It’s a characteristically grey and wet November day in London. However, in Shoreditch’s Protein Studios, where Uniqlo and Marni are presenting their second Technicolor collaboration for the first time, it is like stepping into a minimalist’s Land of Oz. Greeting me is Marni’s creative director, Francesco Risso, who arrived from Milan minutes ago. ‘I have been missing London so much,’ he says. ‘I’ve got many friends here, it’s great to see them. When I’m here, I also love to visit Tate, of course. But one of my favourite places used to be the old Central Saint Martins library on Charing Cross Road — I would spend hours there.’
The 39-year-old Sardinian-born designer studied at the prestigious art college under Louise Wilson, who taught the likes of Phoebe Philo, Christopher Kane and Alexander McQueen on the MA fashion course. After working at Blumarine and then Prada for eight years, Risso took the helm at Marni in 2016, bringing a frenetic use of colour, painterly prints and hand-worked techniques to the brand. Each season it is as though a multimedia artwork has exploded on to the catwalk.
So how did Risso end up working with Uniqlo, the Japanese retailer known for its functionality and simplicity? ‘I have been a client for many years,’ he explains. ‘I find Uniqlo’s integrity extremely inspiring because it never bends. So I guess we are kind of the same in our craziness. Uniqlo sees clothes as pieces of pure design, to bring out or emphasise the wearer’s personality; at Marni we want our wearers to embrace their individuality, too.’
If the success of the first collab, which launched last May in time for spring/summer, is described by Uniqlo as ‘overwhelming’, then the second — which celebrates the joy of wrapping up in winter — might just do even better. ‘Last time, we saw that people were really leaning into wearing all of the pieces at once: colours, patterns, layers,’ says Risso. ‘So this time around we thought, why not push this even further?’ A palette of shocking orange, lime green, cobalt blue, pale pink and deep maroon (to name but a few) form the foundation of the collection. Stripes, which Risso notes are a ‘long-time obsession’, appear in various weights and tones, on signature Heattech layers and also in knitwear and accessories such as mittens and beanies. (You can spot Paloma Elsesser and Jess Maybury in the collection’s campaign.) Psychedelic prints hand-painted in Marni’s studio provide just the right amount of eclecticism. Down outerwear comes in voluminous silhouettes, in hues that will have people spotting you literally a mile off on your Boxing Day Hampstead Heath walk.
These two collections have made us bond and we really admire each other
‘We’ll see,’ says Risso rather mysteriously, when asked if there will be a third instalment of Uniqlo x Marni’s maximalist meets minimalist clothes. ‘These two collections have made us bond and we really admire each other. So the future will tell us. I can say Marni will be showing the next collection outside of Europe early next year. One day I’d perhaps like to show in London — I think London is the city I would like to live in again, if I wasn’t based in Milan.’ Francesco, London would welcome you back any time.
Uniqlo X Marni is available now