Who is Louis Pisano? He’s certainly a talented creative, but to simply call him a writer, commentator and fashion designer would be reductive; Louis is an activist who fights for equality and inclusivity and the fashion industry is his battlefield.
His story could seem like a modern-day fairytale: at a very young age, he packed his bags and left the United States to move to Europe, determined to pursue his dream and find his place in the world of fashion. But unlike in a fairytale, Louis was met by a bitter and unfair reality, he’s had to contend with a system - the fashion industry - which remains elitist and exclusive to its core but preaches inclusivity and acceptance on the outside. Louis has had to overcome many obstacles in order to get what he deserved while at the same time fearlessly denouncing the barriers placed in front of people of color by a society that remains backwards and racist. He turned his voice into a sharp and powerful tool and became an influential figure through social media, where he’s always ready to openly and explicitly call out people and companies, and proudly advocates for true equality and inclusivity.
Kube had the great pleasure to meet with him for an exclusive interview:
Kube: Hi Louis, thank you for agreeing to tell us a little about yourself. You wear many hats: you’re a writer, an opinion leader, a commentator, a disruptor, a fashion designer, but how would you describe your role as a creative?
Louis Pisano: I would describe myself as someone who’s trying to put out ideas into the world that people can expand upon, that they can use to inform their own thoughts. I don’t want people to repeat what I’m saying or become like me, but I want to inspire them to go as far as they want creatively and to push for what they really want to do.
K: When did you decide that fashion was going to be your path and that you were going to pursue it in Europe?
L.P: When I was probably 10, 11, 12, it was the era of Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys and just watching all the cool clothes they wore made me want to be in that world, to work with celebrities and make their image for them, the fabulous clothes through which they tell stories. That’s when I knew I wanted to do something in fashion.
For me Europe was the logical choice. I love how fashion has so many points that stem from Europe. Although that might be as a result of colonialism, you can’t deny that Europe has had very important fashion moments.
K: Your fashion career in Milan began through the nightlife there. As you talk about yourself, you would wear elaborate outfits on your nights out and that’s how you got noticed. Do you think of creativity and fashion as ways for people to define and express their identity?
L.P: It can definitely be one piece of the puzzle that you use to express yourself. For me, going out and dressing up really crazy was just one aspect of my personality that I used to get my foot in the door, to be able to be in the right rooms with the right people so that I could show other sides of my creativity.
K: Social media gives you the opportunity to amplify your voice. You often bring up important issues on Instagram, denouncing injustice and fighting for equality. Because of this you are now seen as someone who isn’t afraid of calling people out. Were you aware of this when you first began speaking out? And how has embodying this public persona impacted your professional and personal life?
L.P: I would say that when I first started “calling people out” I was really frustrated in my career because I had been working for a really toxic boss in Milan and had witnessed a lot of things that were really fucked up and that were part of the wider dynamics of what’s wrong with the industry. I was sick of seeing myself and other black creatives not being given the platform and visibility that we deserved. I thought “I’m tired of Milan, tired of having to put up with people and be nice. I’m going to say my piece and then leave.”
I had spoken up before but people just dismissed me, said I was just jealous and whatnot. Suddenly, after George Floyd, these same people were like “wow, you’re so smart, you know so much about this” as if they hadn’t been calling me crazy and angry for years. It took a man being murdered in front of the entire world for them to realize that black creatives are worthy of time, support, money, a platform.
K: That must be incredibly frustrating. What were some of the hardest and most disheartening parts of working in the European fashion industry? And what motivated you to keep going?
L.P: There were so many incidents of seeing white people around me being celebrated, given platforms and getting paid really well for doing the bare minimum while me and my friends were working our asses off but were being asked to do it for pennies or even for free. We weren’t being supported.
We encountered so much push-back. And I don’t mean just that we were being told no without an explanation. There were so many instances of people blatantly justifying racism with arguments like “given the climate in this country, we can’t have a person of color in this campaign” or “we don’t want to make waves for the brand.” These people knew what they were doing, they knew that they were perpetuating a problem.
I would go so far as to say that there’s a certain kind of greed in the fashion industry in Milan. People aren’t willing to take a risk and see how something pans out with the hope of creating progressive change. A lot of the time, it feels like they just want to do whatever they know will make them money immediately.
K: Recently you spoke about the Zan Law online. What are your thoughts about it? Do you think Italy is still too far behind on this issue?
L.P: I know things aren’t as simple as people should just know better and want to champion equality, but I don’t understand why this bill has been stuck in the senate since last fall. I mean, I know that lawmakers don’t want to put something in motion that could potentially upset some of their supporters but it really makes my skin crawl. Why is there so much pushback on a very simple law that would really improve the quality of life of so many people in Italy? We’re not in the dark ages anymore but it feels like they’re still trying to silence and minimize the LGBTQ+ community in the country.
K: Okay, now let’s talk a little more about fashion. You recently released your Levi’s Unlabeled collection, which is fully gender-free. Do you believe that the future of fashion is going in that direction?
L.P: Definitely, but I think that in the future gender-free fashion won’t have to be labeled as such. I think that, as people explore their identities and society becomes more accepting, there will be a cultural shift: clothes will no longer be labeled as either “menswear”, “womenswear” or even “non-gendered.” Clothes will just be for everybody without us having to call them “gender-free.”
As for big luxury brands, I can see them playing around with a specific selection that’s non-gendered but as a whole I don’t see them adopting that across the board because that might confuse a lot of long-term luxury clients who aren’t as progressive or modern.
K: Lately more and more brands are building campaigns around the idea of inclusivity. In your opinion, is that really what they are trying to achieve or is it just performative, a way to boost their image?
L.P: I think it’s completely an image campaign, it’s super performative. Because I do not believe for one second that the same people who have been working at various brands for all these years without championing diversity and inclusivity and even going so far as actively blocking it, all of a sudden opened their minds because of the Black Lives Matter movement. They just realized that, in this day and age, social media plays a huge part in how people perceive a brand. Throughout the last year, they’ve had to scramble to adapt to changing social consciousness.
K: You’ve been working in the European fashion industry for years now, seeing what happens behind the scenes. Have things changed much in terms of inclusivity since you started?
L.P: It’s all been very recent. It all took place in the last year or so. I wouldn’t say that everything is so diverse now in Italy, but in the fashion industry as a whole there has been a lot of change in the space of diversity. Especially compared to the runways from 10 years ago when all the models were white, tall and skinny. If you look at the runways now, not all of them, but some are trying to make a difference and you can see people of all skin tones and heights and body shapes. Brands are starting to take the first steps but I don’t think it’s where it needs to be. Society still has a narrow idea of what beauty is. For example, when Gucci was working with the Armenian model (Armine Harutyunyan, ed.) and people started posting all those nasty comments under her photos. And it’s funny, or sad rather, because people’s narrow beauty ideals were initially pushed onto them by the fashion industry. And now when the industry tries to change those ideals, they receive backlash from the consumers who have been brain-washed. Everything outside of traditional beauty standards scares people because it’s different from what they’ve been striving towards their entire lives. When they see someone on a fashion magazine who looks different, someone they’ve been told should be shunned, it messes with everything they’ve known and it makes them uncomfortable.
K: What are your hopes for the future of the industry?
L.P: I hope we’ll get to a place where we don’t need to have so many conversations about what needs to change. I think that a lot of the representatives of the old guard of fashion come from a different era and I believe we’ll start to see a lot of change from the next generations because these are people who grew up seeing representation everywhere. It comes more naturally to them than to the people who have to sit and hold diversity councils and meetings for months and months. I’m really excited to see the future of fashion in that sense.
K: What do you think true, concrete change looks like?
L.P: It’s looking around the room and asking “Who’s not here? Who’s not represented?” and understanding that brands need to rethink who writes the rules. They need to acknowledge that the people who write the rules have biases that keep the other people, those who aren’t in the room, out, whether that’s done purposely or unconsciously.
K: What do you think it will take for that to happen?
L.P: I think it’s going to be generational. Because younger people just have a different way of thinking. For example, it seems obvious to me that if you put only very similar people in a room, all the ideas coming out of it are going to be stale and homogenous so I logically want to bring all sorts of different people together in order to take things to the next level.
K: Last question, what are some new projects you’re focusing on at the moment?
L.P: What I did with Levi’s was new for me and it went well so right now I’m branching out into other things. I’m someone who likes to try everything to test the extents of my skill sets. For so long I felt trapped inside a little box, unable to grow, but now I have all these opportunities in my career and I want to explore. I like fashion, but I’m trying to see what it is I really love.