Purple Magazine
— The Essence of Fashion Issue #41 S/S 2024

francesco risso

Lennon Sorrenti wears a poplin bustier top with flower patches and matching skirt Marni. Gray Sorrenti wears a wool skirt Marni. Photo by Vanina Sorrenti




portraits by OLIVIER ZAHM


What’s the magic behind the Italian brand Marni? Created in 1994, it captures the essence of Italian fashion: a fusion of family heritage, a love for vivid colors and craftsmanship, quality fabrics, and a deep aesthetic sensibility. When you add the contemporary eye of a young designer like Francesco Risso, success is inevitable.


OLIVIER ZAHM — Coming from Italy, you have a vision that is very specific. Let’s start with a very open question: what is fashion to you, and when did you decide to devote your life to it?

FRANCESCO RISSO — I was born into a family that was extremely loud. My brothers and sisters were 10 or 11 years older than me. My father was a bohemian, and he invited many people to live with us — my brothers and sisters from two different families, my mom, my grandfathers and grandmothers. It was fucking hectic. Luckily, my point of view was different because I was a child observing what was happening.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Was your family like a chaotic commune?

FRANCESCO RISSO — Exactly. It was very communal, but in a bit of a messy way. I started to explore clothes at that time because that was the only way I could express my voice. I was very silent, unlike all of the others, and I would wander around other people’s wardrobes stealing stuff, breaking and remaking them on my own. But I didn’t know that I wanted to make clothes until
I had done classical studies and traveled. I escaped my home when I was 16, which I had been planning since I was 13.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Where was this?

FRANCESCO RISSO — In my hometown in Genoa. At 16, I managed to get out of that intense madness. After many explorations, I wanted to tap into art because I loved art, classical studies, and philosophy. So, I did art school, and after many years, I looked back at those moments in my childhood, and I was like, “Maybe that’s actually what I had to do.” It didn’t just happen — I always knew where I had to go, even though I never had a definition of what I had to do. But at a certain point, I just started hunting for that mission.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, your mission was yourself.

FRANCESCO RISSO — Exactly. Myself and expressing language through clothes. But what I like about fashion is that it is part of cultural movements. I have goosebumps when I think about people like Vivienne Westwood. She was born out of the punk scene in the late ’70s, and that was one of my drives — to see how fashion was related to the people in the streets, giving this parallel message to the world. I was always more fascinated by these kinds of movements than by the clothes that just live in a glass box in a museum. When I think about fashion and its importance, I always think about how the expression of language and communication has been accompanied by this need to express through clothes, that disruptive tendency to go against the core. The hippies and the punks were all part of these movements.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, is fashion an alternative message?

FRANCESCO RISSO — Yes, actually, it’s the leading one. It’s interesting how it leads to so many other forms of expression, like music, art, and even literature. That, to me, is the most interesting aspect of fashion, and how society moves ahead.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, is fashion a progressive and disruptive cultural force?

FRANCESCO RISSO — Fashion is a cultural skeleton that evolves and moves and changes — and also connects everything. 

This is my main obsession. And I’ve been obsessed with these movements from the past. Even now, that’s my goal.

OLIVIER ZAHM — When I see your mood board on this wall, I see everything — I see portraits, architecture, objects, design. Would you say that fashion is a sort of meta-art?

FRANCESCO RISSO — It’s sucking everything in. It’s definitely a black hole. [Laughs]

OLIVIER ZAHM — As a designer, you need to embrace this variety of cultural possibilities.

FRANCESCO RISSO — And to read people’s needs but also contrast them in a way. It’s not just about the needs — it’s also the secret desires. Actually, it’s a mutual conversation. Because if you reduce it to just a need, it becomes too one-way. It’s almost like we serve people by understanding their needs and laying them out into an expressive tool. We’re the tools. So,
I am intrigued by that. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Even if you stay at the level of the needs, the physical but also the psychological needs, providing a sort of emotional security…

FRANCESCO RISSO — Yeah. It’s to push out of the comfort zone as well, which is very human. To lay onto anything that can give us expression or movement. It’s also about finding ourselves at times — and in key moments — going out of our comfort zone. Think about Coco Chanel. She was the master of the uncomfortable zone. Back in the day when everybody was into busts, she created a movement that was against that. Yes, maybe the comfort zone was in the body but definitely not in perception. That is fucking genius.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you work as a sociological observer?

FRANCESCO RISSO — No, I go with my feelings. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — AI will never replace Francesco. [Laughs]

FRANCESCO RISSO — It’s funny. I was in London on Saturday having a very long night with friends talking about AI because it seems to be the topic of the moment. I kept saying that AI has no left or right brain — it’s either one or the other. And even we humans function that way sometimes. We don’t necessarily process things by combining the two. We process either on one side or the other, but we still have both of them. [Laughs] So, that’s my answer — we’re still in control here.

OLIVIER ZAHM — I remember your first show with Marni. You were one of the first designers in Milan, along with Alessandro Michele, to introduce a gender-fluid approach to fashion. In a Catholic country, it must have been a statement.

FRANCESCO RISSO — Yeah. I go back to the times of walking in my hometown and feeling like people would throw stones at me because I’ve always been that person with no definition of gender. I was wearing women’s clothes when I was 14. I remember it was a harsh experience. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — You were taking women’s clothes from your home?

FRANCESCO RISSO — Yeah. I was exploring all kinds of shit, and I loved it — my friends as well. So, for me, there’s never been a plan for it. But it’s true: Italy is a Catholic country, and we have the Vatican, so there’s a clear gender division, and there’s judgment. There’s a weight. But luckily, Italians are also merciful, which probably comes from the religion itself.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Italians also have a sort of sensuality that softens the social and gender codes.

FRANCESCO RISSO — There’s no harshness in the divisions. But we’ve always been divided, even from region to region. I remember being in Genoa and seeing Milanese people, and there was almost like an internal racism between Italians and Italians. Divisions were part of the Roman Empire.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Anarchy is also part of Italy’s rebellious spirit.

FRANCESCO RISSO — Exactly. I wish we were a little bit more rebellious right now because I think we’ve flattened our strength. French people are so proud of their rebellious acts, while we are just so lazy. Like the Romans, eating on the bed. [Laughs] I think it would be nice if we were prouder of our things and fighting more for our rights, for all the rainbows that we have, our beautiful variety.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Your approach to fashion and Marni’s identity work well together because it’s an outsider brand in a way. Marni is the perfect brand for you! 

FRANCESCO RISSO — When I decided to come here, I felt that this was the right place for me. I have this memory of the founders, Consuelo and Gianni Castiglioni, in the ’90s in Formentera, as a family with their kids, all dressed in toiles — this uniform made out of scraps, very naive in the way it was made. And the pathway that they formed for Marni was very much anti-machine. In the ’90s, they had incredible stores in the most avant-garde cities. The stores were stronger than the shows themselves, and they always kept this sort of bubble. So, in that sense, the brand has kept its ground as an alternative to whatever house was “happening.” Of course, I’m not Consuelo, and I’m not Gianni. I couldn’t mimic them. I am my own person. But I came with that passion and that inspiration. I think we are trying to create our own language. Not necessarily putting ourselves in confrontation with the fashion system but challenging ourselves and being faithful to our mission. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — At the end of the day, do you consider yourself an artist? 

FRANCESCO RISSO — Absolutely not. I actually have a hard time comparing what we do with art. I like art, but I don’t like to be defined that way, and I don’t like our group to be defined that way. I think that the way we train might make Marni look like an artist’s studio more than a typical fashion design studio. I call it training, literally. I was at Prada for 10 years, and it’s a different land — magical, but this is a different type of magic.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, is it important to maintain your little bubble?

FRANCESCO RISSO — Yes. We have to protect our magic. It’s our training in the studio that’s part of a physical, emotional, and mindful exercise that we keep alive in every step toward making collections and projects. It’s important to keep a creative exploration alive. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Can you give us an example of your studio exercises?

FRANCESCO RISSO — An interesting example happened after lockdown, after working separately from our homes, and one of the hardest things was keeping motivation high. In that period, people were very isolated, and that was extremely detrimental to their lives. When we came back, I thought, “We have to get physical.” So, we wrapped this office in canvas — the floors, roof, everything — and we painted randomly for 20 full days. That’s the training I’m talking about. We dove into our practice by getting physical, and it was fucking intense, but we reconnected through the act of painting. That led to the way we made that collection and the show, where even the people in the audience got painted in stripes.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s a collective act. 

FRANCESCO RISSO — Yeah. So, that’s one example of how fashion can relate to art. We start by training ourselves to go toward the emotions that we want to achieve with the collection. And we dive into it, and we do it on our own. It’s a starting point for the core of what those clothes are, and why those stripes are there. Not because it’s cool to make stripes. No, it’s because after painting for 20 days, we looked at each other, thinking, “What’s our uniform?” And we all went for stripes. It started as this brutal act of making these brushstrokes all over the walls, and it became a gesture. It’s about finding that core through a gesture that is communal, where everybody’s participating in their own way, and then we make the clothes out of it.


[Table of contents]

The Essence of Fashion Issue #41 S/S 2024

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