Sunlight. Marni SS23

The appearance of Italian brands on the New York Fashion Week schedule brought major action to the city. First Fendi kicked off the fashion marathon. Then, Marni‘s Francesco Risso delivered one of his finest collections for the brand to date. Making Marni’s NYC debut on a Brooklyn street nestled under a bridge, the trains audibly rumbling overhead, was a natural step for Risso, who has appreciated the city’s creative spirit for years. Everyone from Paloma Elsesser to Tyler Mitchell to Lara Stone appeared on the runway; a cast of models and friends walked to a live soundtrack written by Dev Hynes and performed by the String Orchestra of Brooklyn. Gorgeous, hallucinogenic, searingly bright colors; distressed mohair; papery leathers; mystical cobwebs of beads; and psychedelic panne velvets, the pieces punctuated every now and then by enormous and the chicest-ever squashy courier bags, their no-nonsense utilitarian shape turned off-kilter by their puffy aeration. The collection was a signature Marni line-up, but also felt very new-gen New York. “I’ve been wanting to explore for a while,” Risso said. “It means understanding things from a different perspective, connecting with different people. It feels refreshing. There’s a lot of learning as well, and I’m up for that every fucking second. Ever since America opened its borders last December I’ve been here, I don’t know, maybe 20 times. Still,” he went on, “it’s not really news, because everyone is out in some other realm in some way or other.”

Risso’s arrival stateside feels like it comes from a place of curiosity, of challenge, of risk: how can we get out of the moribund, straight-back-to-business way of doing things? The answer: maybe destabilize and decentralize it all, stop putting the designer on a pedestal, start to rethink all the relationships between brand, creator, audience, and those actually buying the stuff. Come together, join forces. “It’s not the ’90s anymore,” he said, “when brands spoke in very defined ways. Now you have to talk universally.” In regard to that last assertion, with his spring 2023 collection, Risso put his clothes where his mouth is. With a color palette inspired by the changing light over the course of a day in the Italian countryside (something he observed while holidaying in his homeland), he offered up a strong lineup that felt more streamlined and minimalistic than those he has done lately, despite the intense colorations and textures going on. Filmy rib knits contoured close to the body, some with “sleeves” trailing from the waistband or extra neckholes, which created circular décolleté cutouts, regardless of the gender wearing them. “The body is completely the protagonist in this collection,” Risso said. “Everything is built in jerseys, knitwear, things that, actually, go with the body rather than against it. Even the leather is the softest leather that exists.” The collection had other conceits based on the circle, be it the swooping looped trains on the dresses or the groovy abstract sunrises rendered on satin tees and minidresses. As for Risso, he is already thinking about where on earth the sun might rise on his next Marni collection. He’s in no rush to go back to Milan, not until the brand’s 30th anniversary in 2024 at least. Travel does more than just broaden the mind, in his view. “I can’t wait to be on the other side of the planet,” he said, “but, also, to see how it can burst the bubbles that we like to create in fashion.”

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Where Do We Go? Marni AW22

Francesco Risso’s Marni show for his autumn-winter 2022 collection, an ode to the handmade, the mended, the crafted and the tailored, was somehow fitting in the current, violent circumstances. The show’s guests definitely felt a feeling of anxiety once they saw the venue: barely lit cavernous space, fit for a rave, the entrance shrouded in foliage, enormous concrete breeze blocks where a runway would usually be, and yet more foliage framing this picture of dystopian revelry. Last season’s show, set to a soundtrack by the genius Dev Hynes and art directed by the equally genius Babak Radboy (both Dev and Babak were involved in this season’s proceedings too) was a joyful, cathartic gathering, bringing people together as physical shows returned. Then Risso offered a moving and sincere treatise on events in the fashion world an captured the moment beautifully. This time round, Risso was questioning what’s next, according to the emailed show notes. “The future came and went, leaving us alone, but together in the dark, but lighter than before,” Risso wrote. “Where do we go after? Where are we bound, beyond what binds us to each other?

It’s become a thing for fashion to speak of community, but with Risso’s casting, it was a disparate and unconnected band of individuals who made their way via flashlight around the venue; nothing slickly and self-consciously unified about this group, wearing looks from autumn 2022 that suggested communality: anyone could be wearing anything – and who cares? They might be in dresses in washed mottled pastels which had then been patched or cut into strands or glistened with beads; long shearling coats wrapped on the bias across the body, as much naive gesture as practical fastening; irregularly checked (and snappily cut) pantsuits; full skirted deb dresses, overdyed, as if tried at home and then gone a bit wrong, but in a good way; and raggedy sweater sleeves trailing to the floor from under the cuffs of trad Crombie coats. Almost everyone was bearing some kind of crown of twine and twigs, or elaborate head wraps, which were actually jackets folded and twisted, as if in preparation for some magical, arcane ceremony (you can always on Julien d’Ys to deliver amazing headwear). Risso himself appeared in the show, his now dirty platinum hair surmounted by a fine pair of tiny horns. That he walked speaks volumes; a denial of the idea that designers have some divinely ordained remove from the same shit and the same joy that the rest of us are going through. His Marni has increasingly shifted – and now, with this show and the last, decisively so – into a world less of fanciful fashion remove, but instead reflective of all the ecstasy and confusion and disillusionment and love and kinship that we can all recognize and empathize with. It’s a pretty brave step, to not want to just keep offering up a familiar and reassuring idea of what a high-end brand can do, retreading the same ground, especially at a time when the fashion industry, despite proclaiming the need for change, has snapped back to business as usual pretty darn quick. In the end of the show, those wandering around in the dark eventually found the light. They came out blinking into the bright and glorious Milanese sunlight to an Alice in Wonderland Mad Hatter’s tea party, long tables set up in the rough hewn industrial courtyard, their tops groaning with fruit tarts and elaborate cakes and jello in hallucinogenic shades. Risso’s cast milled around, ate, laughed, chatted and hung out. Hopefully, our future will look as carefree as this moment.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

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.