Stefano Riznyk, CEO and Chief Creative Director of Antonio Stefano

The tie, so simple, but so underutilized. Stefano Riznyk has made it one of his missions to change the idea of what a tie should look like. His new company, Antonio Stefano, has set out to revolutionize the tie. However, the company isn’t stopping there. The brand is tackling other fashion areas that have been ignored, and Antonio Stefano is doing it with style.

The business lawyer hopes to change fashion as we know it; but he isn’t just about clothes and accessories. Riznyk is using his fashion company as a platform to improve the lives of dogs. Since he was young, dogs have been one of the main passions of Riznyk’s life. The designer hopes to fund a dog hospital through the sales of Antonio Stefano produced products. It is a lofty ambition, but one that Riznyk believes will change the lives of thousands of canines for the better.

Firstly, tell us about “Antonio Stefano”?

Antonio Stefano was an idea that had been sitting with me since 1997. Gianni Versace not only had great taste, but his clothes spoke to the fact that we need something different, something that distinguishes us. I wanted to stand on his shoulders, not of his outstanding designs, but his concept of originality blended with style and elegance. Fashion with life breathed into it, a dance, if you will.

That concept, for me, meant the ties I wore. They were Versace’s works of art that separated me from all the other ‘suits’ in any room. The ties garnered many compliments and opened many doors. When he passed away, there was no one else who really went out of their way to make men’s ties unique. Sine 1997 I have waited until now to start something on my own and an opportunity arose. I grasped it with everything I had and went full steam ahead.

I did not want to become just a tie company, or just a designer for men. I sought out another niche that was underserved, which is ladies’ bathrobes. We will be expanding to belts and handbags in the future, and seeking other ways to breathe life into wardrobes for both men and women as our future unfolds.

What sets you apart from your competitors?

Our very unique Italian designs combined with the fact that we are seeking out niches in the apparel world that have not been properly addressed from a fashion standpoint. In the necktie arena, for example, men often look alike in their dark suits and plain unrecognizable ties. We have created a collection proven to garner many compliments and serve as a very unique icebreaker. They are not just different, they are sophisticated in execution, elegant in design, and the quality is the best we could find in Italy.

Our ladies’ bathrobes, currently in pre-production, will wake up any sleeping man when it is worn. Our clothing is made with the spirit of a dance with life celebrated through fashion.

What do you have your sights set on next?

Next in line, and currently three months from release, is our ladies’ bathrobe line. We originally made it out of silk in Lake Como, but silk is impractical, as it is delicate, and additionally requires dry cleaning. We went back to the drawing board and after testing a multitude of fabrics, located a satin that is very close to the original silk model. However, it is much stronger and about 1/7th of the retail cost.

Robe Antonio Stefano

The design is borrowed from our “Leopardo” tie, and that design is used both on the sleeves and the belt with our logo on the front. We then extricated the leopard from the tie, expanded it and covered the ladies’ back area with it. Ladies no longer have to look like grandmothers when they wake up, even if they are. It is time for the walking bathrobe to offer a more stunning look and to serve a fashion and style purpose, not just a practical one.

What is the most challenging part of your work?

I find the retail marketing of the products to be most challenging. I enjoy every other aspect of the fashion industry: picking out the clothing type to design, working on the design, choosing colors, choosing fabrics, participating in fashion shows, but the retail marketing aspect takes me away from where I have my greatest fun.

What was your most rewarding professional experience?

Frankly, meeting with and working with our design team in Lake Como. I am not an artist, but I like to create the concept. I have a lot of ideas and I want to integrate them. Working with the Tandura family and Ilyzia group has exceeded my expectations. They are able to take my thoughts, explanations and graphics, and turn them into designs that turn heads in the boardroom.

Pierpaolo Tandura has been designing in the fashion industry all of his life, and his wife Giovanna is an artist, as is his son, Alessandro. Being the younger member of the team, Alessandro uses computers heavily, and has all of the software and hardware imaginable to digitize the hand-made designs of his mother and father.

Working with talented artists 6,000 miles away, who can see through my eyes via random pictures I send them via email and a few notes in Italian, they transform them into finished gorgeous graphics. This is more rewarding than you can imagine. I consider them my extended family.

How do you find inspiration?

I spend a lot of time going to style houses, fashion shows and browsing a large number of fashion magazines. Somehow, in a way I cannot explain, a thought will just hit me. It will be the result of my brain integrating everything it sees, feels and experiences. A glass table inspired one of my ties…guess which one? I never know where the ideas emanate from, I just know when they arrive.

What led you to start “Antonio Stefano”?

Having hosted a number of events and fashion shows to raise money for abused dogs, I realized that if I didn’t have a department that called on people with the big checks on a regular basis, we would never make as much money as we require. The average medical bill for one abused dog hovers in the $5000 range. I needed something that would be self-sustaining and capable of providing more revenue. Sadly, continuous revenue is needed as the abuse of dogs is a larger problem than most people know.

Antonio Stefano became part one of a two-part strategy in designing a project that would last longer than I would. The clothing brand will fund a hospital for dogs that will be diagnostic and dental intensive. The hospital will be ‘for’ profit and for the public. All of the profits will be placed in a trust account and when an abused or abandoned dog exists at a shelter or found at some other locale, our hospital will fund all of the diagnostics, dentistry, surgery and we will even groom the dog before release.

The hospital, with MRIs, CTs, and other diagnostic tools will be a draw to the best vets in the country. In turn, the fact that we will care for abused dogs means that the expense will not be an issue and there is no one to say ‘no’ to a $50,000 procedure, for example. As our doctors work on salary, we get them at much less than retail cost, of course. We will be able to test new procedures that have not been tried due to monetary concerns. Once we have developed a system for a new procedure, the cost will drop exponentially, and we can share what we learn with vets worldwide.

As I have a degree in biochemistry and experimental genetics, science interests me. I would like to have two progressive doctors on staff who work on humans: a trauma surgeon and an ER surgeon. We can use their knowledge to advance veterinary medicine. At this point, we can also become a teaching facility and qualify for grants. Most importantly, we can raise the knowledge base of veterinary medicine, because we will be in a very unique position to do so, and that may save countless lives for dogs. Regrettably, dogs are usually the first to get euthanized, especially where medical costs are factored in.

Were you ever influenced by other entrepreneurs?

Having started a business at 13, I have been influenced by many over the years, but Sir Richard Branson definitely is the first that comes to mind.

How is a day in your life?

It starts out at the gym, where it is as intense as it gets; but it is the most relaxing part of my day. I then hop on the tail of a supersonic jet and hang on as hard as I can while the next eight to 10 hours swiftly elapse. This is usually followed by some event in the evening before going to bed and starting again.

What makes you smile?

Seeing: my family, my friends, my dogs, the sunrise, the sunset, waking up, perogies and the smell of a beautiful cup of coffee awaiting me.

What scares you?

I have a lot of challenges ahead of me in expanding Antonio Stefano. Launching a fashion brand, or any brand, is far from easy. Not being able to build my dog hospital in the next couple of years scares me.

What is your greatest achievement?

I would say it was scoring the winning goal in my polo club’s biggest games of the season. I learned to ride after I learned polo, at 28. As I was not highly experienced, this game was completely out of my league. On the other hand, although not a morning person, I would go to the club at 6 A.M. and practice every day. On this one day, a player was absent. I volunteered to replace him, but the request was ignored. At the last minute, my private coach suggested my horse and I were up for it, and sure enough, we scored the winning goal, which led to the first trophy of my life.

What is your secret talent?

I am a high-level negotiator and take no credit; it is a gift. I have been able to negotiate the impossible for my clients. From undoing kidnapping and extortion plots with no money changing hands for politicians and movie producers; to saving careers and companies, I am humbly grateful for this jewel.

Which historical figure do you most admire?

Audrey Hepburn.

Any hobbies?

I played polo for 13 years, and also enjoy dancing, cooking, travel, photography and filmmaking. Oh yes, and fashion, fashion, fashion!

What’s your favorite vacation spot?

I would have to say Rome, Milan, Lake Como, Cannes, Ibiza and Mykonos together share that answer. Each brings something unique to the table and it is hard, no, impossible, to really choose one particular city over the other.

What are you never without?

My phone, laptop, and AmEx card.

Choose two of your favorite quotes and write them here

“When you’re not practicing, remember that someone somewhere is practicing, and when you meet him he will win” – Ed Macauley

“A day dawns, quite like other days; in it, a single hour comes, quite like other hours; but in that day and in that hour the chance of a lifetime faces us.” – Maltbie Babcock

How do you define success?

Turning a thought into a reality.

What advice would you give to anyone starting a new business?

Having run a business law firm for 29 years, I would suggest to learn everything you can about contracts and working with your lawyer to cover all of the contingencies that can occur, so that a simple missing clause does not kill all of the hard work you have conducted. A contract is the foundation on which your company is built. It is even more important than the execution of its core competence. So, few people realize the power of a contract until I have to litigate it. There is no ‘one size fits all’ in today’s business world. With all of the new fields that emerge and all of the contingencies that laws have not been written for, or there are no precedents for, the entrepreneur bears the responsibility of working as the lawyer’s team member to explain everything he or she knows about what could go wrong before it does.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Be empathetic to your dogs. If you decide to have a dog, get two. Dogs are not meant to be alone, they are social beings. Please consider a shelter if you decide on a new dog. If you get a dog, please don’t abandon him or her in old age. Those are my thoughts for today.

For more information on Antonio Stefano and the man behind the fashion brand, Stefano Riznyk, go to www.antoniostefano.com for more.

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