YYZ to LHR: Libero Ventures to the U.K. and Continues the Legacy of Its Co-Founder

After moving to Europe to pursue a professional soccer career at the age of 18, Adam Appugliesi returned to Canada. He had spent five years living among some of the most stylish people in the world, but on his way home, he didn’t have much of a plan for the future. With a lifelong interest in fashion and retail experience — thanks to his days working at Club Monaco as a teenager — he quickly found a sales associate gig at Holt Renfrew, selling clothes by day while he thought about his next long-term move.

Appugliesi’s best friend, Kadeem Johnson, often visited him during his shifts. Johnson also shared a love of fashion and was Appugliesi’s biggest sartorial inspiration. Johnson would tell his friend that everyone could see his passion for clothing — so why not take that to the next level? Appugliesi would laugh and roll his eyes. After all, he did have experience selling clothes. But making them was a completely different story.

Libero — From YYZ to LHR

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Libero — From YYZ to LHR

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Libero — From YYZ to LHR

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“I would tell Kadeem, ‘I can’t do that, I wouldn’t know where to even start,’ ” Appugliesi explained recently over a Zoom call from his home in Toronto. “But he kept pushing me to consider making clothes until one day I told him, ‘You know what? We should do this together.’ ”

So they did. Appugliesi and Johnson formed Libero (LEE-beh-roh) in 2018, naming it after the Italian word for “free.” (It’s also the name of Appugliesi’s grandfather.) They reached out to an old family friend of Appugliesi’s, a seamstress in her 70s named Michelina with over 50 years of experience making clothes, who at the time was mostly sewing wedding dresses for friends and family. It didn’t take much to convince her to start working with Appugliesi and Johnson.

“Michelina has been our knight in shining armour,” says Appugliesi. “We sit together, we talk, we fight about details on each piece, we laugh, and it’s because of her experience and craftsmanship that Libero has been able to grow very organically. I compare it to risotto. Risotto is one of the hardest dishes to make. It takes a lot of time and patience. Michelina has allowed us to take our time and really put our sweat and tears into everything we’ve put out so far.”

Libero released a few pieces in 2018, slowly and deliberately. Among these pieces was a ’70s-inspired jacket that featured a vertical stripe in a nod to the dual stripes that adorned the racing uniform Steve McQueen wore in the 1972 film Le Mans. The jacket was a hit, and sold out immediately. It’s been since rereleased a few times in different colours, and it remains perhaps the brand’s most famous piece in its short existence. Every time, it’s gone within minutes. The jacket been spotted on magazine editors, fashion influencers, and professional athletes like Toronto FC and Canadian national men’s team midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye.

Over the last four years, Libero’s collections have been consistent, compact, and highly curated, most with no more than four or five pieces. They range from tees with striking graphics that nod to Appugliesi’s Italian heritage to luxurious double-breasted cashmere coats — all hand-sewn by Michelina, who continues to craft every Libero piece herself.

Libero — From YYZ to LHR

Earlier this spring, Appugliesi and his team went overseas to London, where Johnson was born, and shot the campaign for their recent Spring/Summer 2022 collection, entitled Change of Guard. The campaign is a love letter to Johnson, who passed away unexpectedly in 2019 at the age of 24.

“Going to London was really a full-circle moment for both me and the brand,” says Appugliesi. “Over the two years Kadeem and I had done Libero together before he passed, we had spoken about how cool it would be to go to London and shoot a collection there.

“Earlier this year, I decided it was time to do it,” he continues. “I found the house Kadeem was born in based on a post from his Instagram account, which is still active today. I found friends of his, many he had never met in person before, and got them to model. The campaign was also some closure for me, a moment for me to go, ‘I love you, Kadeem. This is all for you. I hope you love it too.’ ”

Johnson’s DNA can still be spotted in everything the brand does, helping to shape its ethos and point of view as it continues to move forward and evolve, slowly but surely.

“Kadeem was all about inclusivity,” says Appugliesi. “He would always say, ‘If you’re going to do something, let everybody love it.’ Let everybody be involved. And that’s what we try to do with Libero. I don’t do this for me anymore. It’s to carry on his legacy. Libero could end today, and I would be content. But I know I can’t do that until we’ve taken it to the moon and people get to see the kind of person he was.”


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