Interview: Michael Canning, Exceptional Alien
This interview by our friends at Exceptional Alien was held in two-parts, one in Milan and one in Paris.
Hi Ferdinando. Where did you grow up, and where are you based today?
I grew up in Parma, Italy, and I would say I grew up professionally in New York. Today I’m based in New York, but I also live a slightly nomadic existence with my work and travel. I visit Italy and Milan quite often, which is a city I know very well, and I spend most of my time travelling between the usual suspects of New York, London, Milan and Paris. As we speak today I’m in Milan, where I have been for Milan Fashion Week and other projects for Vogue Italia.
Which countries have you lived around the globe?
I’ve lived in Italy, Germany, Sweden, China and of course America.
And what is a place you enjoy working?
I like to work in hotel lobbies, even in my hometown in New York.
After living in New York for many years, how would you describe your relationship with the city?
New York is basically my greatest love. I feel like it really accepted me and transformed me in a way. New York is a big part of my identity. I’m very grateful to it and connected to it on a deep level. I feel like my actual energy and thinking metabolism is a product of New York’s rhythms and speed. The unpredictability and restlessness of New York is a feeling that I think I am very addicted to. The other thing about New York is the sheer importance of the sense of community that the city embodies. These are all things about New York that are connected to my way of thinking.
Is this unpredictability of New York something that inspires you?
There is a restlessness in New York which is this sense of a constant, perpetual search for something, which connects with my creative process in that I try to never feel like I have reached a final conclusion, but always try to challenge what I’ve been thinking.
When you travel by plane are you a window or aisle person?
I get claustrophobic so I choose the aisle.
What is the connection between your travels, and your creative process?
With all the travel I do, it’s like I’m in this constant state of beta. It’s a state of flux which is never really settled. I think this is a good condition for my brain to be in because I don’t feel like I’m ever reaching an end point, which has become part of how I like to think and create which is constantly iterative, and doesn’t feel like anything is ever finished. This allows me to keep making things better and better, rather than just reaching an end point. I find it is an inspiring condition to be in because I’m literally on tour with creative projects, but I travel with my team and we get to have this always moving creative experience in different places. As I said earlier I am in Milan right now for Milan Fashion Week, which has been a crazy week with the impact of the Coronavirus. After a couple of meetings here today I leave for Paris where I’ll be met with the next challenge.
Do you see creativity growing more borderless today?
Creativity doesn’t have a geographical location today, and interesting cultural ideas often don’t have any time lag between countries like they might have in the past. Creativity can exist in the same moment globally. I think the most interesting thing about experiencing new cultures to your own when you travel, is actually finding and seeing similarities, rather than just differences.
Cultures around the world are ultimately defined by many individuals, and the more I travel, the more I realise that we are all very similar at heart.
As the Creative Director for iconic publishing title, Vogue Italia, can you tell us about your vision for the brand and recent projects?
My personal creative process is very ideas led, and part of my vision for Vogue Italia is to create a moment with each issue and cover that we create, that is interesting or entertaining enough to start conversation around a theme - to speak about culture through fashion. This is part of what I see as an overall challenge for how the editorial world can work and operate. A recent example of this is our issue of Vogue Italia in January 2020, where we replaced the classic photographic approach of magazine covers with work by artists and painters, as a comment on environmental sustainability in the fashion industry, and to announce our own focus on reducing the environmental impact of photoshoots and the editorial process. Hopefully this can inspire a precedent that others will follow.
For the July 2019 Vogue Italia issue we focussed on a theme of DNA, which aimed to cast a light on the meanings of identity and heritage in today’s multicultural and global world. The three models in our shoot underwent a DNA test to trace their origins on set. At a time when DNA testing of family origins has almost become a trend, it presented a theme around what multiculturalism means today and also Vogue Italia’s own DNA of creativity. These are a few of the types of ideas that I have been able to bring to life, with the approach that I am pursuing of using the magazine as a platform to say something through fashion, whether it be more deep or fun or topical.
Creativity doesn't have a geographical location.
How often do you travel for Vogue Italia projects?
I travel a lot for shoots, about a week per month for each Vogue Italia cover, and also for brands that we work are working with. I spend about fifteen or twenty percent of my time in New York, and the remainder travelling for work and creative projects.
Where do you find creative inspiration in New York?
When I need to think, and isolate myself, I typically go uptown. I like the scale the city takes up there and I especially find comforting the fact I don’t belong.
I also find myself often in hotel lobbies. I like the transitory atmosphere, it makes it for a special type of privacy, even if among other people. I love the fact there is often no music.
What is something you consider an example of exceptional design worth checking out in New York?
The Earth Room and Donald Judd Apartment on Spring.
If you’re heading to a good restaurant, where are you going?
My friends' restaurant Epistrophy and Italian restaurant I Sodi.
How would you describe New York in a sentence?
A Cruise ship. I like to think everyone traveling in the same direction, and it’s the ultimate sea town after all. Everyone is traveling.