Francesco Risso on Rethinking the Fashion Show

Francesco Risso has been creative director at Marni since 2016, mixing the Milanese fashion house’s explosive prints and prim but off-kilter silhouettes with his own bold and often playful aesthetic. On Saturday, 18 months after Marni’s last physical runway show, the onetime protégé of Miuccia Prada upped the ante yet again with an experimental live event. Here, he explains why.

What was so different about your spring/summer 2022 runway show?

This season, after so many months apart, I wanted to cancel any division between the observer and the observed. In practice, this meant that we decided to dress every single person attending our show on Saturday in a bespoke Marni ensemble. The fitting process started almost a week ago, on Monday, and has been beautiful. We played music. We had a big team working around the clock. Guests trying clothes on with you again, and telling you in that moment how that makes them feel, felt joyful.

Isn’t putting on a normal fashion show a stressful-enough experience, let alone adding hundreds of extra fittings?

We had about 500 people coming to the show, so it has been a big undertaking. But dressing people for moments in their lives — making clothes for them, their tastes and their personalities — is at the base of what we do. So it has given us so many new moments of personal interaction, a chance to re-engage and build ties and have discussions after so much time apart.

The experience reminded me of another, older time in fashion, when the masters would really know their clients, with designers hosting small shows with direct relationships. I wanted to channel that.

Where did you source all these garments?

It has been challenging. I didn’t want there to be a division with the new collection being shown, but it was also important for me to have repurposing at the core of the community participation aspect. So the audience looks all come out of past seasons — upcycled pieces where there might have been excess stock or production defects, for example, and then we also used recycled nylon to knit shoes or create new patches or hems. Each one has been hand-painted, so no single look is the same.

How much of this idea was inspired by lockdown?

I think in some ways, the pandemic propelled a tighter sense of a global Marni community. People participated more actively and creatively with our house. They have been writing songs for Marni, composing poetry, painting their own prints on clothes, then sharing that with us online. I loved that and wanted to engage that virtual mood and bottle it and bring it into reality. It’s almost like our own little ‘Marni-land’ and the show is one way more family will expand into this world we’ve been building.

But I was also thinking about sports this season. It’s not a sporty collection, but I thought about the philosophy of how a team works — how interactive and healthy the relationship is between everyone that is taking part in a match. I wanted to incorporate some of that. And the coach isn’t me. The coach is our heartbeat, bringing us together as one.

Is the pandemic forcing the fashion industry to evolve?

We all complained about how relentless the cycle was before Covid. But for Marni at least, a forced stop has made us slow down and think more about what we do in a focused way. Specifically, how do we nurture relationships with our customers and those who have supported our brands when they suddenly feel so far away, through social media, through film and now when we can potentially be reunited in person. The pivot to digital media has also provoked some really thoughtful creativity in terms of presenting clothes — it will be interesting to see where that goes.

Ultimately, however, when you do what we do, it is hard to deny the importance of touch. And our practice is about making things with our hands. So to unite for a fashion show once again feels like a true joy and privilege.

This conversation, first aired on Instagram Live, has been edited and condensed.

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