Artistic Director

He seems to have come out of one of the glossy magazines he works for, Massimo Mezzavilla, an architect’s mind combined with a lucid and personal vision of the fashion system, is a rampant art director, who has already collected important work experiences with the big names in fashion, working to campaigns, editorials, but also films, books and exhibitions. He was lucky enough to travel the world with Mario Testino, one of the most influential figures in contemporary photography, and to learn the secrets of the trade from a great art director like Susanna Cucco.

How did you go from architecture to fashion?

I graduated in interior architecture in 2008 because I was always interested in product design, I love the works of Castiglioni, Gio Ponti, Italian design in general. During the first year of university, a girl asked me if I wanted to work as a model and so began a collaboration with Fendi. I did the sales campaigns, but also the fitting for the fashion shows. I grew a lot having the opportunity to learn and cultivate interest in fashion, before then I had no point of contact with that world.

Has this interest led you to work in Milan?

During the years at Fendi I met many people, including Luca Guadagnino, with whom I made several short films, it was he who opened my eyes to the communicative power of fashion, how he managed to reach everyone. From Fendi I also met Sergio Zambon who designed the men’s collection, and after graduation I went to work with him who was launching his brand. Through Sergio I met Susanna Cucco and that’s why I went to Milan. It was thanks to these exceptional encounters that I had the opportunity to develop an interest in fashion and transferred my interest from what was in front of the camera to what was going on behind it.

Milan brought you work experiences that shaped you, how did your relationship with Studio Cucco develop?

I worked for 3 years at Susanna Cucco and learned everything from her, she was my mentor. At the beginning I didn’t know how to use the software and when I left I was a trained professional, after three years I had an idea, a vision and I went to work in London by Mario Testino, where I worked for 6 years. We really did incredible jobs, traveled, “saw the world from the first class”, as Mario always says.

What did Mario Testino teach you? What has remained with you most of the years of work together?

First of all I learned on any level, from how you think about a project without limiting your vision to how you behave on the set, how you talk to a client.
He taught me that “the first is never good”, you must always try, try, get involved, get out of your comfort zone, push your ideas as much as possible.

I imagine you have had extraordinary experiences. The most incredible experience of those years?

Surely one of the most important moments was when the book we made together “Sir” Mario Testino came out: an incredible limited edition book. It was a very emotional moment for me, of which it remains such an important document. The trips together were unique moments, I remember the first in Japan, a completely different world, made up of continuous stimuli.

After several years and many experiences you are now an Art director, what does this word mean?

Art director is a difficult definition to frame because it has a different meaning depending on the context. In my case I am a fashion art director, in the sense that I have grown professionally finding ideas and proposing ideas to clients, photographers, directors to make projects, whether they be photographic, video or magazines, but also graphics and more.

Is there a medium of expression that you feel more yours?

Surely working in a team is the thing that excites me the most, in close contact with a photographer, a director. I learned to do graphics, books, magazines, but I didn’t start out as a graphic designer. I don’t have an academic background.

Invece il tuo background da architetto quanto ti ha aiuta nel tuo lavoro?

The project idea is fundamental because the design approach is to solve a series of problems step by step, which can be applied to a spatial project, a 3D, an interior as well as the design of a page, a magazine or taking a picture.
It is an approach, a way of ‘break down things’ having a mental ‘check-list’. Another important thing that Mario “think out of boxes” taught me.

What do you love most about your job? What do you feel your most in the creative moment?

The thing that interests me is the opportunity to create meaning behind a visual language, or better to create images and video contents that have a meaning, or give it to them. Don’t create images to themselves, but that have a depth, a humanity and that they can talk to someone.

In practical work, for example in the relationship with the photographer, how do you translate your idea through the vision of an artist?

It is enough to start from the assumption that as an art director I can have a vision, which is then shared with an artist and therefore what I had expected will never come out and at that moment the alchemy: the idea of passing the baton to someone who knows how to translate it. There are photographers who have less personality or interest in making the commitment to transform it into something else, and who are therefore good at conveying the idea and making it true, but there are others who can make it their own.

PPM the talent of mr massimo mezzavilla

When do you research which artistic world do you refer to?

Surely the cinema is very important, because today we are required to produce a lot of video content. Searching for references in the world of images does not make much sense therefore, video content requires a knowledge of video language, of its own rhythm, cinema is becoming increasingly important to me. The first director that comes to mind is Michelangelo Antonioni, but also the lightness of some works by Dino Risi, the intelligence or even cruelty of Mario Monicelli, as in “The Girl with the Gun”. Antonioni’s Adventure, Night and Eclisse are certainly among my strongest references.

You have recently returned to Rome, what is your relationship with this city?

It’s interesting because it offers endless inspirations, it’s a city that knows how to make you feel good but doesn’t make you grow. I understand its charm but I do not suffer it. I’m usually fascinated by things I don’t know. The things for which I feel a passion I devour until I find no interest in anything else. At the moment I find a lot of inspiration in the world of China, Shanghai, Hong Kong, these are places I’d like to explore.

If you had to define your talent?

My strength is curiosity. I like to be in a place where I know I have to understand a lot, to be in a position where I know I have to learn and make sense of things, a key to my reading, a lens through which I can read reality in a personal way

Your relationship with fashion?

It is an industry that offers infinite inspirations and endless opportunities for collaboration. It is a universe that has changed radically in ten years, and is always in continuous expansion.
Even the way I work has changed radically, this is very interesting for me, because it really represents one of the most dynamic industries in which it is possible to work.

How much is the digital revolution really changing the fashion system?

The role of the art director within industry has changed radically. I started working mainly on photographic advertising campaigns, with huge budgets for 6-8 photographs, now the same shots are metabolized on instagram with two scrolls. Social media have changed the impact of advertising campaigns in value, in meaning, in depth, and not necessarily for the worse, we simply went ahead. The quality of the contents, having to do many more, is not necessarily the same, but the idea of quality and quantity has approached, now it is a more balanced speech. Technological advances, social media have undoubtedly had an unthinkable impact on the fashion industry and the subject of pleasure for all is showing off its own criticalities.

What is your point of view on this question?

I strongly respect the choice of some brands of not having to say something every day, I think it’s important to take a break and have the courage to think more about what is said every day. It is also a question of brand identity.
I am also trying to understand my relationship with social media, I take breaks from time to time. Fashion is also made up of courses and appeals, I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few seasons a brand should come up that does not make any communication and makes hermeticism its stylistic and cultural figure, it would also be quite interesting. They are substantially new tools and many have made it a very interesting key to communication, others do not, they offer material that tires. But it is a discourse that also concerns us as users, it is important to put ourselves at the center of the discussion, our ability to feel and experience things, to find balance in everything.

Your future plans?

I will return to travel, I am looking for new challenges.

massimo mezzavilla ppm milano
Interview by Alessio De’ Navasques
Photo by Andrea Buccella