The Fall/Winter 2020/2021 Haute Couture shows will take place as a widely shared online event, July 6th through July 8th. Each house is producing a creative film/video that must be 12 minutes or less. Ralph Rucci is showing a small, seasonless 11 piece couture collection, rendered in white materials like double-faced tulle and wool and silk. He is working with French pattern maker Nicolas Caito, New York’s most in-demand pattern maker.
Caito’s specialty is creating garments for fashion houses, specifically for the runways. Ralph told me Nicolas is irreplaceable. It would be virtually impossible for him to design this or any of his collections without Nicolas. Mr. Caito raises pattern making to an art form and offers a singular level of workmanship formerly seen only in Milan and Paris. Ralph put him in the same category as Ramon Esparza, who worked for Balenciaga, and Mr. Paquito working at Chanel during Lagerfeld’s tenure.
I spoke with Nicolas by phone this week. He emphasized that a strong collaboration between a designer and a pattern maker is essential. Indeed, the 51-year-old’s technical expertise has enabled him to transcend the traditional rules of pattern making and assist designers in creating daring, experimental, and challenging clothes.
A native of Southern France, Nicolas apprenticed at Lanvin under Montana, Morlotti, and Versolato; at Hermes under Martin Margiela; and at Rochas under Olivier Theyskens. His creativity flourished, and in 2005, he moved to New York City and opened Atelier Caito, a freelance studio in the garment center. His wife, Camille Tetard, runs the business. The couple has two young daughters, and they live in the South Street Seaport district.
Caito began working with Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough on the most complex pieces of Proenza Schouler’s S/S 2006 collections, and then collaborated with Thakoon, Zac Posen, and Peter Som. He became sought after by many young designers. They wanted Caito to give a couture mark to their collections. In February, Nicholas worked with Marina Moscone, Jonathan Cohen, Area, and on the e1972 collection, which made its debut in Soho.
In addition to Ralph Rucci, other established designers Nicolas has collaborated with are Ralph Lauren, Carolina Herrera, Gabriela Hearst, and Rosie Assoulin. Nicolas has not yet worked with two designers – although he would like to – Marc Jacobs and Hussein Chalayan. He finds inspiration in Hussein Chalayan’s transformative fashion and level of creativity.
Caito closed his atelier in mid-March, but they are reopening on Monday. They will be working on a few couture orders; there are weddings planned for August and September. Caito collaborates with French designer Herve Pierre who, like himself, is a product of the great ateliers of Paris.
Their brand, Atelier Caito for Herve Pierre, launched in 2017. It’s unheard of for the name of a pattern maker to be on a designer label. The fact illustrates how valued Nicolas’s work is to Pierre. The collection is available at Bergdorf Goodman, Stanley Korshak, and Ikram. The focus is on couture quality cocktail and evening wear.
Nicolas’s collaboration with Ralph Rucci is ongoing. The two met in 2015, and they remain very close. Nicolas worked on Ralph’s RR331 comeback collection in February of 2016 and on his haute couture show in Paris last July. Nicolas dresses Ralph’s couture clients, and he accompanies the couturier when he goes to his clients’ apartments. Nicolas takes their measurements, and they talk about the design. Nicolas prepares the first toile for the first fitting. Sometimes there’s a second fitting, and then he makes the final outfit.
“It’s such a pleasure to work for Ralph. He has such an eye, and he always pushes me to do great things. Ralph’s aesthetics are so beautiful. He is really an amazing American designer. He is in his own category”.
Nicolas described the relationship as a collaboration where he is free to express himself, “When you get to that level, as my relationship with Ralph Rucci, it is such an honor. You don’t even have to speak to come up with beautiful things,” Ralph agrees that it’s a privilege for a designer when he or she finds the right pattern maker.
I asked Nicolas if he ever wanted to design. He said no. In France, the training he had is one of a pattern maker. “I am there to accompany the vision of a designer. You need to have an aesthetic and an idea of how volume falls nicely, but they are two different jobs completely.”
A lot of people in his family were tailors, and he was drawn to it naturally. Nicolas honed his craft at two schools in France: the Academie Internationale de Coupe de Paris in the South of France and L’Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne in Paris. They both offer two-year apprenticeship programs. It’s a fantastic way to learn craftsmanship.
Caito explained that Parsons and FIT offer pattern making programs, but they are teaching only the basics and not the “art” of pattern making. In France, you learn the craftsmanship. It’s about the approach to the work, the material, your hands, and how to move the fabric and make it fall properly. And you need to know geometry and math. It’s such exciting work and a beautiful way of expressing yourself.”
Nicolas believes that pattern makers express themselves through the material. That is just as important as what a fashion designer does. “We have a key role in helping a designer bring a vision to light,” said Nicolas. If you are not a good pattern maker, it’s hard for a designer to express himself.
Nicolas realizes that there are not a lot of people who aspire to do what he does. As a pattern maker, Nicolas is a behind-the-scenes kind of guy. He does not want to be in the spotlight. He finds it disheartening that more kids are drawn to being a designer than being a pattern maker. “We are pushing to create designers but not striving to find creators who can support and translate their work. “