Francesco Risso, creative director of Marni, greets me from the library of his Milan office. “I call this the blackhole,” he tells me, referring to the overflowing, ceiling-high bookshelf lining the wall behind him. “I can never, ever find anything here, because there’s no order. Sometimes, I turn and find [something], and I can get some surprises, but it’s quite messy.” Of course, I’m seeing all this from a Zoom screen in my apartment in New York, time zones away from where Risso sits. Yet the normalcy of us connecting virtually via the technological means of Zoom makes us feel like in that moment, we are together.
Marni’s Spring/Summer 2022 “WEARWEARE” collection, which showcased last September, was Risso’s love letter to the world, a heartfelt welcome and warm embrace after months of isolation induced by the pandemic. “It was a beautiful celebration and way to reconnect. It was revelatory for what concerns my job, being with everyone.” The show featured some 100 models and performers and 500 guests, all personally outfitted by Risso in upcycled Marni garms. “We felt the need to create a uniform, expanding this sense of a big team, where everybody works together to achieve something.”
Marni is bringing that ethos of togetherness to the metaverse, through an augmented reality experience for the rest of the world to join. The digitized world, first ideated last July and constructed by London’s FUTURECORP, shows the models as heroic avatars wandering through Marni’s alien world, a psychedelic blend of the real and surreal. “Sometimes the metaverse can be quite dehumanizing in a way. We asked each other how to not dehumanize, how to link with something that is a natural extension of reality,” Risso explains.
Beginning April 14, users will be able to interact with Marni’s avatars in the WEARWEARE metaverse and shop directly from their interactive 360-degree lookbook. Here, Risso breaks down his creative vision behind the project, and how, despite the gold rush to the digital etherworld, we must never lose the human touch.
What’s the meaning behind the name, WEARWEARE?
When making the Spring/Summer 2022 show, there was a moment we decided that we wanted to involve not just our interpreters, but also the audience, into the process. We made clothes for basically everyone that came to the show. Six-hundred people. It became very interesting where everybody fit into our uniform and changed it according to their own desires. It was an idea of dressing as a universal gesture, and this was really nice. That’s where we decided to give that title. There was something about being in the moment and also being together in the process of wearing things.
When you say “interpreters,” who exactly are you referring to?
It’s our models, but I absolutely don’t like to call them that because they have become part of the Marni family. They inform a lot of our work and in a way, they are the interpreters during our shows. I’m very reluctant to give them the “models” title because they’re mostly carriers of our values. I’m grateful to them for the way they inform Marni, and it’s not just Marni informing them.
What are those Marni values that they carry and interpret?
Marni is a place where we can share a sense of belonging. We are working in a sort of tandem, mostly about dialogue that happens through the way we dress, the way we can communicate with our clothes. The way we can connect person to person and not detach, but create a sense of pertaining through what we make. That is very shared here with the people I work with.
The Spring/Summer 2022 show was almost like a big slumber party with close friends, like a comment on how we’ve been home for so long because of the pandemic.
I greeted more than 600 people before the show trying to assist almost every fitting. That confrontation really made us think about the purpose of what we do, which is making clothes for people. The process was extremely intimate, and surprising for everyone. We didn’t know how it would work, if 600 fittings were a lot. Both the viewers and the participants were in this same moment, in the same gesture, sharing something that was very united, very common to one another.
We felt the need to create a uniform, so the stripes [in the collection] became this sign of expanding this sense of a big team, where everybody works together to achieve something, like a sports team. And the daisy motif also has the meaning of new beginnings. It was the most beautiful symbol to combine with the stripes, and felt like quite a strong point of Marni’s DNA.
How is the augmented reality portion of the WEARWEARE metaverse an extension of the show’s message?
It’s an interesting experiment for us, and for now, we’re still exploring, as we are always investigating the human touch. We’re still understanding what augmented reality means to us. [The metaverse is] very much in contrast to what we do – it’s completely on the other side. But therefore I was curious to work with FUTURECORP, who are really talented in terms of building virtualism, and it was interesting to see how these two things can match. They have this beautiful hand that allows our work to become an extension of our idols, rather than a diversion from reality. Our characters became even more heroic, even more psychedelic, even more curious. We didn’t try to merge this collection into a completely different realm. We just placed them in a new narrative that was more dreamy.
As a gamer myself – one of my obsessions is Horizon on PlayStation – I like this immersive experience. But I also love the immersive experience of making things with my hands, with my team here at Marni. Sometimes the metaverse can be quite dehumanizing in a way. Our goal is to not dehumanize the work that we’ve been doing all this time.
It’s interesting that Marni’s version of the metaverse remains so earthly and nature-centric. Is this your dream world, as a plant person and dog lover?
Yes, absolutely. When working with FUTURECORP, we asked each other how to not dehumanize, how to link with something that is a natural extension of reality. Nature can give a lot of immediate examples in that sense. Nature has these overwhelming and mesmerizing effects, like a sunset. You would never see the same sunset again on another day. These fantastic [natural] phenomena are there for us to experience. That’s why nature was a beautiful place to ground into a sense of reality and pass on that message that this parallel world is connected to all of us.
In Marni’s AR experience, you follow along this body of water, and at the end there is a “metaphorical crater,” a volcano with light hovering over it. What is this symbolic of?
If you remember, the structure of our September show space was a spiral. It was a metaphorical volcano even back then. It’s about the core energy of our planet. The Earth and its energy literally comes from that pulsing, and the way that pulse feels, it could be synchronized with our heartbeat. It’s a symbol of the deep connection with our own body, our own heart, and the Earth. We decided to reinforce this alternate place that’s actually very energizing. Have you ever watched the sound of a volcano on YouTube? I really recommend it because it’s very interesting.
Digitization inevitably flattens these rich, textural details of Marni’s collection. When you construct your metaverse, what do you prioritize in terms of presentation and experience?
The moment you decide to see something from a screen, you’re going to let go of something. But in this new medium, there are opportunities to paint what we see in a different way. I think it can actually connect with more sensoriality rather than tactility, and still create in our minds the curiosity of what we are seeing.
The main point is not to create fake avatars, but a new version of our leaders. It was fun because each one [of our interpreters] has discovered a new version of themselves. It doesn’t dehumanize them because we are not putting their looks on fake people. It’s still them. We are creating an interesting version of who they can be through that screen. It’s not a flat unreality that detaches you from reality. It’s a mirror [to the real world]. It’s interesting to dive into new realms of fantasy that can still allow you to dig into our practice of making clothes.
As an artist and creative, what is it like to collaborate with a tech-y company like FUTURECORP?
They’re artists as well. It’s not about codes. Someone might think, “Oh my god, I’m going to see 600 numbers on a page, like I’m in the matrix.” No, they’re actually incredible visionaries, and they paint through another medium. This is fascinating for me [as I’m] the complete opposite of that. I’m learning a lot from them, even though I wouldn’t even know how to start in the creation of an avatar. They’re still grounded on artistic approaches, and it’s actually very cinematic, the way they work.
When users enter the Marni metaverse, what is the emotion you want them to feel? What is the experience?
It’s about wonder and discovery. This almost surrealistic wonder. But surreality is still inspired by reality.