Monday, March 2, 2009

Marni: A Chic, Strange, but Intellectual Club

Marni Fall 2009, Giovanni Giannoni
The Marni woman is so confident and cavalier that she walks into a store, sees a $1,000 dress shaped like a burlap sack, and shreiks “I must have that!”

It is this sort of attitude that sets the Milanese brand, known for its use of unconventional materials like polyvinyl chloride, apart from others. The Marni woman is a woman who dresses for herself, not for men, which has the effect of making her even more alluring.

So, at 9:00 am on Sunday, the bleary-eyed fashion crowd made its way to Via Sismondi to see creative director Consuelo Castiglioni’s new collection of laser cut jackets, fur vests and dresses festooned with large plastic gewgaws. The styling is always creative at Marni shows—models this season wore embellished metallic brocade frocks with sunglasses, fur mittens or giant leather garden gloves, and patterned knee-socks with strappy heels. The point, beyond showing that the Marni gal has a sense of humor, is to illustrate that each piece can stand heartily on its own, and actually look quite normal, albeit unconventional.

Fashion editors, art-gallery owners and museum curators have become fierce Marni loyalists, a reality that helped the company’s retail network weather the recession so far. “In our own stores, we haven’t seen a drop in sales,” said Gianni Castiglioni, Marni’s chief executive—and husband of its creative director—backstage after the show. Mr. Castiglioni, who was deeply upset when U.S. department stores reduced prices on Marni products over the holiday season, said that he’s not adjusting the brand’s pricing strategy going forward.

“We do not change our vision,” he said. “We think our positioning is fine. We think our pricing is fine.” He did acknowledge, however, that production will “of course” be ratcheted down to accommodate reduced demand for luxury products.

Marni Fall 2009, Giovanni Giannoni
Inspired by the fashion show, Heard on the Runway headed straight to Via Tajani, where, in the middle of a working-class residential neighborhood Marni has a gigantic outlet store. We tried on dozens of dresses, which lack what retailers call “hanger appeal.” This led to a lengthy and admittedly demoralizing trial-and-error process of determining what looks good (fitted dresses with exposed zippers) and what looks plain weird (voluminous lab coats and most other things). A resin plated knit dress with laser-sharp edges was nearly lethal, and I imagine, a dry-cleaner’s worst nightmare.

Two hours later, we walked out of the store with a polyester dress, a belt, comfortable shoes and a jacket—and felt as though we had joined a chic, strange but intellectual club. We’ll still pass on the gardening gloves, though.

– Rachel Dodes for The Wall Street Journal

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