In Milano, Italy, a young Italian stops near the corner of San Siro. The stadium lights shine bright behind him, the horizontal view fades as the credits roll up. Practice has run short, and the crowd slowly trickles out of the gates. Our protagonist, Adam Appugliesi, a starry-eyed athlete from Canada crosses the road with his red cleats slung over his shoulder.
This, of course, never happened. It’s just the image that comes to me when Appugliesi tells me about his time in Italy as a youngster. When he was 18, he actually did go to Italy to pursue a professional career in soccer. It might not have been in Milan, nor was he ever practicing in San Siro, but today one thing is for certain – Appugliesi is playing in a league of his own.
As the founder and creative director behind Libero, the highly sought-after Canadian menswear brand, Appugliesi has caught industry attention since the release of Libero’s Steve McQueen-inspired jacket which hit the circuit a few years ago. The brand has a unique story, one that I’m fond of diving into. Having once moseyed the streets of Toronto’s Queen West myself, I draw a particular attraction to Appugliesi’s grassroots success.
When Appugliesi and I connected earlier this year, we went over the ins-and-outs of his latest collection, ‘Change of Guard,’ an homage to his best friend and Libero co-founder, Kadeem Johnson, who passed away unexpectedly in 2019.
In their early twenties, the self-proclaimed fashionheads worked in prominent retail shops in Toronto. It was on the sales floor that Appugliesi and Johnson used to talk shit about new collections, playing with the idea of getting into the game themselves. It brewed for years as Appugliesi ironed out the brand’s ethos and philosophies. But in 2018, with the help of local creatives, the duo dropped the solo ‘Le Mans’ jacket to critical acclaim.
Four years later, Appugliesi wanted to do something special for the brand’s SS22 collection. He wanted to do something that would honour Johnson’s personal style while infusing a new Libero twist. With a rough idea mapped out for the new drop, Appugliesi flew to London – Johnson’s hometown – and started to build the story of the campaign surrounding Johnson’s life.
“When he passed away I was fortunate enough to keep some of his possessions,” Appugliesi told me. “I had the idea of using some of Kadeem’s things as the inspiration for the new collection. I travelled to London, visited his childhood home, and met some of his friends. I asked one of them to be in the lookbook and he thankfully said yes.”
The result of ‘Change of Guard’ was something that went beyond a traditional collection release. It was a show of expert storytelling, a captivating piece of filmmaking, and something that rivaled big-house marketing both creatively and visually.
Speaking on how the process affected him personally, Appugliesi didn’t back down to vulnerability. In many ways, the collection was a moment of closure. “This wasn’t for fun,” Appugliesi told me. “This was for real.”
We took a moment to talk about what Johnson might’ve said about the collection and how it turned out. In the end, Appugliesi believed Johnson would approved. “He’d probably give me shit for it not being good enough,” Appugliesi joked. “But I think he’d love it.”
It’s hard to believe that only four years earlier, when ‘Le Mans’ dropped on the internet, Appugliesi had little idea of what he was getting into. It’s one aspect that I particularly love about Libero – it’s not the product of typical fashion schoolboys. It’s got grit, street-smarts, and the attitude that comes from end-all dedication.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” Appugliesi said. “I didn’t go to school for this…. I was just doing what I thought was cool.”
As a student del juego, Appugliesi immersed himself in studying fabrics, pattern-making, and eventually he connected with Michelina, a friend of the family and expert seamstress with more than 50 years of clothing experience. To this day she remains as Libero’s head seamstress, crafting each piece by hand with Appugliesi’s oversight.
To say that Libero is a family affair would be most appropriate. From chalkboard concept to full-fledged menswear contender, the brand dropped their first collection and launched their first pop-up within eight months. Since the get-go, Libero has always been focused on creating quality handmade pieces with the philosophy of dressing freely for both men and women.
Several capsules and collections later, including Sulla Terrazza, Setting the Table, and Triple C, Libero has perfected its practice over the years. It’s garnered the attention from the who’s-who of the fashion industry, including big-time magazine editors and stylists around the globe. All the while Appugliesi has stayed true to his humble roots with classic Italian hospitality.
“People are always buying products,” Appugliesi told me, explaining the brand’s values. “So it’s not about taking people’s money. If that were the case I would’ve done this a completely different way, but that’s not who I am or what I’m about. Libero is about selling a story. It’s about building a brand with community.”
And I couldn’t agree more. There’s a reason the Libero reputation keeps building. For one, industry folks keep telling me that Appugliesi himself is a stand-up guy. Fashion YouTuber and industry vet, Drew Joiner, for instance, called Appugliesi “one of the classiest individuals” he’s ever met. That’s high praise, but one that I’m glad holds up when I chat with Appugliesi myself.
As for the future of Libero, I think we can safely say the brand has established themselves in a league of their own. With pieces of their latest Steel Toes FW2022 campaign dropping last night, Libero honed in on workwear silhouettes with their Lavoro jacket, a TEXWAX ™ cotton shell with corduroy collar, patch pockets and premium buttons. Complementary to the Lavoro jacket is the staple quarter-zip made out of 100% French Terry Cotton, this time featuring elevated functionality for cool temperatures. As someone born into a family of construction workers, Appugliesi says the new collection pays respect to the working class family.
Being one of the few Canadian outfits cutting and sewing their products right here in Toronto, Libero easily joins the ranks of our international favourites such as Bode, Harago, Graziano & Gutierrez, Corridor, and Karu Research.
“There are very, very few people doing this in Canada. A handful of people at most,” Appugliesi explained. “There’s no right or wrong answer, but this is how we do it.”
To shop Libero’s FW2022 Steel Toes, you can click here. This article is featured in the style section of our upcoming Winter Issue.