Happening. Marni SS22

Francesco Risso‘s spring-summer 2022 fashion show for Marni was actually a happening – which in art terms is defined as an theatrical event, often with elements of dada and surrealism. The name was first used by the American artist Allan Kaprow in the title of his 1959 work 18 Happenings in 6 Parts which took place in 1959 in New York. Happenings typically took place in an environment created within the gallery and involved light, sound, a multitude of sensations and the audience’s participation. To an extent, Risso checked all the points, redefining and expanding the concept with, of course, fashion. In the days leading up to the show, the designer and his team conducted fittings for 400 people. The models got the new spring collection, while the show’s performers and guests wore upcycled cotton separates hand-painted with colorful stripes. Risso grew discouraged by the digital focus of the job during the lockdowns. His idea, he explained, “was about going back to the practice of what we do, which is making clothes for people, one to one.” He said the process was just as significant to him as the final result. But, oh, what a final result. All season, we’ve been waiting for a designer who was up for the hard but necessary work of addressing the last year-and-a-half of pandemic and racial justice reckoning. Who acknowledged the changes the world has gone through in our mutual isolation, and, in turn, changed the way they do things. For the “fashion happening”, Risso invited Dev Hynes for the music; the poet Mykki Blanco did a spoken word performance; the singer Zsela was joined by a heavenly sounding choir. On the program notes, Babak Radboy, who’s known for his work with Telfar Clemens, shared creative direction. The cast had the racial diversity, body inclusivity, and gender fluidity.

The spring collection’s two main motifs were stripes and daisies. Sometimes, the simplest ideas are the most effective. “Stripes are strongly associated with direction, where daisies are new beginnings and resilience; they’re banal concepts,” Risso said. But in a palette of blues and yellows, they weren’t boring. Navigating a spiral seating arrangement before reversing the circle on a central stage, the models wore slinky bias dresses in graphic rugby stripes, color-blocked blazers, Breton stripe ponchos, easy woven caftans, and shaggy cardigans and shawls, one of which was modeled by Risso himself: everyday clothes with a feeling of the hand. And then came the daisies, which felt more eccentric: naively embroidered on signature Marni shapes, intarsia’d on trompe l’oeil knits, and on the striking final look, hand-painted on a floor-length T-shirt dress. “I kept thinking about sports, not because the collection has references to sports in its details, but because of how teams work – that union,” said Risso. “At the end of the day, who is our trainer? It’s our heartbeat, it synchronizes everyone.” As the models circled the crowd at the finale and Szela sang Dev Hynes’s moving original composition “Guide You Home,” the audience erupted in applause. It went on for some time.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Real Clothes, Real Feelings. Marni AW21

Really, who didn’t play bed-sheets-couture dress-up, even once during the year of endless lockdowns? Those fabulous, voluminous duvet garments Francesco Risso offered in his Marni autumn-winter 2021 surely had this sort of stay-at-home-laziness origin. But this collection isn’t another mumbling about “fancy” home-wear. When fashion weeks went digital and wardrobes turned domestic, designers faced new pressures from the marketing machine. “People came to me saying, ‘It has to be digital savvy; it has to be digital friendly; it has to go through the screen,’” Francesco Risso recalled. “Fuck that.”Posed with designing his second Marni collection in Italian lockdown, he asked himself: how do we respond to times of continued separation? Do we surrender to a digital overthrow, or do we fight back with all the things cyberspace could never give us: the human hand, tactility, and the chemistry of nature? “To me, it’s been revelatory,” Risso told Vogue.  Developed almost entirely by hand, the collection became a quest for understanding what triggers a romantic state of mind. He found his answer: “Life! Life is romantic. A life that allows for laughs, for positive thinking, and definitely not for abandoning the feeling of the hand that makes things.”His search materialized in the tongue-in-cheek transformation of the sportswear and loungewear codes of lockdown into real dressmaking, expressed in silhouettes informed by the classic silhouettes of haute couture. Inevitably, it generated a ladylike romanticism conveyed through Risso’s countercultural lens: a chic wrap was abstracted into a puffer cape, but retained its neat little plume trim; a mermaid skirt morphed with sweatpants; and tennis trainers sharpened into evening shoes. Paradoxically, Risso had started his search for romanticism by dyeing everything black. Wanting to witness the power of nature, he placed his all-black garments in the Marni courtyard, embellished them with real flowers, and watched the sun do its magic. “The corrosion made our prints,” he explained. Then, he took his tricks to the factories, girding himself with the patience needed to watch age-old dyeing techniques do their thing through the soak-dry-wait, soak-dry-wait ceremonies necessary. “It’s cathartic,” Risso said. “This patience has been romantic…not forcing it because it ‘has to be digital.’” Screened on Zoom, the presentation portrayed a familiar lockdown situation shot in Risso’s Milanese apartment. It turned into a salon show and culminated in the kind of lunch we are all looking forward to – with a performance by Mykki Blanco. “I hope we’re not going to forget all we’ve learned,” Risso said about the still abstract-sounding ‘reemergence’ that will sooner or later come. “It’s about narrowing things down and not wasting time and not making bullshit clothes. It’s about being more focused.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Marnifesto. Marni SS21

Usually, Marni‘s Franceso Risso takes us to a fairy-tale, where everything has a sort of out-of-this-world meaning. For spring-summer 2021, his collection is strikingly grounded. And literally, out in the world. “I don’t want to make any statements about this show, but this is the idea of it: the people, the individual stories, the lives, the awakenings, my awakening, and the connections,” Risso said in a press preview. “Lockdown felt very oppressive. I have a big dog, and whenever I’d go out, I had police sending me back home. It was strange; bad,” he recalled. While they sounded funny, stories of the Marni studio “making things at home with blankets [and] curtains, [and] dyeing things in their bathtubs” had a more introspective rather than creatively explosive impact on Risso’s approach for his spring proposal. The events of 2020 made him feel caged and powerless. The fragility of freedom was at the heart of this collection. After he finished it, he sent looks to friends and family around the world: Los Angeles, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York City, London, Milan, Paris, Dakar, Shanghai, and Tokyo. In a digital showcase livestreamed from all of those locations, his diverse cast of non-models performed what Risso called his “Marnifesto”: “An experiment of collective neo-humanism, which is so individualist, but actually, this has been collective. It’s celebrating Marni not through the I but through the we,” he explained. It was, quite simply, unity in diversity: Through live-recorded everyday scenarios like walks through traffic, trips to the park, band practice, or grocery shopping, it was an illustration of how we’re less fragile together. Working on the collection, Risso had pulled his most-loved pieces from the Marni archives, re-created them, took them apart, and stapled them back together in new ways. If that was an illustration of fragility versus strength in itself, so were the constructions: unraveling knitwear, de- and reconstructed tank dresses, a rigid, box-fresh leather jumpsuit about to get crinkled. It all felt somewhat “charity shop,” but that inevitably comes with the territory of fragility. Twenty-five coats had been made out of outerwear from old collections, patched together and painted with poetic words sent to Risso by friends through correspondence over the past season. “I can’t talk about hems and drapes and stripes,” Risso said. “I’m more inclined toward thinking of this as a work that’s been more collective than ever. It’s devoted to freedom, self-expression, to celebrating the hand that painted all those objects that create the canvas of Marni.” He didn’t just mean his studio, but the wild and wonderful characters who fill his unconventional mind, and indeed his nonconformist reality. Given the platform of his livestreamed video, they made Risso’s at times outlandish creations feel more real. Emancipated from the staged situation of a runway, you could actually see how the Marni universe manifests IRL.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Assemblage. Marni AW20

While the topic of sustainability seems to be utterly dormant in Milan, at least you’ve got Marni‘s Francesco Risso that takes some steps in order to address it. The collection used what appeared to be fragments of existing garments: take the cardigan dresses created from several different pieces of knitwear, each element linked with the crude stitchery of a child in a craft workshop. The remnant scraps produced in their manufacture, Risso noted, had been regenerated to create smaller elements such as the purses shaped like Victorian carpetbags or the old-fashioned wrestlers’ shoes. Risso described the effect as DIY, and the deliberate naivete continued with the magnificent finale pieces made using scraps of humble cotton fabric patchworked together with shards of cut velvet woven by hand in a factory in Venice on looms that were originally designed by Leonardo da Vinci – a vanishing, time-consuming craft that Risso understandably wants to “protect and exalt.” “They are basically our new furs,” he said of these precious garments. The collection, as the designer explained, was “collaged from the beginning to the end – from macro to micro to fractal. It’s about putting together remnants.” Julien d’Ys gold and silver dust make-up and lacquered hair on the models added even more spark to Risso’s wearable assemblage. Gorgeous.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Men’s – Apocalyptic Party. Marni AW20

The audience was directed to a cavernous dark space, trespassing similarly dark tunnels outlined with thin, colored neon lights. The tunnel opened onto a pitch-black space with a labyrinthine neon-lit floor layout, with barely perceptible human silhouettes scattered around. The audience was kept standing. The Marni troupe (which was actually a dance collective, directed by Italian choreographer Michele Rizzo) emerged in slow-motion from obscurity as if in hypnotic trance. Awakening from their sleepy state, the dancers started moving and swaying to trance music, holding onto their spots as if glued to them. Then they started moving about at a snail’s pace. Then the beat and the energy changed abruptly and the Marni-clad collective started marching about as if propelled by a sudden urge, circling around in manic mode, until the pace wound way down again. This was no longer a fashion show, but an art performance. No wonder why focusing on the clothes was challenging. But still, the show wasn’t here to conceal the clothes. The fashion repertoire was highly eclectic, as usual from Franceso Risso. Tailoring mixed with big, slouchy shapes. Coats were bisected, jackets were dilated, sweaters fragmented and juxtaposed. Scraps of fabric were pieced together in patchworks. Nothing seemed to make sense – yet all coalesced beautifully into Marni’s stylish madness. But there’s no Marni show without a piece of Risso narrative. “It’s a dance which takes us to the end of love. The end and the beginning of love. I was thinking about Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Masque of The Read Death’ and about Prince Prospero,” said the designer. The story goes that Prince Prospero locks himself in an abbey with a crowd of friends for a masquerade ball, attempting to escape the plague. The Red Death infiltrates the abbey with exterminating results. “Today it was our court of Prince Prospero’s noble friends dancing to the end of love and locked in our castle,” continued Risso. “They are a collective in a never ending party, wearing multiform uniforms… objects with a life of their own, heirlooms, something we have to protect.” It’s not the first time when the designer goes apocalyptic. Theory aside, back to the clothes: they were made from assemblages of old scraps of fabrics and leftovers of 1950s deadstock. Risso’s poetic way of addressing new methods of creating and producing clothes (recycling, upcycling, assembling, reusing!) is a consistent approach, which still seems to be missing at other luxury brands. A big yes to this collection.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.