MEET MARNI’S MAIN MANFrancesco Risso talks art, ecology and leading one of Italy’s most eclectic labels.
Like all the best brands, Marni is more than a look – it’s an ethos. Experimental, eccentric and intellectually stimulating, it has been a highlight of the Italian fashion week for a quarter of a century. Since 2016, Marni’s distinctive aesthetic has been cultivated by Miuccia Prada protégé Francesco Risso, who took over as Creative Director from legendary founder Consuelo Castiglioni. Keen to carry on her legacy while continuing to explore new avenues, Risso is perfectly poised to take the label forward.
Having debuted the men’s SS20 collection at Pitti Uomo and being in the midst of prepping for the women’s show, Risso is a busy man. We were lucky to sit down with him to discuss his “retrovolution” at Marni.
Tell us about your life before design – where did you grow up?
I grew up in Genoa after spending a couple of years living on a boat. My parents decided to conduct this boat life for a few years, and I can’t help but think those nomadic times somehow moulded my personality. Mine was – and still is – a rather hectic family, with sisters and brothers from previous marriages as well as grandparents all living under the same roof. Despite being busy, everything was incredibly genuine and fun. My grandmother – who was a well-known tailor in Genoa – and my father were both quite eclectic characters.
What was your route to becoming a designer?
When I was 17, I moved to Florence to study at Polimoda. It was my first experience away from my family, which allowed me to start my discovery. I then moved to New York to study at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) and, finally, I went to Central Saint Martins in London. In New York and London, I probably had the best years of my life, but a career opportunity at Anna Molinari brought me back to Italy. That led to Alessandro Dell’Acqua and, ultimately, Prada.
“I’m driven by a concept I call ’retrovolution’ – taking everything you have learned in the past, all the traditions, and moving beyond by challenging it.”
What did you learn from your time at Prada?
The work I did was mentally challenging, so there was a lot of time spent thinking and talking through ideas with Miuccia (Prada). I really treasure that side of it and her persona of course. I was there for 10 years, which should be considered more like dog years. One counts as seven when you consider how many things I learned, experienced and lived through while working at Prada.
Speaking of iconic designers, the prospect of following Consuelo Castiglioni at Marni must have been daunting…
Becoming Marni Creative Director is the most significant achievement in my career. There is always something fascinating about the intensity of unexplored territories, and Marni, for me, is a fertile soil where I cultivate ideas. The people were very attached to the idea of the brand and to Consuelo. I was a fan of hers, and she has done such an amazing job. But I’m not her. Day by day, through meeting the teams, I’ve learned a lot, and together we have started to build new projects and pursue goals that follow a new vision.
How would you describe your aesthetic at Marni?
I’m driven by a concept I call “retrovolution” – taking everything you have learned in the past, all the traditions, and moving beyond by challenging it. Routes have no borders, and every collection is an exercise in bringing thoughts and ideas to life through form. Marni has always been recognised for its bold patterns and upbeat silhouettes, but ultimately, we want to create a synthesis of colour and shape.
Your SS20 menswear show highlighted the environmental crisis the world is facing in the form of plastic waste. Where did the idea come from?
We saw the show space for the men's SS20 collection as a medium to bring attention to the “weight” of plastic we feel today. We used over 37,000 pieces of plastic waste to create a large installation that covered the ceiling. It was a metaphor to highlight the strong impact that plastic generates on the planet, and in the women's collection, we’ll continue this nightmare narrative. The waste plastic bottles will be reworked and transformed into an installation by the artist Judith Hopf, giving new meaning to plastic that already exhausted its purpose.
Your Insta feed is like a window into your mind. What are your criteria for posting something?
I post images that amuse, challenge or confront me. My profile is an open book full of empty pages, so it’s funny to write these short chapters without having to follow a criterion. They are synthetic distractions from reality – short-circuits of my imagination.
“Of course, I reflect on the purpose of clothes, but above all my designs are really about the images and stories.”
Outside of Instagram, what else inspires you?
My friends are always a source of inspiration. But like ideas, the things that influence me depend on my mindset. I tend to process my creativity through narratives – probably because I like books so much – and before creating a piece of clothing I’ll invent a character or many characters. Of course, I reflect on the purpose of clothes, but above all my designs are really about the images and stories.
Where do you go to escape, unwind and clear your head?
I feel that my persona is deeply connected to my hometown. So, when I have time, I go home to regenerate my mind and open it to new ideas. Genoa is a very conservative seaport where everyone dresses in blue with a wool hat – kind of like sailors but on holiday. There is, however, another side to it that is very underground and unknown to many, which is equally inspiring.