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141: Anna Santangelo's fashion career began in a garage
The stylist and jewelry designer on Ghesquiere-era Balengiaga, Richard Prince wheatpastes, and bringing Helmut back to Helmut.
Anna Santangelo has developed her very own dialect: an old-world idiom texturized by salts of the modern world yet-unsmoothed by time and punctuated by gently probing question marks. The grainy voice of her work can be heard in both the styling she does for brands and publications and through her eponymous jewelry line, Santangelo.
Her creative work has been featured in Crosscurrent Magazine, Marfa Journal, and for clients including adidas, Helmut Lang, Colbo, and many more in between. In it, it wouldn’t be unusual to find a beaded car seat or a leather football given the same recontexualative treatment as an All-In skirt or Yohji Yamamoto knit. Likewise, her handmade jewelry line—featured many times before in this newsletter; I am a chronic re-wearer of a particular beaded anklet—often strings together diametrical pieces like abalone shells, wristwatches, or lapis. It is, in one word: talismanic.
Anna and I sat down in Paris earlier this summer at a cafe by the Seine, where she granted some insight into her perspective on fashion (one of the most original to be found anywhere today) and allowed me to probe into some of her recent purchases.
A: To go back to the beginning, I'm from California, my parents are American, and I moved to Australia when I was 15. I ended up going to university for science and majored in anatomy—my dad used to be a marine biologist, he comes from a science background—but through university, I was always doing a little bit of creative stuff on the side. I feel like I tried to hijack my university degree to still graduate with a science degree, but I was thinking “What other units can I do that aren't science-related?” I did gender studies, art history, photography, and development. I did high school and university back to back, and I was really burnt out after I finished. I went traveling and came back, and I don't know why I fell into fashion. I was in my early 20s, probably like 21 or 22, and a good friend of mine and I started shooting.
I reflect back because I remember sending some pretty embarrassing emails. I didn't know what being like a stylist meant. I didn't even know what it meant to shoot an editorial. I remember asking very embarrassing questions like, “How many pieces do you need in an editorial to make it qualify as an editorial”—I really had no idea. I think the beauty of actually growing up in Sydney, Australia is that it was a very small industry; it allowed for a lot of exploration and growth in a space that is very geographically isolated from the rest of the world. There's a lot of room to grow fast. You move your way up through this very small community of people that are in Australia. I assisted a few people when I was living there, but in the end, I just started doing my own stuff. I thought “Oh, that was kind of cool. I'm just gonna keep going and see how this progresses.” I've always felt like if it was moving in a forward direction, I’d keep following it.
L: At the time, had you been dressing yourself creatively? A: It's really so funny, because I didn't grow up in a very fashionable household, where fashion was something that was important. I grew up in Southern California and Sydney, very near to the ocean. My uncle worked for Quicksilver, and I would just be that kid in Roxy and Quicksilver… L: Everyone wanted to be that kid! A: But there was nothing about it that felt intentional in terms of putting together “a look” or anything like that. Even through high school, I was really introverted and pretty meek when it came to that kind of stuff. But there was just something about the way that you could put things together in a visual and visceral sense that felt good to explore.
An early fashion memory from when I was living in Sydney: I was walking through Surry Hills, which is one of the main suburbs in the city, and I remember seeing this tiny little roll-up garage, a hole in the wall. There was this guy chain smoking outside in baggy pants, wearing thongs, didn't look fashionable at all. I remember walking past and I could see that there was some stuff hanging in there, so I wandered in. I started looking through the stuff, and the guy said, “Oh, yeah, we’ve just opened. It’s a store, actually”—but it was like a storage unit!
“It was a moment where I asked myself, ‘Who are these people?’ I'd never been exposed to any of these designers before. I feel like that was my first fashion education in a very accidental way.”
I started talking to him, and his girlfriend was there, this beautiful Japanese woman named Ryoko, and I found out that she used to work for Issey Miyake in Tokyo. The shop has stuff from Margiela’s first collection, stuff from the early ‘90s, old Raf, Jun Takahashi…a lot of old Japanese designers. He had this book about the Antwerp Six…It was a moment where I asked myself, “Who are these people?” I'd never been exposed to any of these designers before. I feel like that was my first fashion education in a very accidental way. I had only been really exposed to stuff that was in my environment in terms of small Australian designers, vintage, and things like that. This guy Alan ran the shop. I started seeing them all the time when I would buy stuff from them. One of the first pieces that I bought from him was from Junya Watanabe’s first collection ever from, like, 1992, this really crazy, leather diagonal zip top. I don’t own it anymore. I think about how at that time I wished I had more understanding, or the money to have invested in pieces like that. I don’t think I’d ever seen stuff like that before, and it was in the most unassuming way ever, in a storage unit!
L: It sounds fake, like a sort of fantasy oasis. A: Alan then moved down to Melbourne, and I stayed in touch with him for a while. I became friends with him, and he invited me to Melbourne for a shoot. I remember going in and he had that really iconic Margiela leather jacket, the one where they presented everything on hooks, hanging, remember? His house looked insane, clothes and junk everywhere, very derelict vibe, and he was just sitting there chain smoking, and I thought: “You’re sitting here with archival, museum-worthy pieces!” L: Did you ever figure out what his connection to this world was? A: I’m trying to remember…He was just very connected to these people at a very important time in fashion, but I don’t remember if he was ever specifically like “I worked for this designer,” or if he just had an affinity for collecting this stuff. He lived in Japan for a long time, obviously people are more “on” sourcing vintage from Japan, knowing that’s a place you can get it from, but I think he was there at a time when that stuff was really available. He would walk in and say, “Oh, that’s old Chalayan.” He’d thrift and find stuff there, that’s where he’d find all these pieces. I remember that being a really important moment for me that, at the time, spurred on a lot of interest in archive pieces in my work. I’ve always been drawn to [archival pieces] for styling and also on a personal level, connecting with and collecting them…I love working with archives.
I went to one recently, here in Paris, in March—if you ever have the chance you should go, it’s really incredible, it’s called Pyrn Archive, and I ended up pulling some stuff for the shoot I did here recently. The owner’s name is Perig, he’s probably around our age. He used to work for Ghesquiere when he was at Balenciaga, and he has one of the biggest collections of Ghesquiere Balenciaga I’ve ever seen. He’s literally in this temperature-controlled bunker… L: Fashion fridge. A: Totally. He’s super anal about it, it has to be this temperature because of this…it's a huge amount of work to maintain an archive. Actual clothing preservation is a whole art, you know, moths are eating clothes or certain materials will degrade over time.
I did a lot of work with Helmut Lang when they did the rebrand in New York. I'm trying to remember how many years ago, maybe six years ago or so, when Isabella Burley came on. There was a moment with Helmut where, I'm not sure where the impetus came from, but they basically wanted to do an entire rebrand of Helmut, to bring it back to its roots of what Helmut had. They wanted to bring back the artists’ series, because he did collaborate with a lot of incredible artists like Louise Bourgeois, Jenny Holzer, Melanie Ward. They wanted to nod to that, so they brought on Isabella Burley who was working for Dazed at the time, and Ava Nirui, who has now been poached by Marc Jacobs—she does everything for Heavn. I remember speaking to Ava at the time, and she was saying that there is an insane archive of old Helmut in New Jersey that's basically just been sitting there. And she said that she went there, and sadly, a lot of the stuff is really falling apart because it hasn't been looked after properly. He worked with a lot of latex and like polyurethane, a lot of fabrics that actually fall apart over time if they're not properly preserved, which is such a shame because he's produced so much work. It's sad if an archive isn't properly looked after.
I had never been to someone's archive like Pyrn’s before up here, and to see the kind of level of care that he has— L: Something that looks like it's coming off the rack. A: Yeah. It was so inspiring to be around somebody that had such excitement and deep knowledge about a particular designer's work, because in the last few years, I've been very, very interested in collecting Ghesquiere as well, so it was really amazing to see, so much stuff I'd never seen in real life before, only ever on a runway, or things that were never produced. For him to pull stuff out and explain, “Oh, this was this and this material was bonded to this, and it was made in this way and constructed in this way…” It was really amazing.
L: So are you collecting Ghesquiere? A: At the moment? I've definitely been looking… L: Plotting the beginning of your archive. A: Yeah. The first big brand that I was collecting was Helmut, which is why when I got asked to work for him in New York, it was really special, because I had felt connected to this brand for a long time. But recently, of late, I’ve been eyeing pieces, old Ghesquiere stuff, and I’ve been into some more typically girly things too, a bit of old Chloé, old Lanvin when Alber Elbaz was there. I’ve been looking hard too, for old Lutz Huelle, Kostas Murkudis, but pieces by them are even more elusive. L: Yeah, definitely. I think that his era is actually coming up a lot more lately, it's on the rise right now. A lot of hunters on it. A: Well, that's the thing. I feel like Helmut became that way to where it's actually very hard to access a lot of his stuff, it obviously exists, but I think in this world of archive, vintage designer, and resale, especially after COVID, people have realized they can make money from digging and reselling. L: And meanwhile, there were no new clothes coming out, so people were getting obsessed… A: People are more “on it” now, and I feel like it's a little bit more picked-over. I remember 15 years ago when I first started getting into collecting clothes and designer stuff, going on Yahoo Japan, it was such a secret. You'd find the rarest stuff for basically, nothing. Now everyone knows about this. L: Not a deal in sight. A: Exactly. I mean, I think if you are “on it,” you can look. I think maybe if you went to Japan and did some digging, there's still a lot of stuff.
L: You were saying you don't have any tricks, but is there any certain way that you search, some of your terms that you have on hand? A: I just usually look for a designer, if there's a specific designer I'm looking for, I’ll look for that. Recently, actually, I was speaking to a girl online, maybe on Depop or somewhere—I don't actually use Depop so much. I sell a little bit more on it than I actually buy on it—but I think I saw that she had been posting some stuff, maybe some Ghesquiere pieces, and I just messaged her randomly, “Out of curiosity, do you have any other pieces that you haven't listed that you’re selling?” And she had this top that I ended up buying from her. I thought, “we've gone off-menu.” L: You said the secret word. A: It was really amazing. It was this beautiful top they never showed on the runway, but I think it was from 2002, really beautiful construction. I got a total deal on it, so it was really fun. It never hurts to ask! Actually, I was talking to Pyrn about this at the archive, and he was saying he had recently acquired something from a woman doing the same thing, he talked to her on Vinted, and apparently she said, “I have this” and it was this insane museum piece. He had this “Oh my god, jackpot” moment L: “Do I let her part with it? Does she know what she has?” A: Literally. It never hurts to ask—I also do a lot of selling of vintage stuff, and it takes a lot of time and energy. Sometimes I just can’t be bothered to take photos. Maybe just message me, maybe I've got another suitcase that I haven't put up yet.
L: How long have you been selling vintage? A: Honestly, not that long, at least consistently. I've done it over the years, for a long time. Not that I even do it in a very consistent or serious sense now, but I remember when I moved to New York, I had a huge bag of stuff that I had been collecting for a while in Australia, a lot of old ‘90s Raf and old Margiela, and a lot of old Japanese designers. I had just met Brandon and Colin from James Veloria when I moved to New York. Do you know them? L: We’ve met briefly. A: They were some of the first people I met in New York when they had a booth at a flea market in Bushwick, and I remember I was walking with my housemate. She asked me, “Do you want to walk in?” I remember rolling my eyes and not really wanting to, but I walked in and started looking through, and there was ‘90s Helmut, a lot of amazing pieces. We started chatting, and they were so sweet. We must have exchanged details or something. I bought a piece from them, and then I remember Brandon emailing me saying, “We loved your vibe, you're so sweet. If you ever need to borrow anything, please let us know.” That was the beginning of our friendship. I used to go to their old house that they lived in in Bed-Stuy, their tiny apartment. I started modeling all their e-comm for them, and they paid me in trade. I have had years and years of friendship with Brandon and Colin, where I've collected the most beautiful stuff because I was doing all of their shoots, which was really so special. So, when I first moved to NYC, I had this massive bag of stuff, and I gave them this whole bag because I couldn’t be bothered posting it. I offered to swap them for trade or something. So, so fun. L: Seamless transaction. You're like, if I sell it, it's just gonna go back into the wardrobe fund anyway. A: Exactly, exactly.
“I've always worked in this fluid way with clothes. Stylists inherently collect things and hoard things and it’s ‘justified’ because it's for shoots, or research, or whatever. I feel like I've also trained myself to be better at letting go, too.”
I've always worked in this fluid way with clothes. Stylists inherently collect things and hoard things and it’s “justified” because it's for shoots, or research, or whatever. I feel like I've also trained myself to be better at letting go, too. I think I'm somebody who gets a little bit stressed by the idea of having too many things. L: Too many storage units around the world. A: Yeah, I've moved my stuff to multiple countries. L: You’ve learned the value of keeping things light. A: It maybe would be different if I were one of those people who had a walk-in wardrobe, a whole room for my wardrobe is a dream…One day. But also, I think it's really nice, this exchange of clothes, for things to have another life. I swap a lot of clothes with friends, too. I think we're all just a little bit lazy and can't be bothered to deal with resale platforms.
My friend Hayley, she's been working in fashion for a long time too, she used to be the editor at Oyster Magazine. She's been living in Berlin for a long time, but is always also a digger for rare things, she'll just find the most insane stuff. She’ll say, “Oh, yeah, paid 20 bucks for that.” I feel like within our circle of friends, like with Fanny and Karo and Hayley, people who I'm really close with that have this crossover into this world of fashion, we just love digging for stuff. L: How is the digging in Berlin? Is there a good vintage scene, a lot of online digging…? A: I do a lot of online digging. I wish Berlin [where I also live] were a little bit better for what I'm looking for. There are definitely some archives in Berlin. There are definitely vintage stores. Have you been to Berlin before? L: I haven't spent enough time there. I think I've done like 24 hours.
A: I personally don't really shop in Berlin, in a physical store sense. They have this thing called Kleinanzeigen, which is basically the German version of a Craigslist meets an eBay. It's this kind of bad interface. L: Very promising when it looks that awful. A: Exactly. You think, “Maybe this is where stones can be turned,” and you get some pretty funny people on there, Germans in some other far away parts of the country, it's not just Berlin. It’s not just for clothes, you can buy furniture, our whole house we furnished on Kleinanzeigen, beautiful, beautiful things, old magazines, you just kind of gotta dig a little bit…I remember that one of the first years I was in Berlin, Karo found this seller on Kleinanzeigen, this woman who worked for Adidas, her job was to be the person who walked in the shoes, put miles on the shoes to see how comfortable they were. L: Was she an athlete? A: Completely a random person. Karo found her, and this woman had all of these insane shoes from Yohji [Yamamoto]’s first collaboration with Adidas from like, 2001, she had all this stuff, and she told me, “Yeah, I just wore them for a bit you know, because that was my job, but I didn’t wear them.” You find pretty funny people. I've been a big eBay user for a long time and I love finding people on eBay who have stories about their clothes. I always ask people about where they got stuff from.
I recently bought something, actually for Hayley, for her birthday, this really incredible Richard Prince print from his exhibition in 2017, where it was all wheatpaste posters of Instagram screenshots. They pasted them all up in the desert, I think it was in California or something, and I found this guy on eBay who had this really amazing one, and I asked “Just out of curiosity, how did that come into your possession?” I love finding out the stories behind how people have acquired these things. He wrote back and said, “I was part of a media crew, we were out in the desert and it started to rain and there were these desert thieves who came out and were trying to steal all the posters, so we had to save them,” I mean, what is that insane story? I feel like I've just been digging on the internet for like a long time, since I've been in fashion, and I'm always super fascinated to ask “What else are you selling? Where did this come from?” L: That’s a very hot tip for getting the unlisted deals, but also apparently for making relationships. Have you made friends with anyone through this kind of thing? A: No, no friends… L: Yet!
A: Fanny, Karo, and I have a funny group chat—have you spent much time on Vinted? L: You’ve brought it up a few times…It shows up on Gem App. A: This might be a bit of a big secret. I'm gonna give it away. It's a Lithuanian company, actually, it's kind of like the European version of Poshmark. It has come to the US, but I don't know how good it is. I haven't tried it in the US. But that's what all the Europeans use, Vinted. You need a European address and phone number. More people know about it now, so it's harder to find the secret stuff, but I love it because it's all of these old Italian, old Spanish, old Portuguese women getting rid of shit in their closets. You get the most incredible commentary when you're chatting with them, and photos…. L: Like, “Whose Nonna is this?” A: Exactly. We've all started collecting photos from the way that people model or advertise clothes on Vinted. It's actually kind of incredible, the shit that people do to model what they’re selling. L: It goes directly on the mood board.
A: So that's been really fun to do, because I love digging for stuff, but I think in Berlin, there aren’t any places I feel super excited to dig. So I just generally search on Vinted or Kleinanzeigen, somewhere like tha.. L: Is there anywhere in the world that you're like, I want to go digging there today, physically? A: Japan, of course, Italy, there are really amazing, old flea markets, piles of clothes on tables for a euro, two euros. When I come to Paris I generally just go to all the Guerrisols [thrift stores] and dig for t-shirts. L: Whatever isn’t, like, Zara. A: Exactly, which is also sadly where the quality of stuff is going, that’s what people are getting rid of. Now it's a lot of this fast fashion, so you're really digging through a lot of that, which is such a shame. L: Before, it used to feel like you were looking through like the ‘80s rejects that didn't really make sense, now you're looking through like the 2020s rejects, it’s moving very quickly… A: But there’s still stuff to be found. My boyfriend sent me an interesting article, I think it was in the Times or The New Yorker, about the vintage resale industry in Malaysia, I don't know if you've ever noticed on Grailed or some of these other resale sites that you'll see a lot of rare things coming from Malaysia, they're getting a lot of clothes sent to them in bundles and people are now knowing what the value of what certain brands are. People in Malaysia are listing things on Grailed, super rare t-shirts and rare brands and stuff, it’s become this crazy market for vintage as well.
“I love not spending a lot of money on clothes. It's part of the hunt, the adventure, to find special things that people haven't valued as something that's overpriced already.”
It's funny, because I get people hitting me up a lot asking, “Where's good dig in Berlin or Paris?” L: The internet, babe. A: That’s usually my answer. The thing about the flea markets here in Paris is there are so many, you can go check… L: People tend to know what they have too often, like, “That is a fair price…that I'm not going to pay.” A: Yeah, or very overpriced. But there are more cute little vintage places that are popping up here in Paris, but…I love finding beautiful things and also, not to say I'm cheap, but I love not spending a lot of money on clothes. It's part of the hunt, the adventure, to find special things that people haven't valued as something that's overpriced already. The fun is to learn how to be a bit crafty, being able to piece things together that aren't the things in the curated vintage store or whatever. I think having those constraints, being like, “Okay, I don't have a ton of disposable money” is inspiring to work with that way. There are so many clothes out there, so much beautiful vintage stuff that's not designer, or maybe it is designer, that's been pre-worn and probably costs less than buying a new top at Zara. I feel like I hardly buy anything new unless it's a small designer’s or friend’s stuff.
L: So, tell me the last five things that you bought. A: I just bought a top on this trip, from this designer here in Paris—you know Vejas? He sadly just closed the doors to his brand, which I support because I understand how hard it is to run a brand. I had the pleasure of meeting him one of the last times I was here, I borrowed some clothes from him. I love what he does, I think he's super talented. When he announced he was closing his brand, it was so, so sad. And then he had his online sample. I must have been flying or something, and I remember turning on my phone, it had already been a couple of hours and everything was sold out. So this was a top that Fanny—I don’t know if she got it in the sample sale or if it was one of his—it's just beautiful. One shoulder, twisted, braided. L: I loved those pieces. A: Yeah, they were so nice. It's kind of puffy. Fanny’s a little bit fair-skinned, she said the color didn’t really work for her. So I bought that from her.
I recently bought a navy polo shirt from this designer also based in New York, Giovanna Flores. It’s like a traditional polo shirt with a twist; where there’s all of this irregular seaming that creates an almost tailored shape to the waist. She’s quite under the radar, but one of my favorite smaller designers at the moment.
I just got these [SC103 shorts] I was in New York, from Claire and Sophie. L: They’re so talented. A: It's been so amazing to watch them grow. I did their first show with them and was in a lookbook of theirs later on. I was so bummed because they once messaged me, “Hey, do you want to be in our show? It's on this day at this time.” And my flight landed maybe like an hour after the show, so it was really sweet to actually be in New York when they had this little pop-up store, and I couldn't help myself but go and get some pieces. They also just made this incredible perfume, actually, but they only made 50 of them. It’s incredible. It’s made by a friend of Claire's from Portland. L: It smells really good.
A: What else did I buy? When Hayley and I sell on Instagram, we'll be like, “Okay, what do you have over there? Do I want that?” We got asked to do a pop-up for Voo Store, which is for us quite hilarious because we just started the Instagram as a joke, but they were like yes, we want you to do a pop-up, we want you to curate this space. We started collecting a lot of stuff for it, a lot of old books and magazines and things, and they ended up delaying the pop-up, so we've recently just been selling a lot of that. L: Voo Store-bound merch! A: There are some pretty special pieces. We actually haven't posted any of the books or the magazines that we've collected. L: Maybe if someone slipped into your DMs, asking for rare books and magazines… A: There's a bag that I kept from the Voo Store pop-up that I've been wearing around a lot, a really beautiful old YSL bag that I love. It's a kind of tan suede, and it's got these little shells attached to it, hanging off. It’s pretty cute. We’ve definitely been down a bit of an old YSL hole. Obviously like there's the Mombasa and the really iconic bags from when Tom Ford was there, but there's also some of these really amazing, funny, a little bit bordering on boho…The bag has this little overlapping fringe as well, it’s pretty hilarious, but I like wearing it with a big t-shirt, baggy pants, this cute little bag. You're like “Is this from a gift store?” L: Like a self knock-off, almost. A: Exactly.
L: Is there anything on your wishlist? A: Oh, god, there’re always too many things on my wishlist…I've kind of been on a little hiatus from shopping. L: That's healthy. Teach me. A: I've been looking for good sandals. Hayley and I have been joking because I feel like sandals would be one of these things that should be super comfy, and the last few pairs of sandals that we bought have just destroyed our feet. We're perpetually on this hilarious group chat with a friend of ours in Berlin about needing sandals. None of us can buy them. We keep buying them and we just keeping getting blisters, what's going on? I just bought these from Vinted, they’re a little too small for me, but they’re old Hermès. L: I was admiring them, but I was also looking at the Band-Aids… A: I'm on a quest for a comfortable sandal. I feel like at this point, I've shied away from buying anything that hurts my feet or is uncomfortable to walk in. I just need something that's comfy. L: Because we know we're going places. And making the same mistake over and over again.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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