Francesco Risso

Francesco Risso: “Anything can become the spark”

Short Profile

Name: Francesco Risso
DOB: 30 December 1982
Place of birth: Sardinia, Italy
Occupation: Fashion designer

Mr. Risso, is it true you have a personal fashion archive that you’ve been collecting since you were just 13 years old?

Yes! But I like to think of it more as a collection of emotions, because it represents all the different time periods in my exploration of the world of clothes. I used to make my own clothes, so I have pieces from that time, and then when I started buying clothes, I became obsessive about certain things; one part of my collection that is quite big is sailor suits. I also have a lot of cowboy and Americana pieces. At some point I was buying a lot of Margiela, Comme des Garçons, I was collecting all of Azzedine Alaia’s pieces, those pieces are very, very dear to me. But actually, recently I’ve been feeling like my archive is almost becoming a haunting creature.

Haunting in what way?

I mean, it’s gotten very big, and I’ve kept it in a warehouse here in Milan for so long. I think I felt like it was going to be sort of this baggage of all my knowledge and experiences, like I would become a better designer somehow if I had all these things. I thought from time to time I would go back to the warehouse find some inspiration. But actually, last time I tried that, it was just so incredibly dusty and I thought, “Oh my God, I cannot keep this, I have to get rid of it.” I folded a lot of it up and put it in boxes in my attic above my bedroom, and I just honestly do not like going up there. Maybe one day it will be fun again to look through those treasures, but right now, it’s not that fun. I realized I just don’t need it. I love pieces that hold those emotions, but I’ve passed the years where I felt like the more stuff I had, the better designer I would be.

“I don’t design for the sake of design, I don’t want to make something that needs to stay behind the looking glass. I like design that is applied to life and to expression.”

It sounds like your passion for special, emotional, or covetable pieces has been transferred to your work as creative director for Marni — maybe you’re more interested in making them rather than collecting them?

That makes sense, yes, completely! I think all those years of researching those kinds of pieces is present in my work because now my process of making is really about conveying those big emotions. But at the same time, my aim more than anything else is to be making clothes for the everyday. I don’t actually like this idea of making clothes for a museum or pieces that should be in a glass box or something. I don’t design for the sake of design, I don’t want to make something that needs to stay in a place where people can see it behind the looking glass. I like design that is applied to life and to expression, that can be worn, that can be lived in and can accompany people on their movements and in their life.

For this reason, the designer Margaret Howell actually calls herself a clothing designer, rather than a fashion designer.

I love that! For me, I think I’m both a clothing designer and a fashion designer. I’m sort of floating in between the two. For example, Marni had a really recognizable peak when we did these colorful, striped Mohair sweaters, you know, they were everywhere in the streets. And although they were maybe not the most practical to wear every day because the fabric could be a bit itchy, they were a true fashion piece that became almost a sign of a movement. So I also stand for that. I stand for making clothes that can give you some kind of pleasure, or that can craft a conversation between our designs and the people wearing them that is also pleasurable.

What kind of fashion versus clothing balance are you exploring yourself? I know that some designers put so much creative energy into their work that their own style becomes very simple in response.

No, that’s not me at all. I love to dive into different personalities. I have phases where I wish I was even more daring, like Madonna, I wish I could change my hair or embody a character. I try on most of the clothing I create for Marni as well, men’s and women’s, because I really like to feel close to it, I like to feel the emotions that we're trying to convey. Sometimes my inspiration even starts in my wardrobe. I never buy clothes and leave them as they are, so if you come into my wardrobe, you’ll find like half of a pant leg or a chopped-off shirt collar or some buttons. (Laughs) My boyfriend is always picking up these puzzle pieces around the wardrobe!

Is that also how your creative process works? Mixing and matching and pulling references?

I would say it’s more linear when we’re actually working, but in order to get to that place, there’s a lot of reflection, researching images, reading books, even just a word can inspire the process… Listening to music that will then inform the clothes, thinking about the space where a show will be held. I love to think of it almost like a theatrical show! Anything can become the spark for the fire.

“When I think about designing for Marni, I’m interested in connecting to its past, I’m interested in the house’s voice — but little by little, when you spread your own seeds, things blooms in both ways.”

Apparently after the pandemic, you wrapped your whole office in canvas and let everybody paint whatever they wanted to get inspired for a collection.

Yes, that was actually incredible. During the pandemic with everyone working from home, it was difficult to maintain our motivation when we were isolated. It was a challenge to keep connected, but that day, we painted for 10 hours! It was physical work, we were all together with this need to express something… It really united in this. We ended up painting a lot of stripes around the office, and that informed the next show that we did because everyone from our team dressed in stripes, the audience as well, of course the clothes featured lots of stripes. It was one of the most memorable moments in my career, that show. It felt very, very powerful, and it all stemmed from this simple act of painting together.

Is it ever tricky to balance that self-expression with the history and needs of an established house like Marni?

Well, in the first place, I’m passionate about this brand. But I’m also not a clone of Consuelo Castiglioni, I am the person who I am. So when I think about designing for Marni, I’m interested in connecting to its past, I’m interested in the house’s voice — but little by little, when you spread your own seeds, things blooms in both ways. That’s the base. I’m very lucky to work with Renzo and a group that allows me to express myself, and to trust the fact that that expression actually brought the numbers, and has been extremely successful.

You mentioned a realization that you’re not a clone of Consuelo, that you have to do your own thing. But I wonder if trusting in your own vision was perhaps even more daunting than trying to fill her shoes?

I know what you mean. Of course I was in the beginning a bit nervous to trust in my instincts, and just go forward being myself. I’m still heavily passionate about what she did and I do go back to those moments in the brand’s history for inspiration. But as a person, I can’t jump in someone else’s shoes. That's not the type of designer that I am. I am very lucky to be surrounded by such incredible people and such incredible talents that make me feel like we are riding this wave together. Because for me, being a designer is a kind of mission; I want the people who are going to wear these things to feel some kind of pleasure. And that is the essence of why I do what I do.