MILAN — “I feel like a kid in a candy shop and I want to take people into our dream.”
This story first appeared in the January 15, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Two and a half years into his position as creative director at Brioni, Brendan Mullane hasn’t lost his fascination with the storied Italian house, which turns 70 this year. On the contrary, the British designer is gearing up for the brand’s evening event on Monday with visible delight. For the first time in years, Brioni will return to the runway with a show to be held at Milan’s Castello Sforzesco, the imposing 15th century castle restored by the Sforza family.
Deeply respectful of the brand’s history, Mullane is possibly less intimated by the pressure of the industry today than he is by the original founders of the company: master tailor Nazareno Fonticoli and entrepreneur Gaetano Savini, whom he views as innovative and groundbreaking, expressing his nervousness to live up to them. “Brioni was the first company to hold a men’s runway show back in 1952 in Florence, at the famed Sala Bianca at the city’s Palazzo Pitti,” said Mullane, who is based in Rome, during a recent interview here. “There were no male models at the time, they put their sales assistants in suits. They held a show on an airplane, they sat their guests with feet in water, filling the Waldorf-Astoria with water,” said Mullane, his eyes widening, still marveling at how the family “thought out of the box.” The designer was referring to a legendary fashion show at the iconic New York hotel, where the fountains were transformed into the runway.
“They held a show in Japan in 1963 and they didn’t speak any Japanese,” he added. “They were go-getters.
“So, what do we do next? We also want to always step up to the challenge, offer something unexpected, do things differently, leave a mark with one-of-a-kind experiences,” explained Mullane of his decision to return to the runway. “It’s our grand re-tour to mark our birthday.” While he was mum on details about the show, he revealed the theme centers around “the nine years it takes to become a [Brioni] tailor.”
Theatrics aside, Mullane underscored how Brioni first challenged traditional tailoring standards, introducing brighter colors and innovative fabrics and silhouettes. “Silk worn in the evening was an abomination at the time,” he noted, as were bright colors and graphics. His effort is to return innovative designs to the brand, leveraging the artisans’ craft at Penne, in central Italy, where the company is based. “They love and thrive on challenges. We offer a sartorial product, but that is no reason to be boring,” he said. The designer has been engaged in making Brioni contemporary — “not necessarily modern, but right for today.” Once again, he noted the founders’ forward-thinking ways. “They created a new silhouette, the column look, a streamlined jacket with tapered trousers in the Fifties.”
Mullane said he changed his way of working around the artisans in the atelier and touted how Brioni has been able to industrialize an artisanal process. An additional value of the brand, he said, is that Brioni “was never damaged; it’s the epitome of everything that is beautiful in Italy.”
Assessing his own work, he said he believed he had succeeded in “taking off a few layers of dust,” and that he has “managed to seduce the high-end tastemakers.”
Mullane admitted that “20 percent” of his brain was business-oriented so he is working closely with Brioni’s new chief executive officer, former Bottega Veneta executive Gianluca Flore, who joined Brioni in November, succeeding Francesco Pesci. “He has a clear understanding of creativity and is very direct, like me, not gray,” said Mullane of Flore. “He understands the beauty and potential of the brand.” This potential is made more visible to customers through the recent evolution of the brand’s retail network. After the opening in June of a sprawling new flagship in Milan, a new unit in Rome was unveiled in the Via del Babuino, near the Spanish Steps, replacing the brand’s historical venue in Via Barberini. A store also opened in Beijing in December.
Once a go-to brand during the Dolce Vita era, counting customers including Hollywood stars such as Clark Gable and the Kennedys, Mullane is intent on “polishing the [Brioni] diamond” and establishing “what” the Brioni man is. “This is not about wealth, but understanding the level of refinement. You don’t see them, but you know there are between 3,000 and 5,000 stitches in a suit, or between 7,000 and 15,000 stitches in a tuxedo,” Mullane said. And even though customers today are “more competitive, more difficult, no pushovers,” Mullane strives to provide a “seductive emotional turn, that is the real power — clothes that are able to seduce and that you cannot live without.”