At first glance, Toronto brand Libero’s latest collection tells a certain story — one that reflects co-founder Adam Appugliesi’s Italian background and pieces that evoke a cinematic kind of timelessness. Upon second glance, there’s another story being told: one about family.
The burgeoning brand has been spotted on everyone from Game of Thrones‘ Kit Harington to Toronto FC’s Mark-Anthony Kaye — but it’s not them who Appugliesi calls on to model his newest collection. In the last week, three videos have emerged on Libero’s Instagram page as part of Libero’s Fall/Winter 23 ad campaign. Appugliesi’s father stars in all three, and in the second his parents dance under a spotlight, recreating a scene from their wedding. Family is the source of Libero’s strong brand identity. Appugliesi’s key values: “integrity, intentionality, being authentic.”
Those values were immediately apparent — when I reached out to Appugliesi, he suggested I swing by his upcoming pop-up before we arranged for a proper interview. Donning my Bode jacket as armour, I arrived at the Libero pop-up at 68 Abell St. where we nibbled on Appugliesi’s mother’s delicious biscotti and chatted a little about Libero, but mostly about The Strokes and the meaning of some of the illustrations of my jacket.
Flash forward 10 days, I’m sitting across from Appugliesi at Sonndr Cafe. What ensues is a nearly two-hour conversation (in part on and off the record), covering immense swaths of ground, our conversation apparently so good that a man at the cafe came up to us to say how much he enjoyed eavesdropping on our conversation.
Let’s start at the beginning of the beginning. Appugliesi spent the first half of his 20s in Italy playing soccer professionally. Upon his return to Canada, he was faced with an identity crisis.
“Who am I? What am I going to do? What makes sense for me?” he says, were just a few of the questions he asked himself. A family friend, Giuseppe Morcinelli, incidentally the artist whose prints donned the walls of the pop-up, got him a job at Holt Renfrew in Square One. Appugliesi’s best friend, Kadeem Johnson, worked at Holts too, where they spent their days “talking so much shit about some of the brands that were in the store.”
It got to the point where Johnson said, “You know what, man, you talk so much shit, do it yourself.”
What started as a small project — let’s make a jacket for our friends — grew into something far larger than either of them ever intended. They submitted a picture of Johnson wearing the jacket to Highsnobiety on a whim, then woke up one morning sometime later with 700 new followers on the Libero Instagram account. “It had been like five orders since we made that jacket, since we’ve been a brand,” he says.
Johnson passed away a year and a half later. “I’ve been on this mission to complete this for us, for him,” Appugliesi says.
The designer’s take on his Libero beginnings? “I don’t want to say out of nowhere, but just a very uncanny way of beginning. I never went to school for [fashion]. I never had any real die-hard sentiments towards it,” he says.
But he says this has since changed, as throughout our conversation Appugliesi speaks of his reverence for Ralph Lauren and Miuccia Prada, as well as Toronto’s Spencer Badu. Lauren is the supreme, though. Lauren and Martin Scorsese.
For Appugliesi, the throughline between these two legendary artists is not in their ability to accurately depict American culture, but rather their strong storytelling sensibility. “Why shouldn’t everybody be telling a beautiful story?” Appugliesi asks. “If there’s no story behind something, am I going to fall in love with it?”
For him, the answer is no.
And the stories that Appugliesi tells are his own — that’s where the specificity of his vision comes from. At its core, Libero is a family business. Appugliesi works with a small team and pulls from the same people to produce and capture each campaign. He and Johnson originally tapped Appugliesi’s family friend, a seamstress in her 70s, to craft each piece, consulting her on designs and trusting her expertise. For the brand’s 2022 collection, Appugliesi travelled back to Johnson’s hometown of London, England and shot the entire campaign there to honour his co-founder and friend. Remember: the prints on the walls of the Abell Street pop-up were made by the same person who gave Appugliesi his job at Holts. With Libero, you don’t have to be a blood relative to be family.