This past fall, former stylist Nicola Formichetti appeared on no fewer than four international magazine covers. That was more than Lady Gaga, his good friend, closest supporter and outlandish muse. Born to an Italian father and a Japanese mother, the 34-year-old has, until fairly recently, worked mostly behind the scenes, shaping the images of others; thanks to his still-fresh role as creative director at Mugler, however, he is now a fashion rainmaker. Just prior to an appearance at The Room in Toronto not long ago, he expounded on everything from his discovery of Quebec-born Zombie Boy to the perils of transporting Gaga's costumes
On his initial reluctance to take the Mugler gig in 2010
"I could not do it because, for me, Thierry Mugler was the most genius designer. He was more than fashion – he was entertainment, music, subculture, glamour. I told Joel [Palix, CEO of Thierry Mugler] 'I don't want to ruin what he has done.' But the more I thought about it, the more I [became convinced] The name [since Mugler retired in 2002]had become completely nothing. I was talking to fashion students and they didn't know who he was except for the perfume."
On his early days with Gaga
"I was really impressed the first time I [styled]her for V magazine. Basically, she loved everything I had. If she only knew how I had to lie to get clothes from the press offices. Because they didn't know her. They didn't think she was cool. They all said no."
On his discovery of Rick "Zombie Boy" Genest, the artist and model best known for his head-to-toe tattoos
"I used to have a black and white photo of him on my mood board. Then I saw a You- Tube video and realized he's for real. So I contacted him through Facebook because I thought he could be a great Mugler boy. He didn't have a passport so I went to Montreal the following week. Because of the way he looked, people had been really mean to him; he said he couldn't even get a cleaning job. Actually, he was just a cool, shy punk kid, which I loved. He doesn't know who anyone is in fashion but has an understanding of beauty. We were able to get him a passport. A week later, he was in Paris."
On attending the 2009 Much Music Video Awards in Toronto
"I got stopped by security [at Pearson International Airport the morning after the awards] They opened my suitcase and, basically, it looked like I had a bomb. But it was [Lady Gaga's]fire bra from the night before – all sorts of wires and stuff. I thought they were going to put me in prison when, by chance, a guy walked past and said, 'Oh my god, that's Gaga's bra from last night!' Then they all started laughing and let me go."
This interview has been edited and condensed.