Costume National

Shari Sims

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA231

Costume National is a fashion label established by Ennio Capasa and his brother Carlo in Milan in 1986. Ennio Capasa, the design visionary behind the line, was born in Puglia, Lecce, Italy in 1960 and traveled to Japan as a teenager before studying sculpture at the Academia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan. After completing his studies in 1982, he returned to Japan to train under influential fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto, working in Yamamoto’s studio until 1985. Carlo Capasa had also worked in fashion in Italy, including as a consultant to Gucci.

When the first Costume National women’s ready-to-wear and shoe collections debuted in 1987, they were nothing like the typical Italian design of the time. The looks combined a Japanese purity of shape with a more streetwise sensibility—and received a somewhat muted response from the Italian fashion cognoscenti. By 1991, the brothers had decided to relocate their seasonal fashion shows to Paris, literally following in the footsteps of Yamamoto and other Japanese designers including Rei Kawakubo. By 1993, Costume National had introduced a men’s line of clothes and footwear as well.

While showing their clothes to the press and retailers in Paris, the Capasa brothers did not abandon their heritage: Costume National takes great pride in maintaining apparel and footwear plants in Italy, emphasizing the quality of tailoring and artistic leather workmanship only possible in their home country. In fact, the signature of Costume National is a precise mimimalism, focused on tailoring, fabric quality, and vivid color. Some of the silhouettes can be considered futuristic. Dresses and suits have a sharp, defined line with unexpected elements—either a slash of a different fabric pattern, or a jacket that’s literally missing one shoulder, or sheer inserts of fabric in both the men’s and women’s lines. The designers readily admit a certain “rock ’n’ roll” sensibility in their approach, and the edginess of their designs has given them a definite following among the celebrity set.

In 2001, Costume National debuted online with their first live-streamed fashion show, in essence taking their fashion to the streets. Ennio Capasa continues to present his views online, providing regular video appearances and emphasizing his view that fashion is a “dialogue” between the designer and the wearer, and that clothes are only given their definition by how they are worn by each individual.

Costume National, Spring/Summer 1999. Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Costume National. Web site. .

Costume National.” The Cut, n.d. (accessed 11 July 2013).

Costume National.” Top Fashion Designers, n.d. (accessed 11 July 2013).