Why would anyone start a fashion label from scratch? “Because we had a story to tell”, Luca Lin and Galib Gassanoff say. In 2016, the designer duo took a huge financial and emotional risk and established their womenswear label in Reggio Emilia (Northern Italy). The decision felt like “the first act of their life”, so they called the label Act Nº1.
Their experimental designs and storytelling ethos quickly stood out and the label was selected by Vogue Italia to present their Spring/Summer 2017 collection as part of the Vogue Talent Corner during Milan Fashion Week; followed by their success at the 2017 Vogue Italia and Altaroma ‘Who Is On Next’ contest, which put Act Nº1 on the map of Milan’s up-and-coming labels.

The multicultural mishmash of deconstructed trench coats, reworked sleeves of the Chinese robes, reconstructed georgette dresses, signature septum rings, patch-worked slip dresses and digitally-printed oriental landscapes swirling on viscose jacquards and silk satins. The womenswear label fuses Lin and Gassanoff’s respective Chinese and Azerbaijani heritage, imbued with inherent duality, where twisted streetwear staples are rendered in jacquard fabrics borrowed from the world of interior design.

“We are not inventing anything, fashion designers are restyling, reshaping the existing”, the designers say. Whether alluding to Lin’s parents’ art and furniture collection or Gassanoff’s memory of three-day weddings in rural Georgia, Act Nº1 is first and foremost a platform to protest against women’s unequal rights (the Spring/Summer 2019 collection was a comment on prevailing cases of child marriage). It is a way to “change the wrong stereotypes in our communities”, they add.
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Could you tell me a little bit about yourself? What are your first memories of fashion? What drew you to become a fashion designer?
Galib Gassanoff: I was always fascinated by the aesthetics of anything around me from a very young age. It could be art or engineering, nature or, in general, my childhood in the countryside. In my village in Georgia, the most ‘fashionable’ events were weddings. Everyone, especially women and girls, were preparing for this three to four-day-long event weeks ahead. Actually, as a six-year-old, I used to redraw all the wedding gowns that I had seen in those ceremonies. Probably this is my earliest ‘fashion moment.’ Growing up, I had an interest in theatre, music, photography, sketching, etc. In the end, I thought that with fashion, I could mix all of this and express myself and my ideas through clothing.
Luca Lin: When I was just a little kid, I used to spent long hours playing in the workplace of my aunt, who is a tailor. My cousins and I used pieces of fabric to make dresses for dolls and so on. I was very interested in the construction of a garment and its execution. Later, a passion for pattern-making and fashion flourished in me, which led me to a fashion school in my city, then to Milan.
Many of your looks have innate contradictions. Where does this duality come from and how essential is it to your brand’s identity?
Probably, it comes from our working method and contrasting visions that we put together as well as the appreciation of each other’s work. Because we don’t sketch much, most of our garments come from working with ready pieces and the material on each other’s bodies, mannequin or a model. We experiment a lot, even with our personal wardrobe. That’s why there are also unisex pieces that inspired us to put some men’s looks on the runway.
The brand’s name is inspired by infancy like the first act of your life. Could you expand on that?
We were 21 and 22 years old when we started our label by risking and taking a huge responsibility with a very small budget, but we were determined. Because we had a story to tell. Both of us had the same kind of childhood. Being born and raised in different countries but still living all our childhood with traditions made us find a common story, which was multicultural, even interracial, which has conveyed us to base a brand identity on this.
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Your brand is fairly young, how is it navigating the industry which thrives on hyping up new brands and substituting them when the next one comes along?
We believe in consistency, in slow and healthy growth, which helps us build a trustful customer and fanbase that we can lean on. It can be very unstable to become a ‘brand of the moment’, but by the time, you can be a brand of a decade or more.
Quite interestingly, you have a section on your official website where you openly showcase your references for the season. This is a quite strange and honest take nowadays, especially when designers try to sweep the references under the carpet in fear of being subjected to criticism by media platforms such as Diet Prada. Tell us why you have decided to showcase your research and references so openly.
Those are mostly historical and cultural references that we use to look at. We also have a lot of fitting footage that we rework, and this material ends up on moodboards. However, for Act N°1, we rarely create moodboards. We prefer to work more with the materials, the real ones. By the way, a good eye instantly recognises if something is linked to some reference that they have seen before somewhere else. The reality is that we are not inventing anything; fashion designers are restyling, reshaping the existing. So let’s not pretend that we are inventors, it’s better to use the platform – a business sometimes marketed as ‘art’ – in a useful way to change the wrong stereotypes in our communities.
What would Act Nº2 be?
A question that many have asked. Probably a bakery in Reggio Emilia?
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The iconic septum ring that has become your brand’s signature is a reference to ‘90s subcultures. If Act Nº1 was a subculture, what would its main values be? What would the subculture’s members stand for?
As a brand, we are standing for human rights, focusing on women’s rights, female empowerment and equality. Our collections have been dedicated to these issues, specifically the Spring/Summer 2019 was a protest against premature marriage and kidnapping. The solution to all this is a right education for future parents, community members, voters, etc.
You have mentioned that winning the 2017 Who Is On Next? prize has given your brand credibility and commercial growth. What has been the long-term impact of winning the prize?
The long-term impact of winning the contest would be rising partnerships in communication and commercial network. And the top highlight was moving the brand to Milan and building a trustworthy team.
What would be the next step for the brand?
Our next step would be introducing accessories and launching our own online store.
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