Fashion designer Michael DePaulo is having a good year. Last February, the Boston native made his Palm Beach debut to critical acclaim and is getting ready to launch a new bridal and ready-to-wear line in December. Known primarily for his cocktail, evening and special occasion designs, DePaulo’s use of sophisticated lines with an innovative edge has attracted an A-list clientele that includes media and sports powerhouse Linda Pizzuti Henry and Tony Award-winning theater director Diane Paulus. We recently caught up with the handsome and peripatetic 34-year-old over coffee in the South End, where we talked about the intersection of fashion, design and architecture as well as the joys of the perfect plate of pasta.
IS IT EASIER TO DESIGN FOR SOMEONE YOU KNOW OR DON’T KNOW?
I like doing both and my approach to each situation is different yet also similar. I design two collections a year, fall/winter and spring/summer. When I design a collection I’m telling a story that’s expressed in the pieces that make up the collection—essentially, a common thread that runs throughout the line. But when I design for a specific client I try to capture her personality and understand her body type. Above all, it’s important for a woman to feel comfortable in the design. She can be wearing the most gorgeous gown in the world but if she doesn’t feel comfortable, that will come through.
YOU NOW HAVE A NYC OUTPOST, ALONG WITH ALL THE TOP DESIGNERS IN THE WORLD. WHAT’S BEEN THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE AND ARE YOU HAVING FUN?
Yes, I’m having lots of fun in NYC. I’m also making some amazing contacts with the best talent in the industry: sample makers, production specialists, stylists, editors and publicists. It is a lot of hard-work and running around but that’s what excites me. I love all the behind- the- scenes work, the fabric selection, sample fittings and production meetings. That’s why I am in the business – this is truly my passion. New York is the mecca of the fashion world. The energy challenges you and makes you constantly strive for excellence in design and innovation.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO MAKE THE BIG JUMP TO NEW YORK?
Persistence, confidence and the right infrastructure are key. And the old cliché is true: you have to believe in yourself.
HOW MANY YEARS HAVE YOU BEEN ON THE BOSTON SCENE?
I’ve been working in the industry for about seven years and have been in Boston my whole life. I grew up in Braintree, just south of the city, in a big Italian family with three older sisters. We’re all still extremely close.
IS THE PROFILE OF YOUR NYC CLIENT DIFFERENT FROM YOUR BOSTON CLIENT?
My clients in both cities are modern and want unique pieces that are smart and timeless. New York is edgier and has a faster pace, Boston is more classic. The New York woman has less time than her Boston counterpart to take her day-time look into evening. I love dressing the Boston woman but my design energy comes from New York. I really have the best of both worlds.
OKAY – SO HOW MANY DRESSES WERE “YOURS” AT THE STORYBOOK BALL?
I had four dresses at the Storybook Ball including the one worn by my muse, Linda Pizzuti Henry. She is a dear friend and an amazing woman – stunning, smart and refined. I can’t think of a better model for my fashions. Linda has a tremendous intellect and projects class and dignity.
WHAT WAS YOUR BIG BREAK?
I’ve been extremely fortunate but don’t think I’ve had one big break. There’s been a tremendous amount of hard work filled with some disappointment and the usual combination of highs and lows. This is a really exciting time for me and I’ve never felt so positive and motivated about both my art and building the DePaulo brand. I’m totally focused and committed to creating a flourishing business in every sense of the word. For me, this isn’t just a career. It’s my life.
DID YOU EVER THINK YOU’D TAKE YOUR UNDERGRADUATE AND MASTER’S DEGREE IN ARCHITECTURE AND LAUNCH A CAREER AS A DESIGNER?
I never really put too much thought into it until I got my master’s degree — it was as if I had a calling to go into fashion, which was really no big surprise to my friends and family. When I was seven I was already designing houses and dresses. I’ve always been drawn to beauty and luxury. I embraced my dream after graduating and it helped that I knew little to nothing about the fashion world. Passion won out and I became a sponge for knowledge about any and all aspects of the fashion industry. My architecture background helped me tremendously in terms of developing a work rigor and discipline. My design aesthetic remains greatly influenced by architecture and I’m drawn to clean lines and intricate detailing.
THOUGHTS ON THE LATE OSCAR DE LA RENTA? ARE THERE OTHER DESIGNERS WHO HAVE INFLUENCED YOUR WORK?
What an extraordinary talent. For decades, he brought beauty, intellect and glamour to the fashion world. On a personal level, his own life reflected the De La Renta brand with its signature elegance, dignity and style. I also admire Valentino and McQueen and I appreciate the intellect of Balenciaga and the way architecture and sculpture are reflected in the designs.
WHERE CAN SOMEONE FIND YOUR CLOTHES? WHAT DO THEY COST?
My clothes can be found at thirty specialty stores nationwide as well as in Toronto’s prestigious Hugo Nicholson boutique. In addition, I sell my pieces to Saks Fifth Avenue through special order. In December, I’ll be launching a bridal line at Kleinfeld Bridal in Manhattan, for decades a legendary institution that’s become the premiere bridal boutique destination in the country. The price points vary according to the line. MDP by Michael DePaulo is a new, ready-to-wear “bridge” line that will come out in December. Those pieces, which will feature a lot of dresses, will run in about $500. So far, I’ve been known mostly for evening wear and those dresses run between $2,000-$5,000 dollars with couture in the $3,000-$20,000 range.
WHAT FASHION OR CLOTHING STAPLES SHOULD EVERY WOMAN OR MAN HAVE IN THEIR CLOSET?
A white cotton blouse, crisp and clean | A beautifully tailored blazer jacket | A great-fitting pair of jeans | Wide-leg crepe pant | A silk scarf | A feminine stiletto closed-toe shoe | A cashmere sweater set, always smart and classic | A pencil skirt | A classic “little black dress”
A perfectly tailored suit | Crisp white shirt | Well-fitting jeans |A classic blazer | A smart tie
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST FASHION MISTAKE A WOMAN CAN MAKE?
Too many accessories. More often than not, less is more. It’s always better to keep it simple and elegant. Also, the wrong bag can ruin a look. Recently, I saw a beautiful girl in a beautiful cocktail dress carrying a large “everyday” bag that didn’t coordinate at all with the dress. Also, fit is key and proportion is critical. I’ve seen gorgeous dresses on the red carpet that are crying out to be shortened! With hair, beware of the “up-do”, which can easily look “prom-ish.” Not a good look.
YOUR SCHEDULE SOUNDS PRETTY FRENETIC. HOW DO YOU UNWIND?
To relax, I like to run, travel, cook and have small, informal dinners with friends. Chicken piccata and shrimp scampi are my specialties. I love the beach and hope to get to Miami soon. The ocean has always been an inspiration. In fact, “Tropical Endeavor” was the name of my first collection.