Back in the 2000s, Roberto Cavalli was the pinnacle of awesome fashion excess: the line was defined by electrifying animal prints, exotic colors, and loud and bodacious styling. So how did Fausto Puglisi, the lively Italian designer who joined Cavalli as creative consultant last fall, decide to update that vision for a new era in his first menswear collection?
He started by calling, in his mind, the only man for the job: Mike Tyson. “In a world which is extremely fluid now, there is nothing more fluid and more pure than Mike Tyson himself,” Puglisi said in a recent Zoom interview with Tyson.
For his part, “I was really honored to do it,” Tyson said, sitting below a portrait of himself, in a tight white polo.
Puglisi debuts his Fall 2021 menswear collection today with a bombastic film that features Tyson dressed in the collection’s leather and chain corsets, animal prints, and fluid silks, as models preen alongside him with aggressive vanitas, charging towards the camera. Puglisi’s Cavalli and Tyson are a pretty perfect match as far as designer-muse pairings go: Tyson is also legendary for his highly individual sense of style. “I think I’m a very noticeable dresser,” he said.
Puglisi astutely reflected that shoppers today are less loyal to one brand, and more interested in individual pieces. To that end, he envisions customers gravitating towards a wild piece or two and pairing it with a vintage find or a great pair of Zara trousers. “It’s like Magnolia Bakery–which I love,” he said. He goes there after a long night out dancing with friends whenever he’s in New York. “Whether you are on a diet, whether you like to eat a lot, or whether you don’t like sugar, you buy a cupcake.” Think of a silky leopard top as a bit of dessert.
As Tyson hung up, he flashed a smile and wave at Puglisi and called, “I love you, Fausto!”
GQ: How did all of this come together?
Puglisi: Mr. Tyson [has been] one of my obsessions since I was a kid. When I was very young, I was thinking about Mike Tyson, [Diego] Maradona, Gianni Versace, Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan. I had the American dream.
When I designed this collection for Cavalli, I thought so much about him because in a world which is extremely fluid now, there is nothing more fluid and more pure than Mike Tyson himself.
Tyson: Thank you very much!
Puglisi: Mike Tyson is the only one in this moment that a 15-year-old guy knows, and an 80-year-old man knows. He’s incredibly democratic. There’s no one like him. You can say someone extremely hot right now–trust me, in the next three years, someone else is going to come along. He’s the only one who is like, immortal. And that’s why I say, I want Mike Tyson. And it was a dream.
GQ: Mike, how did it feel to pose in a fashion ad? What was that experience like?
Tyson: I was really honored to do it. I’ve done it on some other occasions. I’m very happy to do Cavalli–I really respect Mr. Cavalli and his clothes. And I’m very happy to be chosen to wear the line.
GQ: You have a very iconic sense of style. How would you describe the way you dress?
Tyson: I think I dress very noticeable. I think I’m a very noticeable dresser. You may see me out, and I may have on very simple, see-through clothes, a very thin material. That’s just what I want to wear: very thin, tight clothes. Very comfortable, form-fitting clothes that look good when you’re sitting, when you walking–everything. You just look good in ‘em. Whatever you do in the clothes, you look good. That’s basically my style of clothes: they’re form-fitting! They look like they might be really tight, but they’re so stretchy. They stretch all over the place. Somebody three hundred pounds could fit in my clothes ‘cause they stretch so much!
GQ: This collection is a good match for you then–it’s tight but has a fluid attitude.
Tyson: But it’s resounding and powerful! It’s real threatening.
GQ: Do you wear a lot of animal prints?
Tyson: Yes, I like animal print. I like animal print, but not real animals.
GQ: Do you have a favorite animal print? Zebra, a leopard?
Tyson: No, I think if you could have one of those fake chinchillas–I like those.
GQ: What kinds of clothes make you feel powerful?
Tyson: Pink has a lot to do with it. If I’m wearing pink, I’m not going to have an expression like you want to talk to me. ’Cause when I have on pink, I’m very serious. Pink makes me very masculine.
Tyson: I almost want to fight in those clothes. Those clothes make me want to fight a little.
GQ: Do you shop a lot?
Tyson: When I have the time to do it! [Laughs.] But I’m not a healthy shopper. I’m a guy, I might buy something, ten years ago and never wear it.
I have a Versace Marilyn Monroe James Dean shirt [from the designer’s legendary Spring 1991 Pop Art collection]. I must have worn it five times in twenty years. I used to have all these glass shirts with glass beads and everything–$50,000, $70,000 shirts. [Gianni Versace] made me feel so masculine and strong.
GQ: Can you tell me about the experience of making the film?
Tyson: I was having a good time with it, ‘cause I was being a little lascivious, grabbing my crotch and all that stuff. I had a good time! It was all done in fun.
Puglisi: It was great because he knew just what to do. I told him, I don’t want you to act, I want you to be Mike Tyson. There is something pure in Mike Tyson and I like it. There is something really pure in this champion, and I wanted it to come out.
Someone like Mike Tyson is like Andy Warhol–you cannot tell him what to do. You just have to be a good photographer or director to catch that essence. There was a moment where he started to style himself–putting his shirt inside his underwear. It was so elegant, and so elegant, and it reminded me of Pablo Picasso.
When I saw Mike Tyson, I started doing this [he shakes his hands with disbelief]. I had the same effect meeting Jeff Koons at the Met Gala. I have never felt about other artists what I feel for Mike Tyson and Jeff Koons. There is something familiar between Jeff Koons and Mike Tyson.
Tyson: Jeff Koons is the man!
GQ: Wow, that’s great. Can you say more about what they share?
Puglisi: The people that really give me the sense like when you look at the Coliseum in Rome, you feel powerful, but you feel so small. Mike Tyson and Jeff Koons.
Mike Tyson gives me so much excitement. This is America for me: it’s about second chances, third chances. He’s about curiosity, about mixing cultures. A place like America doesn’t exist anywhere. He is a representation of this possibility to be reborn, reborn, reborn!
GQ: Mike, how does it feel to be described as an icon in those terms?
Tyson: I don’t know. I just know one thing: I want to be up more than anybody wants me to be down. And I refuse to be down.
This interview has been edited and condensed.