Born in Puglia, Lecce in 1960, Ennio Capasa was influenced by oriental culture from an early age, and travelled around Japan when he was 18 before being accepted into the sculpture course at Milan’s Academia di Belle Arti di Brera. On graduation, Capasa was invited to return to Japan to train under Yohji Yamamoto, who had been sent some of Capasa’s illustrations by a friend. He stayed for three years (1982-1985), before setting up the label Costume National in Milan in 1986 with his brother Carlo (who had himself worked with Romeo Gigli and as consultant to Dawn Mello at Gucci).
Combining Japanese purism with a more streetwear-influenced silhouette, the first Costume National women’s ready-to-wear collection appeared in 1987, along with a shoe collection.
However, reaction to Capasa’s sensual, minimalist vision was muted in Milan (where the fashion federation had refused requests by Japanese designers to show in the early ’80s), so in 1991 they decided to follow Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo to Paris. It was in France that they found the respect of critics and peers alike and in 1993 they added a men’s footwear range and a ready-to-wear menswear collection (partly because Ennio, a self-confessed “vintage addict”, was unable to find pieces to wear himself).
In 2000, Costume National bags, lingerie and leather accessories were added, together with Costume National Luxe, featuring a limited series of garments made from particularly precious and unusual materials. Footwear now comprises around a third of the business, and the company owns its own shoe factory in Padua, an apparel plant near Vicenza and a leather treatment company near Lecce – not to mention flagship stores in Milan, Rome, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Osaka and Hong Kong. In 2002, a fragrance line (the typically minimalist ‘Scent’) was launched, followed by eyewear a year later.