DRESSING JOHN TRAVOLTA
A Conversation With Designer Matteo Perin
By: Regina Russo
Photography By: Thorsten Overgaard
“I deal in making people and their environment beautiful and thus enabling them to enjoy life by knowing that I am taking care of every detail of their look,” says Italian designer Matteo Perin.
Born and raised in a small town near Verona, Italy, Perin was influenced by his artist mother, his stylish grandmother and his fashionable great-grandfather. “My family was not rich. Everyone worked hard and long hours,” he says, explaining that he learned a strong work ethic at an early age.
“My great-grandfather was always dressed in a three-piece suit with shirt, tie, hat and cane,” he recalls. “Even at the late age of 96 when he’d come to pick the peaches off the trees in the summer, he would just take off his jacket, undo his tie, roll up his sleeves and get to work. It was fascinating to me.
He says his grandmother “had this glamour about her – very elegant and stylish every day” and that both she and his mother supported his creativity. Perin’s interest in fashion began to take shape when a family friend taught him pattern making and suit construction.
At the age of 14, he left school to travel and to learn all he could learn about international fashion. He later was able to blend his love of travel with his flair for design to create his unique business model – he goes to his clients rather than the other way around and immerses himself into their lifestyles in order to create one-of-a-kind pieces just for them.
Perin credits word of mouth for helping him establish his reputation. “I take pride in creating each item and building a unique experience and special relationship with my clients. And luckily one day someone noticed and told someone else.”
Today, he designs luxury wardrobe and accessory items for an international clientele, but, by far his most famous client is film star John Travolta whom he met four years ago. The first outfit Perin designed for the actor was for the Toronto Film Festival, and he went on to design clothing for the actor’s roles in the films Gotti and Speed Kills.
“I always treat everyone with the same dedication and respect, but of course when your first celebrity client is an icon like Mr. Travolta, I can only be thankful,” Perin says.
He enjoys creating period pieces such as the ones he made for Travolta’s portrayal of the notorious – and quite fashionable -- American organized crime leader John Gotti. “In this case, the challenge was that they (the wardrobe pieces and accessories) had to be up to “John Gotti” standards (and) they had to help Mr. Travolta become even more the part that he so masterfully played.”
Perin explains that he studied photographs and videos to make made sure each piece he made was something Gotti, often called “Dapper Don,” would have worn or was an exact replica of something he actually did wear. “In addition, everything needed to look amazing on the person portraying the character -- in this case Mr. Travolta,” he adds.
For Travolta’s film Speed Kills, Perin designed period costume pieces spanning from the late 1960s to the 1990s.
When asked about the process that goes into creating a suit for a client, Perin says that he considers himself a “lifestyle designer.” “I want to know what they like, what they dislike, and why,” he says. “Once I have a good idea of who they are, we go over what to design first and get started.”
He takes measurements, draws sketches and then makes patterns. “We then fit each pattern, or look it over if it is not clothing, and then I get the item made and personally hand-deliver it to the client…It’s a niche situation working with those who can afford and appreciate things being made just for them by skilled artisans in Italy, all by hand. Like it used to be.”
There really is no typical day for Matteo Perin. When he is not in Italy overseeing the work on his designs, he is traveling to meet with clients in their homes or at their workplaces. He is accustomed to using his travel time for work. For example, he once designed a full luggage set while traveling on a private jet, and he has fitted clients while flying at 47,000 feet.
Perin says it is his specialized service and his commitment to individuality that makes his work so different. “In this fast-paced world where anyone with money can buy anything they want, what I offer is the opposite: a uniquely specialized service that offers bespoke pieces designed specifically to complement a person’s lifestyle. Who would not want to know that what they have is one-of-a-kind?”