Anthony Picarelli lives in a house in Ridgewood, Queens that his parents bought 28 years ago. His grandparents, uncle, parents, and sister have all lived there at one point or another. It's a family dynamic that you think one would want to escape after graduating from college. But in the basement that his fireman uncle, Blaise Major, constructed with moon rock ceiling and a glass block wall, Anthony has created the world of his clothing brand, Tony Valentine. Sheets of newsprint filled with tattoo inspired drawings pile on top of one another. Canvases painted over dozens of times, collaged with texture stick together. And an original Chuck Close print and Sol Lewitt work, both obtained while working at PACE gallery, lean against a wall. Anthony knows they should both be put away in frames, yet there they stand.
Photos by Rachel Cabitt
Around the room, trinkets found while antique hunting with his girlfriend line the shelves. Collecting is a theme of Anthony's life, also present in his personal work through three characters he is constantly drawing. "Lil squirt, snoopy, the devil are all just manifestations of different emotions or personalities I have. When I was little I used to play a lot with action figures, and it was very important to me to speak and act like the specific characters i was imitating. I think some of that has stuck with me..."
Illustration Courtesy of Anthony Picarelli
But a character Anthony can't seem to imitate, according to him, is Tony Valentine. While Tony Valentine is a brand, it is first and foremost a persona. Since its creation, Anthony has played Tony out of practicality, but the authentic Mr. Valentine has yet to be fulfilled. To Anthony, the true Tony Valentine is a construction worker in Queens who has that one really sick tattoo and is just somehow hip without knowing it; the epitome of effortlessly cool. The name comes from details of being a gangster, Queens, skate culture, and tattoo art. Tony Valentine is classy, yet street; simple, yet obscure.
On his eighteenth birthday, Anthony got his first tattoo: a swallow on his left inner bicep, often seen throughout traditional tattoo art. To him, tattoos are like stickers, collecting them as he goes. At this point he has lost track of how many cover his body. He’ll go into the shop, usually Dan at Smith St., with an idea of what he wants in mind, and Dan takes over from there. It’s always a collaboration for him. His tattoos range from a Native American girl with a wolf on her head; a symbol of power, the number thirteen; a traditional Italian tattoo, to a tattoo of a panther; which he paid for by painting a mural in the corporate offices of Old Bay (yes, the red cap spice bottle company).
Attending art school in Baltimore at MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art), Anthony studied illustration and graphic design. He skated around the city, a passion carried over from high school, and sang in his heavy metal band, OATH, where he screen printed t-shirts with bleach for merch. This rough DIY aesthetic continues to bleed into Tony Valentine.
When designing, Anthony will come across a symbol or a character, draw it over and over until perfected, and then keeping the eraser marks, scan it onto his computer. He tries to keep as much of the original authenticity as possible. From the screen, he'll perfect it for the online custom made website where all of Tony Valentine's apparel is printed. He still personally calls the website up just to make sure they have the design right; not erasing any “mistakes” that are purposefully meant to stay. His process involves a lot of planning and reasoning; but once he’s set on an idea; he executes it then and there. “It’s a combination between my love for simplicity and boldness, and my impatience.”
Working at Opening Ceremony, Anthony is very familiar with the fashion world; yet keeps Tony Valentine off the notorious fashion calendar. “I feel like anything and everything that happens in fashion or pop culture hits [Opening Ceremony] immediately. It fills me in on the most contemporary trends and style. Sometimes it's almost overload, which in turn forces me to step back and seek out more authentic or genuine references.”
For Halloween he played off of Party City uniforms and created his own highlighter orange “Tony Valentine Costume Supply” shirts. He finds inspiration among blue collar business signs, old Harley Davidson t-shirts, Walmart catalogs, and even the infamous Zodiac Killer.
A designer taking a similar middle class cue, who Anthony commends, is Heron Preston of DSNY. This past NYFW, SS17, Preston played off of the New York Department of Sanitation's iconic uniforms. Launched in the industrial environment of a salt shed, NYFW came out to honor the NYDS workers, with a percentage of proceeds going to the Foundation for New York's Strongest. If Tony Valentine were to ever have a fashion show one day, it’d be in a bodega in Ridgewood, Queens.
Skating under the BQE in Williamsburg, one of Anthony's go to skate spots, you begin to see that while Anthony might not be able to fully imitate the character of Tony Valentine, it might be for the best. While the brand signals the image of a person, it is most prominently a collection, just like all the other things in Anthony's life. It heralds the iconic New York figure yet mixes in the uncertainty of the notorious struggling young artist. Tony Valentine is constantly evolving, just like the city who created him.