No one enjoys chaos more than Edward Buchanan. “The creative process, for me, simply consists of regurgitating everything that I see around me,” the Ohio-born, Milan-resident designer says. And by everything, he means everything: highbrow, lowbrow, tabloid, catwalk, sidewalk, street and elite collide in his high-speed brain, translating into a streamlined, pragmatic vision.
“I totally belong to the Bauhaus school of thinking,” he muses, “although Walter Gropius or Mies van der Rohe might not agree. I like to build it strong and sturdy, so that you will have it forever and it remains extremely personal.” In the face of fashion’s obsession with frantic change, Buchanan maintains the quiet energy of the man who has done plenty and seen even more, and who knows better than to chase the limelight.
Buchanan epitomises the postmodern condition of displacement, inhabiting a fantastic bubble devoid of physical and creative boundaries. He is the black kid who grew up listening to Violent Femmes; the Midwestern boy who made it in the Big Apple but found his true calling in Milan; the Parsons graduate who was hired on the spot by a mainstream Italian company; and the critical outsider who worked side by side, as a ghost designer, with many celebrities. “I don’t feel American,” he insists. “I’ve always felt alien to my environment.”
His knack for cultural layering may be the result of a childhood spent starved of it, eagerly awaiting new issues of Teen Hits to be delivered to his door. It may stem from his artistic inclinations: he came to fashion after studying fine arts. It’s also a matter of personality. “Beauty, to me, is being both at peace and in chaos,” Buchanan says. “I am a total Gemini and I really allow uncontrollable issues to destroy me. When I have no stress surrounding me, my process is smooth, and the result is often beautiful. At the same time, I work well under pressure, and the outcome can be great.”
Not that chaos has been particularly evident in Buchanan’s career. His path has been a steady one, fuelled by vision and determination, even if it has proceeded somewhat in reverse. Just out of Parsons, in the mid-1990s, Buchanan was offered a position by the Moltedo family, which owned Bottega Veneta at the time: design director of their ready-to-wear collection. “It was one of life’s full-circle moments, where you have to either show and prove, or pack your bags,” he recalls. “In this sense, Bottega really prepared me for my independent work. It also spoiled me. At that time it was not uncommon for us to make a toile in real crocodile.”
Shortly before Bottega Veneta was sold to the Gucci Group in 2001, Buchanan left. Teaming up with friend and fellow ex-Bottega designer Manuela Morin, he founded Leflesh, an intensely personal line that has been described as “a mix of Victoriana and R&B”. It epitomised a fleeting, magical moment in Milanese fashion, when the underground surfaced and the city basked in the glow of its newfound, brilliant young creatives. The moment quickly faded again, in the face of the city’s grey mantle of conservatism and commerce, but Buchanan did not lose heart. He briefly decamped to New York to work with Jennifer Lopez on the JLo collection, until Italy called again, this time for good.
Buchanan’s Italian citizenship came through a few weeks ago. “I travel so often it’s sometimes hard to say where I live, but Milano is my home,” he says. “I find my peace and quality of life in this city. The true Milanese have a very concrete style, which is very different from the new kids. I find it equally annoying as I do comforting. Being very close to my factories, on the other hand, is an enormous plus, as I am an extremely hands-on designer.”
Buchanan has become one of the industry’s most sought-after consultants, lending his vision to the mass market and the elite with equal ease. His true labour of love, however, is Sansovino 6, the knitwear line he launched in 2009. More concept than proper collection, Sansovino 6 started with an email he sent to friends requesting each one’s favourite piece of clothing. Buchanan spun the list into a fantasy, creating a wardrobe entirely made up of knitwear, right down to stone-washed denim jeans. The line’s added quirk is its total genderlessness. “I was taught that a good design will look great turned in any way,” he explains. “I’ve always been inspired by my surroundings, and this has always been my reality. The idea of creating an item for one gender is very limiting. I am not a dictator: I want individuals to be free to interpret things for their own use. You don’t have to ask what gender it is for: if you like it, you can own it.”