An Interview with Consuelo Castiglioni

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Photographed by Sergio Calatroni

When Consuelo Castiglioni launched Marni in 1994, her focus was initially on furs, and more specifically the reinvention of furs. The former fashion consultant took what was at the time a stuffy bourgeois status symbol and transformed it into a covetable fashion statement. A complete collection ensued, to great acclaim, and Marni fast became one of the youngest but most highly respected Italian fashion houses. Castiglioni herself is notoriously shy and averse to the limelight, which only added to the allure of the brand. In this rare interview, she reveals her creative modus operandi and artistic inspirations, and discusses the unique nature of the first-ever Marni fragrance.

You rarely give interviews and generally avoid being the center of attention. Why is that?
I prefer for my work to speak for itself. Marni is thought of with a special audience in mind: women with a certain sensibility. It’s not about age, or status, but the will to use clothes to express individual feelings.

Who is the Marni woman?
A self-confident individual who dresses for herself, not for others. I don’t like to impose a look. The Marni woman has a sophisticated approach to style, which is not necessarily fashion driven, but based on a strong identity and a personal vision. She is curious, always happy experimenting and playing with forms, structures, prints, and colors.

Can you describe your creative process?
The creation of a collection generally starts with the research of a fabric or a material. I am fascinated by the way different textures, colors, and prints can define or change a look. Color, print, and architectural shapes are central to my work; they highlight a form or give a new meaning to an item. I work intuitively, using my instinct as a design tool.

What inspires you?
Everything that surrounds me. Nature, art, music, books, different cultures. Life itself, indeed. I am a curious person. When I travel, for instance, I like to explore the environment by walking around, filling my eyes with urban observations, casual encounters, relying on the visual stimuli of art galleries and museums. It is a constant flux.

Photo: Courtesy of Marni

Are there any places that you like more than others? 
I love to travel, to see new places, absorb new cultures, colors, life. I do find something I like everywhere. I spend my summers in the Balearic island of Formentera, for instance, where we have a house that is my refuge. I love the uncontaminated, dry, sunburnt landscapes. I love the mountain in winter, too, as I am fond of skiing.

Do you have any favorite places in the cities you visit, or where you live?
I love art galleries and vast open spaces. In Milan I don’t have much time to go out. I am usually in the atelier working on the collections, editing, or experimenting.

Would you say that being a woman designer gives you a different perspective?
The approach is more personal. I can try things on, and I actually do, testing items as we go along. As a woman designing for other women, I can tell what works and what doesn’t; I would never put something un-wearable in the collection. Seduction, for me, is not something that you show off. It comes from within, as an expression of inner strength.

How would you explain Marni’s success without advertising and aggressive marketing strategies?
People come to us for affinity. Our collections are filled with timeless items, objects of affection that our clients can wear, season after season, and mix with new pieces, creating their own personal style. I think this message is appealing for a certain audience. It is certainly a niche, but a transversal one.

What is the highlight of your career thus far?
I do not see my career in terms of highlights. Marni has evolved organically, and I think this aspect is integral to the aesthetic of the label. I hope to continue doing what I am doing.

How has the luxury industry changed since you first launched Marni?
It has changed a lot, growing to a big, blown-up scale that sometimes makes things a lot less emotional. I have the big fortune, and the immense freedom, to work in a family-run business. That is something precious, almost invaluable. It gives me the possibility to create freely in a supportive, cocooning environment.

What’s the best part about working with family?
Creative freedom, as I said. Marni is a family-run business: my husband Gianni is the CEO, my daughter Carolina is the director of, and Giovanni, my son, works in the retail department. It is very gratifying to work all together. It’s like an open dialog fueled by passion and attention, with everyone adding their experience and ideas. This way, creativity and business can be one.

Why the name Marni?
That is a family thing, too. It’s the nickname of Marina, my husband’s sister.

You’ve just launched your first-ever perfume. How will launching a fragrance help evolve the Marni brand?
The launch of the perfume will add another element to the Marni world. This new step is organic to my vision of the brand; it is the olfactory rendition of the playfulness and the unpredictability that characterizes our collections. It is at once subtle, individual, and bold. A perfume changes slightly from person to person; it becomes truly individual. That’s what I try to do with my collections as well. They are repertoires of possibilities. The perfume will make the Marni message truly multi-sensorial and complete the Marni easthetic.

How is creating a fragrance similar to designing a piece of clothing?
Creatively, it is the same process. Simply, I started from raw olfactory elements in place of fabrics. Developing the texture of the fragrance was like designing a collection – a constant edit to get a unique balance of classic components and a dash of the unexpected.

What is the significance of the bottle shape?
I wanted something that was at once classic and timeless, yet a bit off. I chose an iconic design, playing with texture and proportions and colors to get a graphic effect. I used red for the small cap, as an accent, and added dots as a screen on the bottle, like a signature Marni print. I like how all these elements interact in an object that is at once familiar and new. The logo and the packaging too are very graphic, with a curvy sense of playfulness and a soft assertiveness.

What vision comes to mind when you smell the Marni fragrance?
A world of contrasts, a subtle, unexpected composition of elements. The fragrance has an almost graphic appeal, and, just like the clothes I design, it is unpredictably feminine. I chose rose, blonde woods, and red spices to be the key notes, because of the olfactory dialogue they create with one another: a counterpoint of dry peaks and feminine curves.

Do you have a signature scent?
I had one that was developed especially for me a few years ago when I started courting the idea of adding scent to the Marni world.

How and where do you wear fragrance?
I wear it quite liberally, not following any rules. My only rule in life and in design, in fact, is to not have any.

What is the Marni signature in perfume and fashion?
I like to call it silent elegance.

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