LONDON (NYTimes) - The newest mystery man on the Milan womenswear scene is Paul Surridge, the little-known designer hired in May to rejuvenate Roberto Cavalli, the Florentine fashion house famous for its flesh-baring, flamboyant designs. A Central St. Martins graduate with stints at Calvin Klein, Burberry and Jil Sander, the fact that he has been a menswear specialist made him an unexpected choice for the creative director's job.
Here are 10 things you need to know about the designer, and his own comments, before his runway debut on Friday.
1. He's British, but has been living in Italy since 2007.
"I connected with Italy very early on and I love living there. It is very different from London or Paris - Milan is much smaller, of course - but there is a serenity to life there that grows on you. I spend Monday to Friday in Florence, where Cavalli is based, but my home is still Milan."
2. He knows everyone wants to know: Why him?
"Obviously I was not the conventional choice. I took the role because I was very interested in working with the new management team, most of whom I know and respect. Now we have a sense of team spirit, and that is something quite rare in this industry. There is so much potential in Roberto Cavalli. It is such a huge name and so underdeveloped. I think they knew that I would really stretch myself to make a contribution and bring a new approach to the business. I think they knew I had a vision that could work."
3. He's excited about working on womenswear for the first time.
"Good design is good design, and obviously the Cavalli codes are very specific, which makes it a lot easier for someone coming into the house like me in terms of a frame. But womenswear is more emotional than menswear, which is more technical. It is not so black and white; things aren't so right or wrong in the same way. It has required a shift in thinking. It is important that it really works for women, so I have got a female stylist and been consulting women, too."
4. He's over intellectual fashion.
"The Cavalli woman is not afraid to be viewed, but she holds all the power, not those who look at her. She is a woman who is sensual, modern and ready to unveil her body. In this first season I wanted to create a magnetic chameleon of a woman, and just admire and celebrate the female body. It isn't intellectual - it is a deliberate move away from that sort of fashion. After covering up or being covered up for so long, this is a woman who wants to remove her clothes. She is athletic, beautiful and she doesn't want to be questioned."
5. Also the obsession with archives.
"I walked through the archives when I arrived - they are colossal and so well-organised - and breathed the mood, respected the heritage and handled the product. But in the end I made a personal decision not to take anything from history and instead to create a new chapter for the house. That could be quite dangerous in this critical phase for the company, it can't be a moment where we just dredge up the past. The world needs a new Cavalli."
6. Designer Raf Simons taught him a really important lesson.
"If you give clear instructions from the outset to your team, it is a win-win situation. That is something I learned from Raf. I am incredibly generous - I give space, time and precise input. I also like to do collage and like to splice things together to create things that didn't exist before."
7. The show will be a reinvention.
"At around 35 looks, it won't be too long. I've had eight weeks to do this collection - that isn't much in fashion time, but I am happy with what we have been able to do. I wanted to do something very edited and precise. I want women to watch the show and say: 'I want to be that girl.' Nothing in Milan is going to look like what we have done. This is a brand-new aesthetic for Milan Fashion Week."
8. His personal style is relatively under-the-radar.
"I am quite practical in what I wear: I never wear things that are fussy or dated. I like things that work and I am someone who strives for modernism. I am a worker, simple as that. I am not here to look pretty. Someone else can do that."
9. In his free time he can be found...
"Excelsior in Milan is good for shopping though I don't shop a lot. And really, when I do, I prefer the service you get from a brand's own stores. If I meet friends for aperitivo in the evening, then I like to go to Bar Basso, which is very close to my house. It does delicious cocktails and attracts a lot of the Milanese creative crowd. For a traditional Italian dinner I like La Libera in the Brera neighborhood. You can't make a reservation, you just show up. For more nouveau Italian cuisine, I love Lile in Cucina, which is run by a mother-daughter duo and has a very minimalist Scandinavian-style decor. A dream would be to have a place outside the city: I would love to have a holiday home in Tuscany."
10. But he still misses some things about Britain.
"The diversity, I suppose, and the humour. Not many people get my humour. And I miss my family. There is nothing like a cup of tea and a digestive biscuit with your mum and dad to bring you back to your roots. Fashion is a very intense world and full of temptations. It's important to stay centred."