Francesco Risso is approaching his fifth year as the creative director of Marni, and for SS21 he chose to marry the familiar with the unknown. Treasured pieces from the house’s archive were selected by the design team, which in turn served as a canvas for their own ideas, realised in natural dyes. The bricolage effect that permeated the collection—a cropped coat, a bathing suit slashed to make a tank top, frayed edges and deconstructed shapes—was an exaltation of the handmade. While Risso’s SS19 Sculpture collection paid homage to the refinement of classicism, this season was about celebrating the rawness of craft.
The presentation, meanwhile, was both a technical and logistical feat and a giant leap of faith. In lieu of a show, Risso unveiled the new season’s designs on about 48 creatives who came together for Marnifesto—a live digital event on 25 September featuring performances from Deem Spencer, Mykki Blanco, Moses Sumney and Yves Tumor. Streamed on Marni’s channels and the National Chamber of Italian Fashion’s website, viewers were transported around the world from New York to Shanghai to Dakar, where the stars of Mati Diop’s film Atlantics (2019), Ibrahima Traore and Mame Sané, made an appearance.
As the Sardinia-born designer pieced together Marnifesto’s many moving parts, Risso spoke to Vogue about why he felt compelled to foster a global creative community in a time of crisis.
Your bow at the end of the Marni show last season—wearing a stuffed rabbit’s head—was such a memorable moment and demonstrated the joy and humour fashion can bring to people. How have you retained that sense of optimism, especially in such difficult times?
There’s no point in fashion if it doesn’t bring joy. But it’s also about creating a human connection as [a means of] self-expression. I wasn’t a very communicative child, so that’s how I started designing—it was an instrument for me to channel my creativity and communicate with people.
That moment was completely unplanned. The night before the show, someone who works at Marni showed me this rabbit head and I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to wear it!’ It underlined the idea I was exploring of travelling down the rabbit hole. It was so much fun.
[For SS21] I’ve been extremely engaged with all the calls I’ve been doing remotely with talents around the world, it’s given me a lot of energy. Especially at a moment when it’s so difficult for businesses globally; there are a lot of blockages and you can’t plan anything.
How have the past few months influenced you creatively?
Marnifesto is all about this. I was in Milan throughout lockdown, and the team and I allowed ourselves the time to explore creativity at home. We were very excited to get back to the studio, to re-emerge from this sleep of sorts and talk about the things we had made.
It’s also been a great chance to rethink things and reconnect with my colleagues, friends, family, the people I love and who have been part of my work somehow, [whether it be] through special projects or films or pictures. A collection is a collective work, but this time more than any other.
What did you want to say through this “collective work”?
I didn’t want to make a specific statement with this collection. [SS21 is] about anarchy, it’s a celebration of freedom and self expression. It’s about the individual stories of all the people I’m surrounded by, and these stories are in the clothes.
The collection started like an epistolary work, with a dialogue between the people in the studio about the things we love and treasure most about the history of Marni. Now this dialogue is passing from us to the people performing for Marnifesto — artists, actors, musicians. We don’t want to call them models anymore—they’re our authors.”
How do the stories you mention play out in the cuts and fabrics of the clothes?
Imagine the collection has been built on a neutral canvas with natural materials, from organic cotton to cheesecloth and toiling fabric that has in some cases been naturally dyed in black or green.
There are leather coats [upcycled] from old Marni collections—one-of-a-kind pieces that are patched and hand-painted with poetry, words that I have been collecting with my community since the beginning of lockdown. But not typography; instead the words mimic flowers or spontaneous brush strokes.
The garments are constructed in an almost primitive way—there is a fragility to them. Everything is light and follows the body, but isn’t pressed against it.
Does the experience of presenting a collection through a live-streaming event compare to a fashion show in any way?
The process is very different, like eating a dish when the recipe is still evolving. For the first time, we found ourselves sending the clothes to all the Marnifesto protagonists before presenting them. The event has been an incredible challenge, a mission impossible, because it’s a live experience that goes from Los Angeles to other cities in the US such as Detroit, Philadelphia and New York, then on to Milan, Paris, London, Dakar, Tokyo, Shanghai…
After sending each person their looks, we interviewed and explored their lives and narratives—we wanted them to fully express themselves. So it’s a collage of people shot by their children or friends or whoever they can find. It’s a real experiment; we don’t have much control of it.
Has Marnifesto made you rethink how you want to present your collections moving forward?
This process has been born out of necessity, but it’s also a reaction to a normality that wasn’t working. [The pandemic] has challenged us and so we are exploring and experimenting with new ways of doing things. I don’t know what’s next, but I’m curious and open to learning.