also wrote many books throughout your career. What is the difference between writing on paper about light and using the real element as a visual tool? 

This idea of writing has been another improvement. What does a director of photography really do? He is a bit like a musician, a writer, a novelist. For example he uses words to convey something, an idea, a feeling. A musician does exactly the same thing, but using keys instead of words. I understood that it could be the same for light too. While I was doing research, it’s clear that I could have written about the light’s articulation and during those years, I found out that I had great ideas in my mind and they would have worked better, for me and for the staff, if I wrote them down on paper. I made a great effort, because I am not a writer and I have risked writing down literally horrible mistakes, but I was conscious I must do that, just me and nobody else. Since being abroad filming, I have started to write more frequently. If you are used to living with many people around, your family, it is not easy to be on your own for a long time. However, I am a person used to bringing out the best in any situation. During that job, I used to have three spare hours a day in the afternoon, so I decided that the best thing I could do was to take that time to write down my ideas. I was afraid that my memory wouldn’t have helped me to keep them safe. After I put them in a scale on paper, I read them, and I understood that they needed to be supported by images, because I am a writer of images. So I started taking photographs that could be associated with the writing part. Cinema, the tenth muse of the arts, enhance itself with the other nine muses. I have tried to put all these arts together. The difference between cinema and photography is exactly the same: photography is the expression of a single image, a static point, while cinematography is made of more images and need time and rhythm, like music. I have tried to put my thoughts on a line so they become a series of notions, until Gabriele Lucci and I, director of a company in L’Aquila which organized seminaries called “Città in Cinema”, had the idea to create a university of cinema and visual arts: “L’Accademia dell’immagine”. What was I able to give to those students? For sure, my thirty- year experience and studies about light. In the course of five years of studies it produced a generation more conscious than mine. Many of those students are still working with me After the academy started, the possibility to print and supply my ideas became more apparent. I firmly wanted that my book was both in Italian and English. “Storaro: Scrivere con la luce-Writing with Light” was my possibility to make my works available to all people with a passion for photography. When I was young, people were jealous of their profession. Nothing was told to young people. I remember that when I was a student, thanks to my dad at the Lux Film, I had the chance to enter on the set where Gianni Di Venanzo was working. He was a great revolutionary of cinema. However, I was there with a friend of mine, like thirty metres from the entourage. Nobody came close to us to explain something. I stared at them and appreciated the opportunity to let us in, but I was asking myself why none of the contemporary professionals had ever come to our Institute to tell us about their trade. That was what I did as soon as I could, because I think that handing over our knowledge is fundamental. 

Vittorio Storaro

Your choice to define your role as a Cinematographer instead of Director of photography really impressed me. I have thought about the importance of words that we choose to describe something and moreover about the right balance that we have to find in order to collaborate within a group. Nowadays, I often see obsession towards attention-seeking and lack of healthy partnership. Going back to your debut, was it difficult to join this view of collaboration? 

My parents were not well off at all. When I was 14 my father let me study photography, but he told me that I had to find a job, because he didn’t know how long he would be able to support me. So I started working as a handyman in a photography studio. I had cleaned many floors with dirty buckets in my first stint there. In the morning I attended school and in the afternoon I ran to work. I did it until I finished at the “Centro Sperimentale” when I was 18. So when I started to work as an assistant on set, I was absolutely passionate and ready to listen to everything I could catch. I knew what my dream was and I did everything in order to achieve it. When I was finally allowed to express myself I was young but conscious at the same time, because I have paid my dues and studied a lot. I have always been a focused person, so I didn’t lose myself in a world full of distractions like Cinema. Collaboration, studying and effort are really essential. 

As you said before, you have been a professor. It is such an important role because you have to face yourself with the stubbornness and ingenuity of students. In addition to giving out good lessons, a great professor is one who explains a lot about his own experiences and gives attitude advice, in order to prepare the students for their working life debut. Which attitude did you suggest to them? 

I taught for ten years at “Accademia dell’immagine”. It was a second job for me and really heavy to face, but I wanted to do it; so I managed to find a way to facilitate both of them. I liked the idea of the academy because it was an exchange between me and a group of young minds. We often stopped, between one lesson and another, to chat about everything, especially about attitude. I tried to be as open as I could be. In addition to everyone’s disposition, there are a couple of things to add about the youthful. First of all, young people are in a hurry and think that they already know how to do something. I have never seen one of my sons or nephews read the instructions of a technological item, before turning it on. Usually they open it, try to touch some buttons and they end up using the item at 30% capacity, because they live in the idea of having no time and don’t want to set their mind on something. Many of them have the arrogance to think that it is not important to know what has come before us, an a priori. That’s the reason why I always tell to the youngest to be patient and live as much as they can with the knowledge of the moment they are living in. Secondly, nobody comes out of University and can straight away perform openheart surgery. There is a necessary period of apprenticeship on set, but most of the time, the youngest are bored in doing that: everyone wants to make their own movie. Concerning this, it’s horrible to move quickly when you’re young and rush into things. It’s true that the debut has to be a bit ‘green’ and reckless, however it must have balance. In the end I always think that what you are doing in that moment is not right or wrong, but it is the best thing you are able to do in that moment. 

During your career, you have won many prizes and awards, as well as having the chance to be in contact with so many professionals. Which is the person or the moment that you are most thankful to? 

My wife saved me. We came across each other when I was nearly 18 and she was 15. We grew up together and she went along with me during my path. I have never felt the need to try other emotions around me. Antonia’s presence has given me serenity and made me focus on what I was doing and my own expression, firstly as a girlfriend, then as a wife, a mother and now a grandmother. She is my balance, with all the problems that a relationship can have. I feel lucky and that is the reason why I wanted to thank her, as well as, I wanted to thank our forerunners, all the big professionals that I used to spy on from the cabin where my father used to work. Thier images really impressed me, especially Charlie Chaplin’s. If I had never seen them, I would never have been stimulated, so I have decided to release a book to honour all the great authors in the world from 1913 to 2012. I feel the need to thank them in a conscious way. 

The theme of this issue of THE GREATEST is infinity. What is your idea of infinity? 

During the take of “The Sheltering Sky” (Italian title “Il tè nel deserto”) we had to make a scene where John Malkovich and Debra Winger went for a ride and they stopped on a cliff and looked out in front of them. I remember a big emotion in that moment, because Port, played by John Malkovich, had been researching the idea of infinity. It was something that could not be materialized, insomuch as when his wife has a desire and they tried to have physical intercourse. He couldn’t do that, because his mind was away, looking for that sense, so abstract that he couldn’t be in a physical situation. Those type of intuitions in the mind cannot be demonstrated. Giordano Bruno used to affirm that the sun and the earth are part of a universe and this universe is part of an infinite number of universes. We have to think about these questions without fear. I try to see it like if I am a drop in the ocean, a grain of sand in the desert and, without that drop or grain, the universe might be different. For example, if I do this interview in order to exchange knowledge, understand something and give answers, we can represent a piece of our lives by manipulating our two grains. Do your job to the best of your ability, that is what you can do for the Universe. This idea gives you the force to live and it is the only way to pander to the infinity that we belong to. 


JONATHAN WILSON

Sounds, harmony, sand and a warm voice. These are the elements that synthesize Jonathan Wilson and his work - a work denoted by music and lyrics going along together in a gentle atmosphere, gentle as his album: Gentle Spirit. A man divided between being a singer, a song writer and a producer, in love with notes on the guitar, the desert, his Los Angeles desert, and the rain, the showers that remind him of North Carolina. An introspective figure who thinks that life is a circle and you have just to decide where it starts and where it ends: it is up to you. 

J. Wilson

In your song Gentle Spirit you talk about circles: life as a circle, death as a circle and so on. There are so many circles within life if you stop and think about it. We can also see them linked together, maybe like the symbol of infinity: two circles crossed like a horizontal eight. Which circles would you match together to explain your idea of infinity? 

In that song I talk about life and death being circles, but I also talk about the core of our soul that links together all of these circles. I would say that our soul might be the right match to create the idea of infinity. Everything might be seen as the beginning and the end too, life is a medley and a melody. Moreover, I would definitely say that infinity could be construed by sounds. They are both eternal. 

From your point of view, which sounds can be defined as infinity? 

Long sounds and organs, something that could go on forever. However, infinity might also be people playing horns or saxophones, mainly when they are following the principle of circular breathing, when you play a note by breathing in or out of your instrument, and this note can go on forever. 

You said that your album has the aim of being a pause, some time to think. In order to achieve it you have to create an atmosphere of intimacy. From your point of view, do you build this atmosphere more with melody or lyrics? 

Definitely both, because they have to work perfectly together. Even with the most amazing production, melodies and lyrics need to suit the imaginary at their best. So to me that’s the right art form to reach. 

One of the things that I prefer to reach within this breathing space is the rain. It has a hypnotic sound that let thoughts flow like a river without boundaries. You mention rain and water many times in your songs. What do these elements represent for you? 

I live in California where we don’t have a lot of rain, but where I grew up, in North Carolina, there were seasons with rain and snow. Definitely the sound of the rain inspires me so much, like in “Canyon and the rain” where I recorded the rain that spreads in the background of the song atmosphere. To me it just means a kind of restart: in Los Angeles rain, for example, washes away all the smog and it’s a sort of new energy that is naturally spreading out. Plus, it is very calming to hear the sound. 

Concerning water and flows, why have you never talked about the ocean in your songs? 

Maybe because it’s too scary and big for me. I don’t surf or do anything like that. I am a little bit spooked by the Ocean and its power. But I am not scared of the power of desert, although it might be dangerous too. 

Talking about that, I haven’t been to the desert yet, so I just have an idea of it. My idea is a sense of pure loneliness, pure because of its dryness during the day which turns into coldness at night. A bit like your verse from Desert Raven where you say “Desert is a lonely night for disappear”. How would you describe the desert? 

You can die out there just in a day, because of exhaustion. But then the sunlight in the desert is so beautiful and powerful. I think that the creatures able to live there are very taught and smart. There is a rugged sort of beauty in the desert. Once I have been to the Sahara desert and it’s quite different there, but magical at the same time because of its vastness. Los Angeles is basically a huge desert, made of places so powerful and different from one another. What else? A thing that you have to see in the desert is the sunset. 

In the “Valley of the Silver moon” you say”But when my words come out it’s like oil and water, separation and no reaction”. I have always hated this physic theory, because I think that two things that work fine together are like water and oil: they share the same place, they get in touch, but each of them preserve its own nature. I imagine that you don’t agree with me, and neither does the entire scientific word. 

Not at all. That can be true and interesting. The two liquids are independent as you can perfectly see during their strange reaction and if you are trying to see it the way you are assessing, well it’s strange, but true up to a point. About the lyrics, I was writing a song in a very lonely spot. People were not paying attention to what I was saying at that time. It was like a cry to be understood. I was the oil and the audience was the water. But the good news is that nowadays we have shacked up together and things have changed! 

J. Wilson

You are a producer, so you have to keep an eye open towards the society of musicians and singers. What is your approach towards scouting? 

Most of the time people try to come to me. I have always thought that it is not a matter of compromise between fame, commercial reasons, labels and money, rather it is a matter of heart. You know and you feel the greatness of someone. It’s something that happens on the skin, an emotional comprehension. So, that is my personal way of selection and scouting. 

You started your career as the founder and member of a group, the MUSCADINE. Today you turn out to be a solo artist. I have always wondered how you can express your own point of view as a group, I don’t know if I would be able to, maybe it is a matter of attitude. Can you tell me something about it?