Marni Man

Like clockwork, as soon as the dazzling overhead lights on the season’s catwalk are unplugged, the guessing game of just who the Marni wearer might be begins. Discussion on where the eclectic, artisanal collections that Consuelo Castiglioni has been creating since establishing the label with her husband in 1994 comes around as often as the seasonal whirlwind of shows themselves. The Swiss-born Castiglioni, a discreet woman of few words, offers this as an answer: “the Marni man – like the woman – is a free individual with his own personality…he is not afraid to experiment.”

We are free to pontificate at our peril.

Every single designer of clothes has to avoid answering wearisome questions aimed at singling out one type of customer. From the hoards of journalists rushing backstage after a show, seeking verification on what they might think about what they have just seen, to the many cogs of industry that rely on a definitive answer of this question for their very survival. Twenty years in business, Marni is a modern-day fashion and fragrance empire that signifies a trailblazing approach to contemporary clothing (bewildering colour combos, sculptural embellishment, leggings for men) and reverence for the ways in which fashion permeates other fields of design. Their customer is as esoteric as their output: in March 2012, the label presented a collection of a 100 chairs crafted in Colombia by female ex-prisoners at Salone Internazionale del Mobile di Milano (The Milan Furniture Fair); the production of the chairs was part of a project focused on facilitating the women’s return to the workforce. The same year the brand collaborated with H&M to reissue archive pieces with a high-street-friendly price tag, going on to spawn a whole new generation of admirers. Most recently Castiglioni hosted a large flower market in Milan on the same day as her SS15 womenswear show to mark the occasion of their 20-year anniversary.

Like the people who wear her clothes, Castiglioni is nothing if not bold.

The label first introduced its men’s line in 2002, debuting on the catwalk together with the SS02 womenswear collection at Milan Fashion Week. For several seasons, menswear looks peppered the women’s shows until 2007. From the mercerised cotton jerkins, skinny ties, shrunken tailored jackets and knobby workerist boots in bottle green and metallic grey, all of the codes levied at the Marni man are there in the label’s stand-out AW07 collection. Fashion critic Godfrey Deeny writing for trade journal Fashion Wire Daily at the time, hailed the microfiber cotton and wool leggings Castiglioni showed in violet, forest green and grey as a “new must-have for men.” Marni makes serious clothes with a genuine sense of humour.

In 2008 the men’s collection took a short break from the catwalk only to return earlier this year as guest designer at the notable menswear tradeshow Pitti Uomo alongside cult New York-based label Hood by Air. “Marni is one of the undisputed leaders on the international fashion scene, and we have always admired the creativity, elegance and nonconformity that always distinguish its style,” Raffaello Napoleone, CEO of Pitti said. In his mind, Marni stands for both classicism and futurism: “Always keeping a watchful eye on the market but never bending to it.”

Created in 1972 and held twice a year in Florence, Pitti draws retailers, editors and menswear enthusiasts from around the globe who are regularly besieged by street style photographers high on the zooty mise-en-scène Napoleone and his team work hard to create. “If the product is the protagonist of the trade show, for the special events we look for the breath,” says Lapo Cianchi, director of press communication and special events for Pitti Immagine.

While conceptually Pitti is no different than any of the other major tradeshows across the fashion capitals, the diverse range of exhibitors and sheer scale of the four-day event are what separate it from the competition. “Perhaps the key of the success of Pitti Uomo is that it is now a synthesis between a high-quality commercial trade show and a fashion week, a bridge between the market and the design,” Cianchi says. Special events – like the involvement of guest designers – helps to open the windows on truly international fashion design, something that often isn’t part of a fair’s agenda. Previous guest designers have included Jil Sander (2010), Kenzo (2012), Kolor (2013) and Z Zegna (2014). “On paper we favour those who make original work, who launch a new language of fashion and people who are able to give an interesting presentation. Most of the time this is the case but often we fall in love with people and we become attracted by a name or a story and we start all over again.”

In 2012, DIESEL chief Renzo Rosso bought a majority stake in Marni in an effort to further international expansion. New flagships with plenty of space dedicated to the men's collection will open later this year in San Francisco and Milan. The partnership with Pitti provided the ideal opportunity to build on Marni’s thriving men’s market. “We were enthusiastic when we received their invitation. They share some of our core values, such as experimentation and research,” Castiglioni says.

In many ways the venue for the AW15-16 show - the Museo Marino Marini - is very Marni. Housed in the ancient church of San Pancrazio founded before 1000 and deconsecrated in 1809, the museum was inaugurated in 1988 after extensive restoration work. The architects Bruno Sacchi and Lorenzo Papi took influence from the dynamics of the Italian sculptor, painter and graphic artist’s work when restoring the church and so the museum has a dialogue between existing historical and contemporary materials – just as Castiglioni’s own work. "Marni is closely linked to art, for many years we have collaborated with artists for our collections and our special projects,” the designer says. The museum contains 180 works by Marini bequeathed by the sculptor and his wife Marina at different times of his life. “It seemed perfect as a show venue, with the models showing the collection in the midst of the art pieces. Returning to the runway gave us the possibility to bring the Marni man “alive”. It added substance to the collection.” The inscrutable “Marni man” is one who appreciates dualities: the rugged and the smooth, the shiny and the matt. He is a man with refined, cultured tastes. “We felt that the time was ripe to return to the runway with the menswear collection, which has developed and grown more articulate during the last seasons.”

Elegant and sometimes unpredictable with a traditional/modern duality, the AW15-16 collection is characteristically Castiglioni. Flared trousers, richly colored tunics in bonded suede with zips and single vents, oversize trenches and collarless coats are louche yet polished (and alluring to the Marni devotee.) The focus is always to interpret true menswear staples through functionality and classicism, combined with contrasting elements and unexpected details. Of her gutsy colour palettes she says, “yes, colour is always essential to me. My approach towards the creation of the collection is rather instinctive, this includes also the choice and combination of colours. Ultimately I prefer bold colours that we often place in contrast.” The season’s patchwork fur is a prime example of tone and texture mingling in a way that is both daring yet sensitive. The knits for the season have a homespun quality, akin to Marini’s own rugged sculptures and primal oeuvre.

“There is always a strong focus on detail. I like to play with the contrasts of elements and materials, of formal and informal, outerwear and classic elegant pieces,” Castiglioni concludes. “New and unexpected compositions attract me.”

Published in VARÓN VOL.10 S/S 2015

Marni Uomo A/W 2015/16 at Pitti 87
Marni Uomo A/W 2015/16
Marni Uomo A/W 2015/16