As his second Marni for Uniqlo collection lands in stores, the Italian designer talks cat memes, conspiracy theories, and being bored of cynical fashion

“I went through a very long goth period,” says Francesco Risso, recounting the way he used to dress in high school from his studio in Milan. “Everything was shaved. I had no eyebrows. I looked a little bit like Nosferatu, actually.” Though his dabble with the dark side of fashion is behind him, the style chameleon continues to use clothes to express and make sense of his “multiple personalities”, and seeks to help others do the same in his role as creative director of Marni. Since joining the cult Italian house in 2016, the eccentric designer has infused the house with a slice of surrealism, sending psychedelic collections down the catwalk in both Milan and New York.

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Now, he’s gearing up for the release of a second collaborative collection with everyone’s fave stop for wardrobe staples, Uniqlo. Made up of Marni-fied subversions of the high street store’s signature styles – including swamping puffers, cosy HEATTECH styles, and a plethora of bold, bolshy knitwear – offering number two follows in the footsteps of Risso’s SS22 line, which you were never more than a few feet from at fashion week in this June and September. Seriously: the front row was full to bursting with punchy flower power and chequerboard sets. 

“There was actually a really funny moment in New York when I was there a little while ago,” the designer recalls. “I was walking down the street and suddenly there was a person coming towards me in a set, and another in front of me at the crosswalk in another full look. They were looking at each other curiously, with me in the middle laughing.” It’s spotting his designs on a wider range of people than could usually afford Marni that makes Risso tick. Seeing families, kids, and his own mum and sisters enjoying his clothes convinced him a second Uniqlo collab needed to be on the cards. “I want people to feel welcome in my world,” he adds. 

As the collection lands in-stores and on digital shelves, we catch up with Risso to discuss the new collection, as well as conspiracy theories, cat memes, and why he’s ready for aliens to make contact.

Hey Francesco! Your first collection for Uniqlo was a big success – you were never more than a few feet away from someone in one of the sets at fashion week this season, and there was a lot of twinning at parties across the summer.

Francesco Risso: I heard! There was actually a really funny moment in New York when I was there a little while ago. I was walking down the street and suddenly there was a person coming towards me in a set, and another in front of me at the crosswalk in another full look. They were looking at each other curiously, with me in the middle laughing. It was a pretty surreal scene, and really nice to see actually. I have been wearing a lot of the pieces myself. They’re great battle clothes – ideal to throw on and go about your day. 

What was the inspiration behind the collection this time around? 

Francesco Risso: The starting point was an intention to challenge two of Uniqlo’s classics. One was the HEATTECH line, which is a super-fine stretchy jersey that’s really good in the winter because it’s insulating. And two is the puffer, which is a real signature. We were really thinking about the importance of the body, and ways to protect it and shield it in a very soft way. The prints and colours come from some psychedelic drawings made in the studio, and there are a lot of stripes and checks throughout. There’s a duality to the clothes. It’s interesting to contrast the functionality with the need to express oneself through what you wear. 

That’s the second time you’ve mentioned protection and alluded to ‘battle clothes’. Do you see what you make as armour? 

Francesco Risso: The opposite of that actually! I am completely against the idea of making clothes that feel like they are for battle or armour. Pieces that feel like they can protect in a soft way are key, and anything that’s brutalistic or intentionally cynical I find extremely old. Our puffer jackets are like a big bubble of colourful air around your body. I suppose it’s kind of an armour of vulnerability. 

“I hope we’ve created something that feels welcoming to all sorts of people. We live in a beautiful world that is full of so many differences, and I love that many of those differences” – Francesco Risso

Tell me about the collaboration with Uniqlo. Obviously Marni is an expensive brand. Was it important to you to expand who can enter into your world by joining forces with a more accessible label? 

Francesco Risso: Yes. I love Uniqlo because they are so precise about the clothing they put out into the world. Their approach is so different from so many other stores on the high street – there are no copies of copies of copies, for a start. I love the idea of working with a brand that has very strong design principles and what those designs represent in everyday life. It’s not just about making for many, but also about how you make for many. That was pivotal for me when we started working on this beautiful combination. 

Who would you love to see wearing this second lot? 

Francesco Risso: I loved seeing the first collection being worn by so many different people – different ages, families, kids, my mum and sisters – so I really just want to see more of that. It was great to see people challenging themselves by wearing some of the really fun pieces we did. I hope we’ve created something that feels welcoming to all sorts of people. We live in a beautiful world that is full of so many differences, and I love that many of those differences can all live in this collection. 

Okay, on to more general questions. Do you have a fave ever fashion show or collection? 

Francesco Risso: There are so many Comme (des Garçons) shows in my heart, but I don’t know if I could put one in front of another. There were also moments when I would buy things for my store and I would go to Azzedine Alaïa’s atelier, and I would be seated at a little table, in a very cute little room, and Azzedine himself would come out and put on these very small shows just for his clients. It was so beautiful to see the clothes so closely, and in such a simple way. 

What was your aesthetic in high school? 

Francesco Risso: Oh, I went through a very long goth period I guess? I was in school in the 90s and it was like the peak of that grungy, gothy moment. I was completely shaved, I didn’t have eyebrows or anything. I looked a little bit like Nosferatu. But I passed through so many phases – even now I never stop experimenting on myself and subverting reality. It’s a way of making sense of my multiple personalities (laughs). 

What’s your weirdest internet obsession? 

Francesco Risso: For many years it was eBay, but now it’s changed. I guess now it’s cats? I’m not interested in buying more stuff from eBay – for a long time it was a big part of my life and one of my main forms of research. I love the kind of individualistic personalities that cats have. I find it very similar to the way we are living as a society and as people right now. I could get really deep into this subject, but perhaps it’s a very long conversation we can talk about another time (laughs). 

Do you have a fave cat? I loved that cute little grumpy one that got Insta-famous (RIP) 

Francesco Risso: Oh god, I don’t know. Maybe the British blue? My boyfriend has one and she’s the exact same colour as my dog. She’s beautiful. 

“Any (fashion) that’s brutalistic or intentionally cynical I find extremely old” – Francesco Risso

What’s the best advice you have ever been given, and on the other hand, the worst? 

Francesco Risso: The worst advice… I don’t know if I have ever had such bad advice that it cemented itself in my memory. Maybe it was so banal I can’t recall it? Or maybe I haven’t been so lucky yet. In terms of good advice, the one I still think about, which was given to me by a very dear person, is to always, always fight for your own beliefs, especially in the work that we do. It’s very simple, but so important.

If you were stuck on a desert island, what record would you want with you? 

Francesco Risso: Pink Floyd, for sure.

Who would be your dream dinner seatmates? 

Francesco Risso: I mean it would be hard because I guess they’re all dead (laughs). I would say Mr. Van Gogh. The Marquis de Sade. And Marilyn Monroe. She’d be my first choice, actually. 

What was the last meme you saved? 

Francesco Risso: It wasn’t really a meme, it was a bit of news. Actually, this kind of ties into my internet obsession. I save screenshots from the BBC, CNN, and all the important news sites, because I find it so weird how you’ll move from the most horrific, tragic thing, to the most utterly banal thing in a split second now. It really underlines the bizarre way we live today. The other day I took a screenshot of a headline about a man who had found a snake on an aeroplane he was getting on in Florida. I was like… ‘Why do we need to know this?’ Our brains are being shifted and shaken about so much and so quickly by things like this. 

Last question. What’s your favourite conspiracy theory? 

Francesco Risso: I’m a big fan of all the alien conspiracy theories. Even though I am not an obsessive believer, I have to say that many of the theories make sense. And the alien one remains the most fascinating and mysterious even now, you know? I just wish they would hurry up and come down. We need our attention shifted away from just ourselves! 

Head here to shop the collection when it drops on December 1.