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How Nicola Bacchilega Turned His Love of Sculpture Into One of Italy's Hottest Emerging Brands

When Defaïence founder Nicola Bacchilega’s stylist friend wore the brand’s glossy hoop earrings on set with Bella Hadid back in 2022, the supermodel commented she needed to have them. He left nothing to chance: Soon after, he snuck into a Coperni party on a mission to gift her a pair. Hadid accepted, and even allowed the Italian designer to snap a photo of the moment. This was one of his first acts of defiance, so to speak — the definition of the word is, after all, what inspired his label. 

Defaïence debuted in 2021 and already boasts a range of A-list admirers, like Doechii, Lori Harvey and Cardi B. It even caught the attention of stylist Law Roach, who put Megan Thee Stallion in a custom cobalt gown by the brand, accentuated by gear and a cutout at her hip. (“One of the best milestones of the brand was when she wore that dress,” Bacchilega says.) Celebrities have been a major part of the designer’s strategy, which he honed while working in Versace‘s Atelier department — more on that later.

Bacchilega grew up in Faenza, a small city in Italy known for its ceramics. His background is in sculpting, his own practice relating back to the body somehow. (His first-ever sculpture was like a “prototype” of his own form.) He became interested in fashion around 12 years old, when he saw the embroidery factory where his mom worked.

He left his hometown for the Academy of Fine Arts in Turin to study sculpture. But fashion hadn’t left him, and he eventually transferred to the London College of Contemporary Arts. It’s the “city of amazing designers like John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen — all designers I love and admire,” he says. 

After graduating, Bacchilega worked for Jenny Packham before debuting a since-shuttered eponymous label. “I gathered a small collection and sent my portfolio to Sara Maino [in 2016], then the editor of Vogue Italia,” he says. “She asked me to do a portfolio review in Rome. I went, and then she asked me to present the collection during fashion week as an emerging designer.”

That presentation led Versace to recruit him for its haute couture department. This is where he really cut his teeth and “learned how to manipulate fabrics, sculpt the body and know the anatomy of the women clients,” he says. He zeroed in on how to “build and give shape to ideas,” along with learning how to develop a collection and how to “create products after an idea.” He also got to work alongside celebrities like Taylor Swift (“such a dream”) and Madonna. Dua Lipa was another frequent client. (He helped assemble her 2019 Met Gala look.)

Photo: Kapfhammer and Go-See/Courtesy of Defaïence

When the Covid-19 pandemic descended, he decided to step away and return home to Faenza — a hard but necessary decision, he says. Launching Defaïence was an opportunity to put “all that energy towards something that can be the whole.” He had been holding onto the name, and “waited for the right time.” 

“My idea was to discover my origins again and express it through my sculptures — that’s what people love,” he says. “It wasn’t just about making jewelry. It was more like taking arts and developing that into a fashion.” 

Little did Bacchilega know, the moniker he chose for his brand would become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: Just a couple years after launching, fatal floods swept through northern Italy in May 2023, hitting Faenza and swamping his studio. Bacchilega remembers finding photos destroyed, equipment torn by its force and walls caving. It felt like he had lost everything

Photo: Kapfhammer and Go-See/Courtesy of Defaïence

Photo: Kapfhammer and Go-See/Courtesy of Defaïence

“It taught me the lesson that it’s really important to learn from what happens to you, and you always have to fight for your ideas, for what you want in life,” he says. “I found myself actually with clay-like mud in my hands, which is the material that inspires me every day and constantly.” 

Collections were paused until he gained enough support to rebuild: “I launched a Gofundme, and I got support from Vogue and from Sara Maino, the same person that helped me launch the brand. We got help geared towards small businesses to help rebuild. I found a new studio and equipment. Another supplier gave me some fabric… It was a rebirth for me. What I understood is you have to see the good things and bad things… and always find a balance.”

After a year-long hiatus, Bacchilega delivered his Anqā collection, inspired by the journey post-flood, in May 2024. The limited black-and-white color palette represents a chromatic equilibrium, mimicking ancient symbols like yin and yang. The clothes echo his draping-focused body of work.

Photo: Kapfhammer and Go-See/Courtesy of Defaïence

For the self-proclaimed admirer of neoclassicism who cites sculptors like Anish Kapoor and Antonio Canova as favorites, the work channeled a Greco-Roman art-tinged contour of the body with a futuristic feeling. His process usually involves draping fabric on a live model, as if sculpting with jersey, similar to great couturiers like Madame Grès and Azzedine Alaia. This, he says, allows for movements that follow shape with keen attention to anatomy, helping highlight its “blossoming.” The jewelry, meanwhile, starts with clay that Bacchilega sculpts, then 3D scans to be rendered and produced in metal. (It’s important to make jewelry out of one material only, he says, to make it easily recyclable.) 

Like the narrative nature of his first collection — Faience, that used white to mimic the color of a blank canvas and gold to represent “women in power” and a way to “elevate and divinize yourself” — Bacchilega’s forthcoming drop, dubbed “Series 3” for now, will feature transparent jewelry that emulates ice and colors that take after the Northern Lights’ green auroral curtains, purple ridges, blue bands and pink streaks.

Photo: Kapfhammer and Go-See/Courtesy of Defaïence

Photo: Kapfhammer and Go-See/Courtesy of Defaïence

Photo: Kapfhammer and Go-See/Courtesy of Defaïence

It was hard to get into showrooms as a young brand at first, he says, but after three years, he has found one that “believes in the brand” and is already helping it grow. Bacchilega teases potential retail spots in 2025 and is thinking of participating in fashion weeks, though “everything is so expensive,” especially putting on a runway show. It’s a challenge he and his emerging designer colleagues are particularly struggling with right now, especially in fashion’s big four (New York, London, Milan and Paris). Bacchilega is “curious about having the chance to show Defaïence collections” in locations like Portugal or South Africa.

His ultimate goal is to open a studio in New York City, he says. “Working between Italy and the U.S. is my dream.”

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