The fuller picture is that he doesn’t speak Flemish, Antwerp’s lingua franca, and that the Royal Academy’s avant-garde tendencies didn’t reflect his taste. “I couldn’t understand the point of being ugly,” he says. “It didn’t feel fair to wear a coat with three sleeves or trousers with four legs — it was pretentious and snobby, like a parody of fashion.” He resented the peacockery: If a person could afford designer clothes, why would they choose to look like a clown? “I felt different,” says Vaccarello, who acknowledges that there will always be naysayers who consider his more traditional articulations of beauty less intellectual than those of his experimental peers. “I never considered whether what I was doing was good. I just thought it was right.” When La Cambre rejected his fashion application, Vaccarello pursued sculpture instead, a skill that came in handy two years later when he was at last accepted into the program. “Some colleagues never worried about what was happening in the back of the garment,” he says. “But every angle was important to me.”

Vaccarello met Michaux, whom he married in 2016, on the dance floor at an electroclash concert. They didn’t start dating for two years, but their professional relationship took off immediately. Vaccarello, a skilled but self-described lazy tailor, had big ideas; Michaux, who was a year ahead of him at school, knew how to execute them. The artist David Alexander Flinn, a close friend of the couple’s who has modeled for Saint Laurent, refers to Vaccarello’s clothes as “their visions,” and compares the distribution of labor to a “wonderfully profound stew.” Vaccarello, he says, is responsible for the look and smell of the dish; “Arnaud is the taste.” Michaux, Saint Laurent’s image director, who declined to be interviewed for this story, refuses to discuss fashion with his husband after 6 p.m. “Even if I want to gossip about something,” says Vaccarello, “he’s like, ‘Yeah, I don’t care.’”

In September 2006, Vaccarello received a call from the office of Karl Lagerfeld, who’d seen his leather-heavy graduate collection and offered him a position at Fendi’s fur workshop in Rome. “The job was basically waiting by the fax machine to execute Karl’s sketches,” he says. “I felt kind of useless in the process. It could have been me or it could have been someone else.” (Vaccarello hasn’t attended the Met Gala since 2021 — “It’s becoming a joke,” he says. “I don’t want to be linked to that” — but he did visit the Costume Institute’s recent Lagerfeld show, where he was surprised to find a coat of his with patchwork fur and a butterfly motif.)

Two years into his time at Fendi, Vaccarello was encouraged by the French retailer Maria Luisa Poumaillou to create a collection of his own for her boutique on Paris’s Rue Cambon. That’s when he and Michaux relocated to the French capital and started Anthony Vaccarello. But just as the label of mostly body-hugging, mostly black designs was finding its way — top models were walking in his shows for free, and in 2011 he won a prize, presented to him by a jury that included Bergé and Emmanuelle Alt, then French Vogue’s editor and an early champion of his work — Donatella Versace summoned him to her suite at the Bristol hotel. In Vaccarello’s mind, an audience with Versace was like meeting Madonna. There were bodyguards and a table of sweets. “When she arrived, she filled the room with the smell of perfume,” he remembers. “I was totally seduced.” At Fendi, most of Lagerfeld’s time was taken up by his work for Chanel, but Versace “really wanted to build something with me,” he says. Vaccarello in turn reminded Versace of her brother Gianni, who was killed in 1997. “They were both so insecure,” she says. “Only a genius can be that humble.”

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