Marni for H&M
By Marcella Milio
In the 1950s, Italian design began to make its mark on the international fashion scene and by the 1980s the movement that became and remains Made In Italy was born. Italian fashion became the pinnacle of all clothing design and still many years later, despite the boom of fashion designers, there’s no disputing the influence and importance of Italian design.
Yet, in the time that has passed since the 8os, and with the rise of so much young design talent, Italy has stood perhaps somewhat stagnant at the top. The explosion of innovative designers and tastemakers that have benefited from the world of Twitter and Facebook have led many in the fashion industry to say that these economic times have caused a dramatic increase in creativity — causing consumers to value the uniqueness provided by up-and-coming talent.
How, then, does the simultaneous success of democratized fashion (Missoni for Target, Versace for H&M) exist so seamlessly with these predictions? In the case of Italy, at least, there seems to be a trend developing. Missoni and Versace are two of the original clothing brands that were promoted to world-wide success during the Made In Italy boom, but as the fashion world began to disregard its more traditional views, there was little action from Milan. Italian brands, for all their quality and well-established superiority, ceased to dictate the movement of fashion.
Fast forward a few years, a social media upsurge, and a world-wide recession and we are suddenly faced with not two but three Italian brands in one year lending their designs and name to the fast-fashion leaders, Target and H&M. While the decision process seems more obvious for Missoni and Versace (revitalizing the brand, increasing revenue) it is relatively young Italian brand Marni’s willingness to collaborate that is most interesting.
Marni has been among the most influential designers of the past decade creating elegant shapes in dramatic prints that are at once identifiable and futuristic. Founder and Creative Director Consuelo Castiglioni established the brand in 1994 after designing furs for her husband’s family business. It was not long before her fur clients began asking for things to wear under and with the unique pieces Consuelo produced. Three years later, in 1997, Consuelo launched Marni’s first Spring/Summer collection with much success. The company has continued to grow, adding a men’s line and accessories, but they still insist that, “As the selection of Marni products broadens, standards are maintained with each item retaining a unique, immediately-recognizable Marni artisanal touch.” Marni’s appeal to contemporary consumers is precisely this ability to continue projecting its initial driving uniqueness, so valuable in the increasingly over-commercialized fashion world.
Furthermore, collaborations have not been unusual in Marni’s brief history. Beginning in 2006, Marni has worked with charities and artists for various projects or collections, becoming more common in recent years. In fact, in addition to their collaboration with H&M this year, Marni has also teamed with jeans brand Current/Elliott. Nevertheless the stray from their usual clientele is less evident in the latter than the former partnership, a clientele that is self-described as “selective” and “niche.”
So the seemingly sudden desire on the part of head designer Consuelo Castiglioni to “speak to a wider audience and in particular to the younger generations” brings me back to my original interest. What is really motivating Italian brands, and in this specific case, Marni, to team with fast-fashion retailers? The short answer is certainly to make Italian fashion relevant again.
It has become increasingly evident in recent years as Italian brands have taken to establishing museums (Gucci), taking part in retrospective documentaries (Valentino), or museum exhibitions (Armani) that complacency had settled in. Surely an Armani suit still sets the standard for tailored women’s fashion, but nowadays consumers have a much wider range of options for very similar styles and brands are forced to diversify their offerings to reach potential customers at all price-points; hence, Armani Exchange, Missoni Sport, Valentino Red, etc.
But the opportunity to collaborate with H&M or Target offers something else entirely: the chance to briefly reach a consumer that would otherwise be beyond the brand’s scope and even more so, to hopefully hook some of them. I was one of them; contenting myself with the thought that despite being unsuccessful in my pursuit of Missoni for Target, there was always the regular priced line at Neiman’s. Nevertheless, the limited supply coupled with unprecedented pricing creates a frenzy that can only end well for the featured designers, as exhibited by Versace’s wild success and agreement for a second line come January.
Yet, while these collaborations certainly garner the interest of new customers, what effect will they ultimately have on the brand’s core clientele? It is admirable for Consuelo Castiglioni to want to offer favorite Marni pieces in new prints to H&M customers worldwide, but how will the woman who spent thousands feel? If I know anything about fashionable Italian women, any brand collaboration is not done with them in mind.
The exclusivity that fashion thrived on years ago has all but disappeared in recent times and perhaps this is the most important point that Italian brands have begun to recognize. Italian fashion, after all, was nothing but an image of vibrant exclusivity for many years. But I believe this process is more of a cycle than a straight trajectory in a new direction: establish the brand as high fashion, partner with fast-fashion to draw the attention of new consumers, translate them into regular priced clients as they age.
Only time will tell if this gamble will bring Italian fashion to the forefront once again.