Friends and fans

16Arlington’s Marco Capaldo in conversation with Adwoa Aboah
By Ella Joyce | Fashion | 14 November 2023
Photographer Eva Wang

all clothing and accessories by 16ARLINGTON FW23

“I want sparkles and fluff for eternity!” exclaims model Adwoa Aboah to her friend, 16Arlington founder and designer Marco Capaldo, who never fails to deliver. Since founding the London-based brand in 2018 alongside his late partner Federica ‘Kikka’ Cavenati, Capaldo has shaped a design language that balances sensuality and sensibility, fast becoming one of the city’s most desired labels. Steadfast to a motto of “design for a good time”, garments shimmer like seductive mirrorballs and feather trims dance to an after-hours beat. These are the clothes you wear for the best nights of your life. 

Yet, FW23 told the story of the morning after the night before. In a collection titled Wake, the runway was buried in coffee grounds and a sweet mocha scent floated through the air. A caffeine hit hair of the dog and we’re back on our feet, wrapped in faux fur coats and cocoon-like leather jackets, pleated skirts sliced down the sides and immaculately structured blazers with little underneath, sequinned minidresses and feathers sprouting from waistlines. 

all clothing and accessories by 16ARLINGTON FW23

Adwoa Aboah: What are you up to? We need to catch up! 
Marco Capaldo: Where do I start?! We’ve just wrapped our pre-collection, that’s on its way to Paris and I’m following this evening. We’re moving studios and I can’t wait to get that out of the way, I’m also refurbishing my house, which is a never-ending process, but we’re getting there. I’ve had to learn to not be so OCD and think, “If I can’t have that skirting board, I can wait another month.” 

AA: You’ve got to let go because even if you have it all perfect, or what you deem perfect, actually when it’s all finished there are things you regret and want to change. At the end of the day, it’s fine or you grow to like it. You make it a home and none of that stuff really matters. 
MC: Very true. You didn’t finish your house so long ago, right? 

AA: It feels like I’ve been in here for quite a long time, but it’s still an ongoing process. I haven’t finished it and I don’t know if I will because I think I’ll probably move. 
MC: I’ve got that fear now that I’m going to finish it and be like, “I want to move.” [laughs] 

AA: Going back to the big studio move. Both personally and professionally you’ve been through many transitions in your life, obviously this is a more physical move. How does that feel under the backdrop of how well the brand’s doing and the success it has had, not only in the UK but worldwide? What does it feel like to be moving to a bigger space? 
MC: It’s bittersweet. I say this often, with every success or failure there’s still this massive gut punch because obviously, I want to celebrate it with Kikka. On a positive, it is quite amazing going into a completely blank canvas and when I say blank canvas, it really is a concrete floor and white walls. The team is great and I’m excited for them to all settle and nest in this new space, to have a bit more of a system. There are so many things you learn as a team grows in terms of dynamics, structure, and how things need to move. I’m really excited, it’s going to be a fresh slate. 

all clothing and accessories by 16ARLINGTON FW23

“Every person we’ve dressed to-date has an incredible voice and isn’t shy of using that voice.”

AA: The last time I saw you, you had just hired a new key figure within the company. How’s that going? 
MC: Our Head of Business Operations, Fatima, is amazing. It’s really great having someone who is focusing on operations, when you go from being a really small brand to whatever size you would call us now, you forget how much time is needed aside from the creative. Having someone like that come in and take some of the admin and logistics off your plate, even though my time is still 90 percent admin and ten percent creative, just gives you some breathing space. The team has grown a bit further since then and it’s nice to see everyone who started with us at the beginning still here watching it all grow. I know it sounds cliché, but it really is like a little family.

AA: It definitely feels like that when you’re in the studio. I think the brand is completely transcending. It has that youthful, fun aspect, and a London edge, but it feels very grown up, which is always important as you get older and your women buyers get older too. You are really bringing a flare to the city, which I feel like it needs – a class, a boujee-ness, a vibe. Sometimes [London] feels a bit lost. What have you noticed is different when you’re watching the collections go down the catwalk? 
MC: Approaching it as a 360 is so important. I exaggerate when I say it’s ten percent creative because I forget that everything I’m doing, or any decision I’m making feeds back into the overall vision. It’s about making sure any touchpoint, or any experience people have with the brand, is representing the vision and that it doesn’t only exist through the clothes on the rack in the store, but through the visuals, the campaigns, the community.

AA: If you could talk to yourself as a young designer just starting, what would you tell yourself? Obviously, you’re living your wildest dreams, and I don’t think we always realise what we’re capable of achieving. 
MC: I think it’s about being present for every single success and every single failure. Embracing it, and when you achieve something, not always worrying about the next thing. We’re coming up to five years old now and I think I’m only just learning that. When something you’ve worked so hard on happens, just enjoy it for a moment, or when something you’ve worked so hard on doesn’t go the way you planned, don’t let that spiral into something else. Just embrace the moment, learn from that and make sure it isn’t done again, which I think is easier said than done. At the very beginning, you’re constantly chasing your tail, asking “What’s next?” In that moment, I wonder if we missed out on just stepping back and thinking, “Wow, this is what we’re doing.” Whilst moving I found an A3 piece of paper Kikka and I had scribbled on when setting out to [form the brand] and we’d made a list of dream stockists, dream red carpets and dream editorials. Looking through that list now five years later, the amount we’ve ticked off or the amount of people we’ve met who have become friends is quite amazing, but because we’re always in this spiralling hamster wheel you don’t reflect on it. I think that’s what I would tell myself if I was to go back, just be really focused in the moment, appreciate and reflect on what’s happening.

all clothing and accessories by 16ARLINGTON FW23

AA: I was talking to my agent about it the other day, it feels like this year has gone so fast. I believe the industry breeds that way of thinking, we’re told we only get this one moment, we have to rush into it and take everything that comes our way because it could be taken away in a split second. You’re completely right, you’ve got to enjoy it and as much as possible I try to sit in the accomplishments, sit in the rejections and then when I’m ready, move on. After Covid, the way I work changed and I see it reflected in the industry too. I think because of the lack of work, the pressure, stress, fear and the change we all went through, we’re in a position right now where being kind is a major priority when building a team and collaborating. It definitely feels like that when I enter your space. I’d be interested to hear how you create that community within the workplace. I know you foster new talent, which is hard work because we’re also told that to be successful we have to work with the most successful people, but I do really believe that kindness is a top priority for me right now. I want to work with people who I think are amazing people. 
MC: I completely agree with you, and I say this season upon season. I had a really interesting conversation with a stylist this morning who said, “You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with.” That goes for both where they’re at in their careers and most importantly where they’re at as people. We just shot our Autumn-Winter campaign and it was a group of the most incredible creatives, I love the way I feel 16Arlington has always embraced legends but also the new legends, creating this melting pot of creativity. You have Sam McKnight who does our hair, which is fab, but then you have Sylvie Macmillan who’s this new legend doing the nails, and I think that’s always been the beauty. The way we approached building a team was, “Who’s the best person for the job that we have availability to?” It’s not trying to perform outside our reach or trying to tick a box for clout or any other reason, it’s just about who we’re drawn to and whether we can make it happen. A lot of that does go back to what you said, it’s about being kind. People are human and they spark off each other’s creativity, you attract what you put out there.

AA: 100 percent. Do you think you’re a collaborative person?
MC: I think I am. [laughs]

AA: And also a control freak probably…
MC: Yeah, borderline, but I think I’ve got really good [at balancing both]. I would never bring a creative on board and say, “Let’s do it my way.” I would find someone who is already leaning into a space that speaks to me.

all clothing and accessories by 16ARLINGTON FW23

“You just need to stay true to what your vision is. Of course, you look left and right, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t, but just remember the goal.”

AA: When you design amongst your amazing team, who are you visualising? Not necessarily just visually but as a person, deep down. 
MC: It’s people who are making a change in the world. I think you see it even with the physical community that has surrounded the brand, every person we’ve dressed to-date has an incredible voice and isn’t shy of using that voice. There’s such incredible diversity on that spectrum. I always say, if that was a dinner party, wouldn’t it be the most amazing group of people? Because their common thread is they’re all using their platform to make the world a better place. I think that’s one of the things I’m most proud of as a brand, under the same umbrella there’s you, Jorja Smith, Amal Clooney – so many incredible voices, and they all have something to say.

AA: It’s so fucking cool. More younger designers and emerging talents are doing bridalwear, which I’m really interested by. I think it’s reflective of a less traditional idea of marriage, and the clothes mirror that. As someone who isn’t that interested in marriage, I’m sure I will one day want to do it but right now it’s not really a priority of mine, when I see your bridalwear, it is definitely something which feels a lot more appealing to me. I just wanted to know why it was you started the bridal part of the brand. 
MC: It was to fill a void – I hate to even say ‘unconventional’, because what is conventional and what is unconventional? It’s exactly what you said, it’s for someone who doesn’t want that big massive train or a big stereotypical wedding dress. Who’s to say you can’t wear a mini dress or a pantsuit or a pair of shorts? I think it was just about blurring the lines between what we do in our ready-to-wear, applying the same strategy to bridal and letting it cross-pollinate. We have so many people buying into our bridal and wearing it as ready-to-wear, or buying it as bridal and re-wearing it. It’s a more sustainable approach in terms of how we wear our clothes, and it also offers something a bit fresher.

AA: It’s super cool. What are the next steps for 16Arlington? If there were no barriers in your dreams, what would you like to embark on? 
MC: I really want to expand into other categories. When you put on a show you learn so much because it’s a 360 approach, last season we had full control even down to what the attendees were sitting on. It’s so exciting to think how 16Arlington could be rendered in a home space, we’ve very softly launched bags and that’s an area we’re developing, which is really exciting, and now we’re branching into menswear. Shoes, jewellery, books, I would love to explore home and fragrance one day. There is so much, but it’s about doing things at the right time, and that’s how we’ve got to this point. We’ve always been super ambitious, but it’s always been about not biting off more than we can chew. Everything we do we want to make sure we have the infrastructure to support it and not rush into things, which is also a really hard lesson. Going back to what I would tell myself, I think that too – there is time to do things. The ultimate goal would be to develop a global brand that represents 16Arlington across the spectrum of categories.

all clothing and accessories by 16ARLINGTON FW23

AA: That idea of not biting off more than you can chew is very appealing to me as a buyer and someone who loves the clothes, it feels very honest and truthful. It’s like, “This is who we are, we’re growing, we’re a family, and we respect who’s buying our clothes.” You definitely see that in youth culture much more these days, it’s like, “Yes, I love what you’re creating, but I also fuck with you as a brand. I like your ethos.” Obviously, you want to expand and take it to great heights, but as you grow, whether it be a brand or just as an entity, it’s about keeping it authentic. 
MC: 100 percent. You just need to stay true to what your vision is. Of course, you look left and right, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t, but just remember the goal.

AA: Who do you admire and respect? 
MC: The list is so long. You, Paloma [Elsesser], Alva [Claire], and so many amazing friends. I have so much respect for Kikka and everything we did together and everything she still does from the other side. Edward [Enninful] is an incredible example and voice. My parents too, they came to England with nothing and instilled this work ethic in me which was very much, “If you’re not afraid of hard work, then you’ll be OK.” I definitely admire them. What’s amazing about you or Paloma is, through sheer hard work you’ve got to where you are, and you don’t take your platforms for granted. You do your day job, but you also use your platform in such a positive way. I just feel really honoured to make you guys look sparkly along the way.

all clothing and accessories by 16ARLINGTON FW23

“16Arlington has always embraced legends but also the new legends, creating this melting pot of creativity”

AA: We love it. Who doesn’t like sparkles? Do you admire any other brands? 
MC: Absolutely. Especially here in London, it’s a real hub for incubating talent. Christopher Kane, he’s one of London’s finest. Conner Ives, Supriya Lele and Steven Stokey-Daley are all amazing, we’re really lucky to be part of a creative generation where there is a real sense of community. We see each other a lot out and about, the barriers are down and we’re all there to help each other. I reached out to someone the other day to ask a question about something business related, we’d never met before but a mutual friend introduced us and she was so open and nice. That’s what it’s all about because collectively we’re all doing the same thing, but we’re all in our own lane, so there is no need for people not to help each other. It goes back to what you were saying about kindness, it actually gets you further.

AA: There is enough space for everyone of all shapes, sizes, races, demographics and financial backgrounds. Since knowing you, inclusivity has always been at the heart of what you do. You’ve spoken about your upbringing and I wonder if that’s where that comes from because it feels very instinctive. 
MC: I think it’s a combination. Kikka and I were both lucky to have just been that way. Growing up, I was an only child so I spent a lot of time with my parents and their friends, they had such an incredible mix of people and it didn’t really matter. My dad used to always say to my mum, “Bloody hell, you can literally talk to anyone,” and there’s such beauty in that. I grew up in a space where everyone was treated with the same respect, wit and humour, I think it is something that does come instinctively. We’ve never looked at ticking boxes, and it’s something that became very apparent with Black Lives Matter, the number of calls we received saying, “You have to work with XYZ,” and it was like, “No, we’ve always been inclusive not out of necessity but out of choice, so there is no need for that to change.” It’s never been formulated, it’s always been very natural – it’s gut instinct.

AA: I’m excited for the next show in September, can you give us three words to describe the aesthetic and feeling of that show? 
MC: Adrenaline, highway and horizons. Very ambiguous, but it will all make sense.

all clothing and accessories by 16ARLINGTON FW23

Interview originally published in HEROINE 19. 

make-up assistant MATY NDAW

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