"It’s time to give back," Anna dello Russo tells Refinery29 in her hotel room at the Mandarin Oriental in New York City. "It’s time to share my experiences with the younger generation." The Vogue Japan editor-cum-street style star is ready for the next chapter of her life.
After announcing that she was done with street style, dello Russo auctioned off her archive of luxury clothing and set her sights on new ventures. To celebrate her 30 years of service to the fashion industry, dello Russo has created a book with Phaidon — or what she refers to as "an experience for the kids" (said warmly in a thick Italian accent). Only, it's not really a book at all.
AdR Book: Beyond Fashion is an offline, interactive work of feel-good fun. "The book became a magic box with all of these ideas inside," she says of its contents, which include several smaller books (a scrapbook, a pop-up book, a diary), posters, stickers, and more. "The point was to have a light conversation around a deep concept because fashion is very difficult to explain or read about. But inside, you can make it your own experience, rather than write something very academic or boring." While there's truth to that sentiment, the "book" does sit comfortably aside the many oeuvres of her colleagues on a coffee table or Diptyque candle-bookended shelf.
Following stints at L'Uomo Vogue and Vogue Italia, dello Russo became one of the most recognizable, fascinating figures of street style. But before that, she was just "the girl from Bari." She studied at the Domus Academy alongside designer Gianfranco Ferré and, in 1989, met the late Vogue editor Franca Sozzani; the rest is history...sort of. As dello Russo points out, not many people even know about her storied career before she caught the eyes of Tommy Ton and Garance Doré. "I knew it," she says. "I knew nobody would look at this part [of the book]. It’s 18 years of invisible, behind-the-scenes work. But in the end, it'll help people get to know me better than the persona that I put out there. This is my background, my history."
In a way, AdR, the character she created via the lens of street style photographers, is inextricable from Anna dello Russo. It's still rare — nay, impossible — not to spot dello Russo outside of the shows every season. For New York Fashion Week, she juggled VIP events tied to her book launch and a jam-packed show schedule. And though she's ready to move on from the days of changing outfits in cars between shows, she makes one thing clear: She doesn't regret any of it. "They’re great memories, but I don't miss it," she says. "Life is an evolution. I never think about the past. Fashion hates nostalgia. This type of visibility is important, but it can be distracting. You don’t know the history of photography or editorial, but you know the last look of an icon on the street."
Dello Russo insists, then, that AdR isn't really her. It never was. "I think I’m like a plant," she explains, moving her hands through the air. "I develop organically. I’m getting older. AdR was like my protection, but it’s not me. Nobody knows me." The book, by the way, does its part to answer surface-level questions about who the real Anna is — and that's someone who prefers to remain private. "AdR is a protection from real life. It became like a person, so through that character, I improved my career; it was like a constant evolution. But Anna is completely another person."
"For me, everything changed so quickly. No one knows where we’re going," she says as she looks toward the future. "Street style is still a great thing; it’s very important to the industry. But for me, it’s over." With the lack of diversity and commodification of personal style, the "younger generation" may agree with her. "It gave me so much at the beginning, but now, playing with clothes outside of the show is no longer what excites me. I’m doing different things now. Before, I always said clothes were my alphabet; now, I need more than an alphabet — I need a way to put the words together; to make more sense. I need syntax."