With Moncler Genius, Remo Ruffini offers a glimpse of a tantalising future for fashion
Remo Ruffini has a big, juicy art collection. He can curate for himself. But the Genius initiative he debuted in February for his sportwear company Moncler suggests he’s pretty good at curating elsewhere too. Genius began with eight distinct interpretations of the Moncler ethos, a high-low extravaganza which embraced Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli at one end of the design spectrum and Hiroshi Fujiwara, overlord of Japanese streetwear, at the other.
Its second iteration, launched on Wednesday night in Milan, was down to five — no Piccioli or Palm Angels this time, and not much point for wintery Grenoble because these were Spring/Summer statements — but otherwise it was such a successful consolidation of the initial concept that you were left pondering the lessons other brands could learn.
There was some controversy about the actual launch, just as there was for the similarly swamped event in February. In tequila-enhanced bemusement, Milan’s jeunesse dorée wandered through five video installations in five massive rooms. Where were the clothes?, griped the seasoned fashion media. To which Ruffini would reply, it was the experience that mattered. That is why, after all, Genius occurred to him.
“My customer needs something different all the time,” he said after our walkthrough. “We have to talk to them every day through our social networks.” And, in the interests of generating experiences, an event — a happening — was more relevant than a traditional fashion presentation. And those video installations relayed the relevant atmosphere and attitude.
The jewels in the crown of Genius are Simone Rocha and Craig Green. Rocha’s video couldn’t have been timelier. “Picnic at Hanging Rock” has just finished on television, director Tyler Mitchell was coming off his Beyoncé gig for Vogue’s September issue. Combine those elements and you got something Rocha nicknamed “The Virgin Suicides in Alabama”. (Her husband Eoin McLoughlin’s camerawork had everything to do with the torrid atmosphere.) Remembering that Moncler is best-known for skiwear gives you some idea of the innate subversion of the whole concept. The fact that it delivered in buckets was all the validation Ruffini needed for the risks he’s taken with Genius.
“I wanted to interpret the practicality of Moncler,” said Rocha. “The film shows the idea of female nurturing. We tried to infuse that into Moncler fabrics: vinyl, nylon, rubber.” Her high concept was matched by Craig Green’s videos, directed by Dan Tobin Smith. Green also took onboard the idea of a summer collection for a winter-based brand.
“The theme is still protection,” he said, “but it’s more security with less padding.” In typical Green style, his videos animated the outerwear he’d designed with a furious farrago of machinery — drills, weights and pulleys — turning the clothes into capering stick men. For his Fragment group, Hiroshi Fujiwara brought Polish animation director Michael Socha on board to create a sensational high-speed duplicate of old Japanese analogue animation. “It’s always winter in Moncler,” said Fujiwara, “so colour felt more summery. And it’s nice to do normal fashion. I always make something I would wear.”
The obvious assumption here is that Ruffini is trying to create a commercial halo effect with his corral of cool designers. Not so, he insisted. “This project may drive more traffic into the stores, but the aim is not to sell more, it’s to give people a different experience. I call it “mix match”, you go from the main collection to Craig’s room to Hiroshi’s room. It gives you an experience. And the world is now based on that. Nobody needs another jacket or t-shirt. We have to build up our own community.”
With each complex design statement representing a monthly product drop, community-building sounds like, at the very least, a major production challenge. Still, the first drop was in June, and so far, it’s been working so well that Ruffini pronounces himself very satisfied, particularly with the early pick-up on Rei Kawakubo protégé Noir Kei Ninomiya and Rocha. And you get the feeling when Ruffini is talking that Craig Green, who embodies stubborn genius, might be his particular triumph. Two uncompromising types duking it out.
But, as I said way back when, Ruffini has a curatorial instinct which makes him eager to work with the designers he’s brought into Genius, to understand them, to learn from them. “Culture is everything,” he said. “It’s what you build in your company. When you talk with designers, you need to have a background. What’s behind an artist?” To see that question examined in a fashion context, especially in the context of a brand like Moncler, offers a glimpse of a tantalising future.