MILAN — Another designer exit is shaking up the Italian fashion scene – perhaps a casualty of an increasingly competitive industry rattled by changes in consumer spending, geopolitical uncertainties, currency volatility and growing competition. This time, however, it’s not a case of yet another revolving-door exit as its the brand’s founder who has decided to leave.
On Friday, Consuelo Castiglioni said she was parting ways with Marni. Her husband Gianni, who held the title of president and who co-created the company in 1994, is also leaving, as are their two children – Carolina, director of special projects, and Giovanni, who worked in the operations department.
Francesco Risso, a Prada alum, will succeed Castiglioni as creative director of the label. His first collection for Marni will bow for fall 2017.
“These were hectic and exciting years, which absorbed all of my energies to create a project I am proud of,” Consuelo Castiglioni said. “Thanks also to the constant support of my family, who allowed me to stay true to my idea, I built a brand with a precise and recognizable identity. The time has now come to dedicate myself to my private life. I thank all the people who believed in this project and who, with loyal dedication, have helped me along this fantastic journey.”
Market sources indicated Castiglioni’s decision was personal, a fact emphasized by OTB, the conglomerate owned by Renzo Rosso that took full control of Marni in 2015.
“The world pays tribute to the original vision of Consuelo, and to a unique brand which we are proud to have in our group. I wish her the very best,” said Rosso. “I am happy to welcome Francesco, whose talent will contribute to writing a new chapter in the history of this house, which is Italian at heart and global in spirit. I am confident that the creative team and the management of Marni, which have contributed to this success, will continue to make this brand reach exciting new goals.”
Market sources speculated the pressure to deliver increasing profits and sales and to expand the brand may have been contrary to Castiglioni’s nature. “Marni has always been a niche brand and turning it into a commercial business is not really part of her modus operandi,” said one source.
“It’s one thing to develop a family company and it’s something altogether different to be part of a big holding,” said another source.
One luxury analyst said “usually, after an acquisition, one keeps the pre-existing structure when things go well, but these are times when everybody is struggling. These are VUCA times – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. It’s hard for big powerful brands, and Marni has a niche dimension—it’s even harder.”
In 2015, Marni revenues grew 15.4 percent to 150 million euros, or $166.5 million, compared with the previous year.
A day after the presentation of the Altagamma Observatory, Armando Branchini, vice chairman of Italian luxury goods association Fondazione Altagamma, reiterated that the industry saw more than 20 changes in chief executive officers and creative director appointments in the last 10 months alone.
“We are in a more complex and more competitive moment and this brings changes as a consequence—just see the frequency of changes in business and style,” said Branchini. As reported, according to the Altagamma Worldwide Market Monitor 2016 and a study by Bain & Co. sales of personal luxury goods are expected to drop 1 percent to 249 billion euros, or $273.9 billion, this year.
Castiglioni’s exit isn’t the first time Rosso has had to deal with the departure of the founder of a company he has acquired. In 2009, the Italian businessman saw Martin Margiela exit his namesake fashion house seven years after Rosso acquired a majority stake in it. According to sources at the time, when Margiela decided to walk away from the company he wanted to pour creative energies into painting and wished to leave the fashion business. In October 2014, Rosso tapped John Galliano as creative director of Maison Margiela and the British designer has revived buzz around the brand.
Rosso is now betting that Risso, who has a solid reputation for his work at Prada, will be able to be pick up where Castiglioni has left off at Marni. To be sure, there is common ground between the design sensibility of the two brands, created by two designers who have a clear and independent vision of fashion.
Risso studied at Florence Polimoda, New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology and Central Saint Martins in London. His work experience started at Anna Molinari, and after stints at Alessandro Dell’Acqua and Malo, in 2008 he joined Prada Group to work on the brand’s women’s show collections and on special brand endorsement projects.
The understated and reserved Castiglioni, who shuns the limelight and cherry-picks interviews, has built her brand with constant research into new fabrics and materials, unusual color combinations, artistic references, eccentricity, deftness with precision, and asymmetric cuts. She epitomizes the seasonless trend many are beginning to embrace.
“Either you love or you hate Marni,” she told WWD last April. “Those that first approach it always loyally come back, perhaps because there are no seasons, you don’t throw pieces away, you keep them and wear them again.”
A self-described instinctive designer, with a passion for the arts, who worked with a close-knit team of 10 designers, she admitted she did not follow trends nor did she ever agonize over commercial concerns, focusing on strength of character and an independent spirit.
“I do listen to [merchandising] unfortunately, but only up to a certain point, otherwise [the collections] become banal if you follow what the commercial office wants. I logically listen to the demands of the market, especially from our stores but one [should proceed on one’s own path],” she said in April.
Marni’s first season, launched in 1994, was a fur collection, meant to diversify the production of Gianni Castiglioni’s family company, Ciwifurs, a storied licensee for several designer brands. Retailers started asking for apparel to go with the furs and then accessories.
The Castiglionis first showed men’s wear together with women’s wear for spring 2002 and the category had its first solo runway show for fall 2006. Marking the increasing relevance of the brand in men’s wear, Marni was guest designer at Pitti Uomo in Florence in January 2015 at the Marino Marini Museum.
A friend of the Castiglioni family, Rosso first took a stake in Marni in 2012 to help expand the brand. Gianni Castiglioni had told WWD a few months earlier that he was seeking a financial partner to support the company’s growth and retail development. Previous talks with private equity funds fell through as Castiglioni resisted pressure to grow the company at the expense of the brand’s integrity and niche positioning.
As reported, currency fluctuations, the repositioning of Diesel and investments in Marni dented OTB’s profitability in 2015, on the back of a gain in sales compared with the previous year. In the 12 months ended Dec. 31, net profits dropped 36 percent to 3.5 million euros, or $3.8 million, from 5.5 million euros, or $7.3 million, in 2014.
Revenues rose 1.9 percent to 1.59 billion euros, or $1.76 billion, compared with 1.56 billion euros, or $2 billion, in the previous year.
Last November, OTB completed the acquisition of Marni, taking full control three years after buying a 61 percent stake in the Italian fashion company. OTB has worked on the development of Marni, investing in the brand’s first ad campaign. OTB chief executive officer Riccardo Stilli said Marni was “growing at a very good double-digit pace.” Last year, boutiques were opened in Milan, London and San Francisco. The company has expanded into children’s wear and the first collection of eyewear under a new license signed last year with Marchon was presented during Milan Fashion Week in February. Marni last year also signed a license for the production and distribution of the brand’s men’s wear line with Staff International.
The company counts 82 directly operated stores and around 20 franchised units.
OTB controls Diesel, Maison Margiela, Viktor & Rolf and manufacturing arms Staff International and Brave Kid, and produces and distributes collections for Dsquared2.