Tonie Ong

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Articles on Marni

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A lot of today’s fashion luxury brands, beloved by more women than men, were founded by men. In Italy specifically, a lot of the leather goods labels women have come to know and love were the ideas of ingenious businessmen, who’ve all aimed to be the best producer of leather goods in the world. However, when it comes to making a stamp in the fashion industry, high quality can only get a company so far. One needs to break out from the contrived accessories department and venture out into creating a whole identity for the brand. For a lot of today’s fashion luxury brands, it’s the women who carried that responsibility. Such was the unique evolution of the Milanese brand, Marni.

The House of Marni

Italian-Swiss designer Consuelo Castiglioni founded the house of Marni back in 1994. Prior to this, she worked in her husband’s family fur business, manipulating the material and creating various garments out of it. Her creations with fur were unlike anyone had ever seen at that point, so she decided to put up her own fur line. She named the business after her sister Marni, and eventually, her label took off. Many of the rich and famous were intrigued by Castiglioni’s versatile use of fur, treating it as a fabric rather than a secondary detail in other garments. Eventually, she ventured into ready-to-wear with other materials as her clients needed other garments to wear her fur with.

Backed by Ciwi Furs, her husband Gianni’s family-owned fur business, Marni quickly took off as one of the most interesting and buzzed about labels in Milan fashion. Her designs were unique yet unmistakably feminine. They were also sometimes quirky, yet completely edgy at the same time. Oftentimes, she’s even compared to Miuccia Prada, another female Italian designer known for her offbeat looks and individual approach to style.

The Starting Line

The brand started exclusively trotting out fur pieces, from coats and jackets to stoles and other accessories. But in 1999, they began creating summer pieces and ventured into working with other materials other than fur. Around that time, they began showing in Milan Fashion Week, becoming a significant show in the very busy and often-crowded Fashion Month calendar. Castiglioni’s designs soon became a favorite among fashion crowd, especially editors of the most well-known and bestselling magazines and publications. Soon, prominent women like Suzy Menkes and Anna Wintour were wearing her designs on the front row of the Marni show during Milan Fashion Week.

A reason women embraced the Marni look is that it was both interesting and easy. Even though the designs became a bit more elaborate through the years, the clothes were always wearable and at times, perfect for any occasion. Another selling point was Castiglioni’s fearless use of patterns, prints, and textiles, creating ensembles that were more interesting than trendy, and all of them had massive design value. Her looks challenged one’s perception of traditional beauty, and what would normally work for a woman. At times, even the models’ bodies looked strange when wearing Marni on the runway, but it’s that reshaping of the silhouette that has the industry clamouring for more.

New Innovation

In 2007, the label launched their menswear line, wherein the designs challenged tropes of masculinity and dressed men in stereotypically-effeminate styles. The house even sold leggings for men that can be and was marketed to be worn as pants, similarly to how women nowadays wear leggings and tights as stand-alone bottoms. Also similarly to womenswear, the Marni menswear isn’t afraid to play with color and print, often releasing pieces in graphic patterns and bold hues. They also played with the men’s silhouette, when one season, it would be oversized and slightly domineering, while the next would be sleeker, tighter, and more relaxed. As with all pieces under the Marni brand, their menswear is indefinable.

Partnership and Collaboration

In 2013, the label collaborated with Swedish fast fashion giant H&M to come up with a capsule collection for modest prices. The collection had all of the Marni signatures, from the feminine silhouettes, the quirky details, and the eye-popping use of color and print. The collection eventually sold out in several of the H&M stores worldwide, receiving massive critical and commercial success. A year later, in 2013, the company released their first fragrance, named Marni. Around the same time, the company was bought by OTB Group, a luxury holdings company that also owns Martin Margiela and Viktor & Rolf.

Castiglioni stayed on as the house’s creative director, designing both the womenswear and menswear lines, as well as the other lines like leather goods and accessories. She eventually retired and exited the house in 2017 and was replaced by Francesco Risso, a former designer at Prada. Although he had a rocky start, with his debut collection put down by the fashion press, Risso eventually succeeded in convincing the industry that he was the perfect fit for the job.

For many reasons, Marni has made an indelible stamp on the fashion industry. As one of the very few successful houses founded by a woman, it stands alone as a symbol of Milanese femininity and luxurious bohemianism. Even under new creative directorship, the house continues to be revolutionary in fashion design and a major influence on the industry.

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