Verge Meets: Antonio Tadrissi

Antonio Tadrissi is a fashion icon, an architectural hero and innovative legend. Through building his company from the ground up, to working with the best clients and creating some of the most exclusive products, there’s nothing this man cannot achieve. We were lucky enough to have a brilliant chat with one of the worlds most current and inspiringly refreshing creatives. We explored his journey so far and what it takes to remain original.

How did you get started?

I got my masters in architecture in 2002, and I did the last bit of my schooling in Barcelona. After I finished school, my first project was with Vince Carter, the basketball player, who had just moved to Toronto and his mother had asked me to do something for his birthday. Since then all my clients to date have been through word of mouth and referrals from people that I’ve worked with before. So I started my company in 2002 and in 2004 I got my own factory, or a kind of craft shop, where we combined digital technology and craftwork to create unique pieces. I’ve worked with Nike and a lot of corporate clients because I owned clubs and restaurants of my own so I just got into that scene. At one point, I think I designed and built around 300 nightclubs before 2010. Once these guys who owned clubs got older and got married and bought homes they wanted their homes to be designed, so I started doing their homes and offices. The big break or shift in my career was when I did Drake’s first condo for him. We’re both from Toronto and he had just started his career and had become more globally known. I then did his place in Miami and some artwork for him so that opened a whole new way of work. I work with a lot of people in Hollywood so currently, I would say, 90 percent of my work is outside of Canada.

We just did a beach club and restaurant in San Paulo, then theres Los Angeles, New York, London and Rome. I did the designs for the club Toy Room across the world; I’m doing a new concept with them in Manchester called Toy Box, which is opening at the end of this month. It’s been a lot of fun – I think when you have the ability to draw something and bring it to life you have a different appreciation for what you’re able to do. Where most designers who just design are dependent on other people to make it for them; in our case when I draw something, like my jackets for example, I plan them in my head and then I just get up and make them. It’s the same thing with all of our projects, from our homes to our hotel projects in China, we are able to execute from beginning to end.

Antonio with Anthony Ricciardi

Explain to us the process of your clothing label

The clothing label was more of an accidental process. I always had an interest in fashion, a lot of my work in architecture and design is actually inspired by fashion. I find fashion a lot more fluid, it changes every season, whereas architecture takes a longer time to evolve.

So when I did Toy Room, we had an area where we wanted to do retail because it was doing quite well with the hats and T-shirts and such.When I designed the retail space for them, I started to design a Toy Room jacket which had Toy Room characters on it like the teddy bear they use. I wore the jacket coming to London and everybody at the airport was asking “hey, where did you get that from?”. Then that sparked the idea- why am I making Toy Room jackets when it’s not my brand? If I can make them for a client, why not make my own? I called it Dust of Gods because the whole idea was based on repurposing- taking the old and the past and also appreciating today and technology.

I only do jackets, and I don’t want to do what other labels do which is doing pants and t-shirts, I wanted to keep the jackets as real works of art. Each piece is unique and all parts are repurposed (refers to jacket) like this one here, the straps are from World War II, and the leather was taken from an old Gucci purse,  (points to jacket) this was part of an old Adidas shirt and it’s been all added together. I’ve created a series of these for pop culture and movie icons; and this particular series I’m doing right now celebrates the icons that we may not know of as much.

So I started focusing on tenth century warriors and a lot of other people that have been buried away, that the younger generation wouldn’t look at. The purpose of this was to not only dust the future, but to dust off the icons of the past as well and marry the two together- I’m having a lot of fun with it. I only sell them in a couple of stores and online and all for one price. I couldn’t make two the same, even if I tried- I could try and make another jacket have similar parts but not completely the same.

For people who are looking to get into design, is there a step-by-step guide you could give them? 

Before architecture I studied biomedical engineering, so my background is very scientific. In science you have steps: you set up your hypothesis, then you set up the experiment and then you try to achieve your goal, which is where you find out if it works or not. I think with design you have to have something that you test within yourself; like how a photographer sees the photograph before he takes it. It’s the same thing with fashion- I have this vision in my head of where I want to be.

The first step is being honest with yourself and knowing if you have the creativity, and if you’re able to see the final product. Then it’s about making sure you have the tools, and I have invested heavily into making sure I did. You have to understand the creative process so that you’re not depending on others to create for you. As long as you have the work ethic, you work hard and love working hard, you can make something great.

For example, I started a nutritional health product line which includes a hangover pill (Over EZ), a energy pill (Fuel EZ), a sleeping pill (Dream EZ) and I’m currently developing a pill to help with thinking (Think EZ). It wasn’t like I got up one morning and decided to be a guru in nutritional health. I admit I knew nothing, but I saw something that made me think ‘That’s cool, what If I could do it better?’. It’s all about having the vision, the execution and the rest of it is just hard work.

I designed an office for a doctor that works in Beverly Hills and he said that he was with Kris Jenner and that both her and Kanye want a jacket because he was wearing one. I never say I’m busy, even though I am busy, and by the next day I had the jacket made. It was the same thing with Drake, I didn’t say ‘ah I’ve got to call his people and wait’- I met up with him the same day, came up with an idea and then I did $5 million worth of work with him.

Who was the first person you remember seeing wearing your jacket?

Demi Lovato. I decided to put the jackets in places that I have been shopping in for years- one is called H. Lorenzo on Sunset Boulevard and the other is Maxfield. A lot of celebrities and celebrity stylists shop there and I put the first ten jackets I made in the stores and Demi bought two of them. Sometimes I gift them, like I recently gave one to Steve Aioki, but most of the celebrities who wear my jackets have actually bought them from our stores which is good. The idea of this brand is to keep it very limited, something you want but unless you know me you can’t get it, or you’ve got to spend a lot of money. I kind of decide who I want to give it to and I give it to them; I want certain people to have it and everyone to want it and then build a cult following for the brand. I want to constantly challenge myself to keep it different so it stays fun; I do it because I love it, it’s not a part of my business, so there’s no pressure whatsoever.

Regarding your hang-over pill Over EZ, how did you come up with that?

It was as simple as me going in to WholeFoods, paying for my groceries and seeing another pill called ‘Party Smart’ and I look at it wondering what it is. It didn’t look like a party pill, it looked like something your grandmother would take. So I took one and I asked the lady  and she tells me that you take it while you’re drinking and its actually quite good. I read that it was made in India and the main ingredient was chicory root and I used my scientific background to research about it. I happened to be flying to Taipei with a bunch of my friends the next day, and they tend to drink a lot, so I told them to take one and tell me how it is- the next day everyone was like ”dude, that was good”, so I’m like wow there’s a pill that works but it doesn’t connect with it’s audience. So I took the pill and went into my office and I said ”guys, we are not leaving this room until we make this cool”. If you look at my pill, the first thing I did was I challenged the industry by putting a single pill inside a condom sachet design. The next inspiration was The Hangover movie, I wanted to make a pill that was a conversation piece and that is fun. So if you open the pill sachet they have a message in them, for example ‘walk of shame in the five-inch heel, next time take it EZ’ – it tells a story of if you didn’t take the EZ pill what would happen to you. I did an Indigogo campaign on it and raised $25,000 and then from there we had a big break with a US online company called FabFitFun. They do boxes of beauty products where you can mix and match – they put in a huge order for over 300,000 units for Over EZ, Fuel EZ and Dream EZ. We’re in over 700 stores in the US and we just had a big distribution set up in Dubai, so you’ll see it in all the drug stores.

I think that the whole cliche of the nutritional product is that you see it in the pharmacy or in the health department stores and it looks like something you need to leave at home. So I redesigned it in such a way that you take one pill, and when you have it with you it actually looks cool. It’s not cheap, its $5 per pill but it works and my interest really falls in the top luxury level for anything. When I did this, the whole idea wasn’t to price it at a low-level and make volume, it was if you want the best I will deliver the best. You’ve got to play with who you are, my personality and the way I am will flow with what I’m trying to sell. If I was trying to sell something that doesn’t fit into my own personality then it would be a mis-match.

What is next for you?

At this stage it’s about having fun. We just launched a skin care range called Cela and we’re launching it on Canada Day. I don’t really have an ultimate goal, I think that its just about doing what I want to do and finding other things I enjoy doing along the way. I’m fortunate enough to be at a place in my life where I can choose what I want to do- I work with the greatest people, I have fun and I do things that I am proud of doing.

If you’re talking to a fellow entrepreneur, what would your tips be?

The biggest problems I see when I’m looking at hiring people or working with people from a younger generation is their disconnect with the past. Where they become so involved with the present that they can’t really look back and see what it has taken for us to get where we are. And the biggest lesson within that is hard work, if we look back to our grandparents, they had to work hard to get where they were. So my advice would be to always look back and reflect and show appreciation for how we got here.

If you look at my company crest, there’s three things that are within there and its history, knowledge and perseverance. Those are the three most important things I believe that you need: you need history to appreciate where you are going, you need knowledge in order to figure out how to make it and you need perseverance so you don’t give up. If you love what you do you will keep doing it.

If you had to give advice in one sentence what would it be?

Be original. That’s the hardest thing to do today.

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