In an industry of smoke and mirrors, Resort Corps proves that authenticity is the new prerequisite for success.
Running late to meet Resort Corps founder Luca Modesti after a delayed flight out to Paris, it suddenly dawns on me that I don't actually know who I'm looking for. Pulling out my phone to see if a quick google search will solve the problem, I spot a figure further down the Rue de Bretagne who looks like he might be working security for the bar he's standing in front of. Drawing closer I clock the quality of the sweater he's wearing and for confirmation realise he's deep in conversation with the guy on his right, who is fully flexed in Resort Corps SS19. Initially taken aback by the sheer scale of him - Modesti stands a good few inches north of 6ft and his black Dior bomber jacket and tactical camo cargo pants affect a definite bouncer vibe - I quash the reflex to reach for my ID, shake his hand, and am introduced to Luca and Resort Corps associate, Habib, who looks like the IRL actualisation of the Resort Corps Instagram feed.
For propriety, it's worth mentioning that a google search for Luca would have been inconclusive. Despite running distribution for some of the world's top emerging brands and having spent time working with Rick Owens in the OwensCorp showroom, Luca's digital footprint is uncharacteristically minimal for players in this industry. His anonymity is belied only by a modest personal Instagram account which can be summarised in three words: brands, cars, and guns. To meet in person, though, Luca is easy-going, worldly, and unquestioningly hospitable. Early on he asks if I know Paris well. I tell him only a little and he punctuates the rest of our conversation pointing out the hot spots favoured by locals; telling stories of the district's historic buildings; and recommending a surfeit of art galleries including the locations that Off-White and YEEZY transform into their buying showrooms during collection season. Commenting on the number of galleries in the area, Luca explains that this particular district in Paris is the neighbourhood with the densest number of art collections on public display in the world.
It's by no coincidence that this is where Modesti has suggested we meet. Le Marais is the 3rd arrondissement of Paris and - long-established as the favoured location of aristocrats, literary scholars, and artists - is a quintessentially Parisian enclave of art and style that manages to remain relatively untouched by the dilution of tourism. Heading off in the direction of one of the galleries he wants to show us, we begin to talk about his roots.
Born to Belgian-Italian parents, Modesti spent much of his early childhood in Detroit, Michigan before moving with his family to Rotterdam. "Moving to Holland was a shock because the quality of life is incomparable to what it was like in the US. America is a country of contrasts; it's great if you're wealthy, but terrible if you're poor," he explains. "The US nourishes this super paranoid state of mind so people are afraid of each other and afraid to let their kids play outside. Moving to Rotterdam I just remember this amazing sense of freedom."
As the day ticks on and I learn more about Modesti, his life and career, I come to notice that this notion of contrast seems to be hardwired into his creative raison d'être. Asking what his plans are for later, he reveals that he trains in bare-knuckle boxing and is heading out to the 19th district to spend time with friends he's made through the sport. "There is a different energy in those areas and hanging with those guys," Luca tells me. Perhaps it is this natural ability to blend in across contrasting environments - an idiosyncrasy Luca has perfected during the cross-cultural and multi-lingual formative years of his childhood - that makes his work at Resort Corps feel so substantive and relevant at a global level.
After an hour or so of wandering the streets of Marais, deep in conversation about Modesti's early career as an entrant to the oft-elitist and hallowed institutionalism of Parisian fashion, we settle down for lunch at Carette. The restaurant is a traditional French bistro on the edge of Palace des Vosges: the oldest planned square in the city and a crowned jewel in the history of Europe's first program of royal city planning. In short, it feels like old money.
"When I first started working in the Rick Owens showroom I think I was most shocked by the fact that everything had a really refined concept. Nothing was done by accident. There was a source to everything. I liked the intellectualism of what was going into these luxury products and after I'd had that taste, there was no going back," Luca ruminates. "I think the world of luxury fashion can be intimidating, but working at the Rick Owens showroom made the mythicism melt away. You can be dealing with a buyer for a huge retailer and you're really impressed by how cool he looks and how he presents himself, but once buying season is over you know he has to go back to his office and work through his spreadsheets like everyone else. Once I realised that, I wasn't intimidated anymore. These are just normal people."
END.: First of all, tell us a bit about where the name of the brand came from?
Luca: I wanted to find a name that was easily understandable around the world. I didn’t want it to feel too heavy, I wanted it to evoke something positive. I thought a lot about names like ‘Supreme’ and ‘Palace’ and the word Resort came to me and felt right. I added the Corps as a counterbalance. It carries a sense of militaria and communicates this idea of joining a clique or being a part of something bigger than an individual.
END.: Why do you think the brand has found international success so quickly?
Luca: I speak a lot about subcultures and how I don't think subcultures exist in the physical world anymore. We don’t really have every other kid playing in a band or riding around in groups on their mopeds. We don’t have the sort of subcultures that came with 80s and 90s hip-hop. The only way that youth today can really express themselves is through consumption. The idea was to create an artificial global subculture of interesting people around the world. A sort of exclusive club that people need to find for themselves. I think we’ve been so successful because we’re subtle in our communications. We don’t lay it all out there; people sort of have to come to us. We posed a question more than anything, and I think that sense of mystery coupled with the sense of belonging you feel when you buy into a brand that’s quite elusive is what’s made retailers interested in Resort Corps.
END.: What does the concept of subculture mean to you?
Luca: A subculture is all about the way that people define themselves in opposition to others. No matter what the culture is built around – music, style, ideas – the mentality is exactly the same. It’s a pattern of consumption that’s predicated on differentiating yourself from other groups and in that you find a sense of belonging.
END.: How do you approach design?
Luca: I think it’s very important to be inclusive in the creative process. I’m always asking for feedback, whether that’s talking to Habib or showing ideas to my younger brother. That’s how I came across @miketheruler on Instagram. He’s a 17-year-old clothing collector with a huge archive of Helmut Lang and Raf Simons. He has a super high IQ and he’s almost like a fashion nerd. It could have been biology or something totally different, but his interest is fashion. He’s super into the technical aspects of clothing so he can tell you for instance which zips were used in a 2001 collection of whatever designer, or what finish was used, or how they applied a protective coating. He’s got a really refreshing perspective because he’s ten years younger than me, so we started designing the collection together. I think having that inclusivity in your creativity is paramount.
For the new season, we’ve been creating a lot of characters based on real-life people I’ve met or known. A big focus is working class western Europeans. We’ve done stuff inspired by low-level drug dealers, or members of the military, or taken inspiration from the classic French police uniform. We want everything to look real. We don’t want it to look like a brand has taken creative license with a general artistic theme, we want it to look like it could have been taken from the real-life wardrobes of these characters. We like to push our factories to use outdated techniques to achieve a quality that you don’t see anymore. AW18 focuses on a sort of good guys/bad guys idea. The drug goon, the illegal debt collector, the drug kingpin versus the police or the military. Every piece is unique and speaks alone. It doesn’t necessarily go together, that’s not how we design. Our primary goal is to keep it authentic.
I don't think subcultures exist in the physical world anymore. The only way that youth today can really express themselves is through consumption.
END.: Resort Corps so far feels sort of like a visitation on the early days of streetwear, with the durable weight of the fabrics and the industrial quality of the finishes. How did you achieve those characteristics and why was it important to you?
Luca: It was important because I wanted the clothing to be as authentic as possible and I wanted it to be durable. I wanted a Resort Corps sweatshirt to be your best sweatshirt. I wanted our product to have that weight, that density, that feeling of the cotton on the inside that would set us apart. We looked a lot at archive Champion and were inspired by Vetements and the quality of their jersey. In the end, we had to have all the fabrics custom made in Portugal to get the quality we wanted. With the finishes we wanted everything to look like it has been done by hand and been touched by real craftsmen. The minute something feels artificial, it’s shit. We wanted to put aside any technique that makes things easier or faster and do it properly.
END.: What do you think about fast-fashion companies who deliberately design throwaway products that are built to be worn a few times before they have to be replaced by something new?
Luca: It’s programmed obsolescence and I think it’s everything that’s wrong with the world. It’s a terrible thought that there are designers and engineers who are looking for ways to design products that will break or waste away. We’re not at a place in society where we want to solve a problem and move on. We’re maintaining this endless consumerism with things we don’t need to deal with problems that could have been solved. When the Berlin wall came down so many patents for household products like vacuum cleaners were bought over because the capitalist countries didn’t want products that will last to reach their markets. The sweater Habib was wearing today has been washed at least ten times because it was one of the first samples we got back from Portugal and it still looks brand new.
We’re not at a place in society where we want to solve a problem and move on. We’re maintaining this endless consumerism with things we don’t need to deal with problems that could have been solved already.
END.: How do you reconcile having a relatively anti-consumerist outlook in a product-driven industry?
Luca: At the end of the day you can pose questions about the system, but you still have to function within it. If you want to get a new idea across, you must respect the existing codes to communicate your point. As I said earlier, we would never design a product that isn’t the highest quality we can possibly achieve. It would never come to mind to me to design in a way that forces people to buy more. It’s much more valuable for us to make sure our customers know that we have products that last and that aren't going to fuck up if you wear them too often. People don’t need to buy Resort Corps, they come to us because they want to and part of that is being able to trust the quality of our products.
END.: Talk about your approach to marketing?
Luca: I call it anti-marketing or anti-communication. We make something exist in the physical world - a real product you can see and touch - then we leave it as a question mark. Something people need to look for and find and understand for themselves. We haven’t even put up a list of stockists online, it’s purely the Instagram. The brand seen through our eyes and that’s it.
You can pose questions about the system you’re in, but you still have to function within it. If you want to get a new idea across, you have to respect the existing codes to communicate your point.
END.: A big talking point for Resort Corps has been the ‘Empathy’ sweats and hoodies, what do you think empathy means in 2018?
Luca: Empathy is just the ability to feel what someone else does without being in the same situation. Since doing the sweaters, it’s been surprising to see how many people didn’t know the definition. I think in 2018 we’re living in a world that’s pretty devoid of empathy, and it’s important that we bring it back. So many social movements that pose as empathetic are actually just narcissism. It doesn’t mean much in the world today, so we wanted to underline it and make people think about it. It’s an important characteristic.
END.: What’s next for Resort Corps?
Luca: We’ve established a bridge; a way of connecting with our consumers that is personal and unique to us. Now the focus is on diversifying the collections and going further with our concepts. We’re focusing on even more attention to detail and more interesting cuts. We’re already well underway developing our SS19 collection. I think we started as a concept with just a few products, and now we’re transitioning into a fully-fledged clothing brand.
After lunch, Luca takes us to the Archives Nationales on rue des Francs-Bourgeois. A palatial public space which embodies the spirit of contrast, the buildings and gardens are an exquisite storm of old meets new; industrial meets aristocratic; corporation meets culture. We decide to take some pictures in the public atrium and soon afterwards Luca is caught in a snipped conversation with two employees who have clearly taken issue with our being there.
Unwavering in his resolve Luca hashes it out with them, their tempers mounting while Luca remains almost comically composed. Polite but resolute. As we make our way outside I ask what the problem was (French not being my strong suit) and he explains that the employees were adamant photography was not permitted. "The guy said this was a public space and photography was forbidden. He said that we wouldn't just walk into his house to take photos so why would we come in here? I told him his house was private and this was public so his argument was a non-sequitur," Luca explains. "People are obsessed with rules, even when they don't make sense. No one questions things the way they should."
I think this best sums up my impression of Luca Modesti: as someone not afraid to ask questions and demand answers that make sense. Resort Corps is built upon a search for authenticity in an industry often left wanting. A branded embodiment of the old adage 'actions speak louder than words', Resort Corps has quickly established itself as the final word in luxury streetwear. And this is only the beginning.