MILAN — Born in 1976 in Argentina’s Patagonia region, specifically in El Bolsón, surrounded by a hippie community, Marcelo Burlon arrived in Italy, in the Marche region, as a teenager. While trying to make new friends and helping his mother clean a small hotel and working as a barman, Burlon, fascinated by the growing club culture, started building his own identity.
The first steps of his life, but also the milestones of his career as a stylist, fashion PR and then founder and creative director of the County of Milan brand, are all retraced in the coffee table book “Marcelo Burlon County of Milan: Confidential” published by Rizzoli with art direction by Macs Iotti and an interview by Angelo Flaccavento.
Burlon, who in 2017 with Davide De Giglio and Claudio Antonioli founded the Milan-based New Guards Group, which was sold to Farfetch two years later, discussed with WWD the recently released book, his future plans — and revealed that a TV series on his life is under way.
WWD: In what part of the world are you now?
Marcelo Burlon: I’m in Ibiza, preparing my first DJ set after such a long time… I’m playing at the Sanctuary in Milan on Dec. 3. I used to be resident DJ in Rome and they offered me to do a DJ set at their new place in Milan and I said yes… But then on Dec. 10, I’m going to Patagonia and I’ll stay there for a while… I can’t wait. I want to be with my family. I’m taking advantage that we are not showing in January.
WWD: Why did you decide not to show?
M.B.: In June, we plan to celebrate the 10th anniversary of County of Milan with a big event with a mega performance, hopefully in a public space open to everyone. So we decided to skip the January show, avoiding to waste money and time, just focusing on the June event, which I would like to be incredible.
WWD: Let’s talk about the book. It must have been quite a journey…
M.B.: It has been cathartic… going back through my past, retracing my story minute by minute, trying to remember everything that happened, thinking about all the events and looking at all the photo shoots… we started five years ago and in the meantime we started producing content with the book in mind.
WWD: The book has a very peculiar structure, built as a police investigation. Why?
M.B.: That concept was invented back in 2003 by Macs Iotti, when he helped me to create the visual identity of my agency, the Marcelo Burlon Enterprise. He had the genius idea of the police investigation concept and my cards were actually produced taking that style as a reference. So when we started working on the book, we went back to that model building the tome as a police file, where I’m the suspect, the people that worked with me and gravitated around me the witnesses, the interview that I did with Angelo Flaccavento the interrogation and all the visual contents are the evidence.
WWD: It’s a cool format…
M.B.: I think so. And I have to tell you, I’m so happy because Helmut Lang wrote me asking for a copy. I mean… We got in touch because you know that I’m now an art collector and through a friend I commissioned him one of the eagles that he used to make… so we managed to know each other and now he is asking me to send him a copy of the book. Can you imagine? Helmut Lang! He has been and he still is a major inspiration for all of us who were raised in the ’90s. When I used to style, the first thing I was doing was looking at his collections, his shows. We miss him in the fashion industry.
WWD: Where is the book distributed?
M.B.: We are in 900 bookstores in the world, but it’s also on sale in museums and art galleries, like the MoMa and the Tate in London. It’s pretty impressive…
WWD: Putting together the book, did you figure out what have been the most crucial moments in your career that enabled you to take the next step?
M.B.: Everything has been important, especially because everything is linked. Working in a specific club, I got to know the right person, who introduced me to someone else and so on. Of course, there have been special moments. I think for example when with my agency I organized Prince’s concert for Versace, or when I opened my first store, or that specific collection… But everything is so interlinked. If you go through the pages of the book, you see this precise line, this fil rouge connecting everything. The intent of this book was ultimately to really show what I am. It basically collects 20 years of events, parties, fashion but also memories of moments when I struggled making money, enough to buy food. We added a timeline where there are the milestones from 1976 to today: for example, when I joined the theater acting school in Rimini in 1996, or the Björk concert I attended in 1997 that really changed my life and my vision… The moments are so many, but I feel I can say that in everything I did I have been a sort of pioneer, in that space between the end of the analog and the beginning of the digital world.
WWD: Over the past few years, the last time we physically met in Milan, following your life on Instagram, but also talking to you now here through the screen, I have the feeling that in a way you entered a new life dimension, with zero FOMO, and a true desire to feel good and enjoy your life…
M.B.: After the sale to Farfetch, and even more during the pandemic, I realized that I had to re-conquer my own time, rebuilding my own intimacy. When we were forced to put our life on pause due to the virus, I realized I couldn’t take it anymore, to be immersed in such a fast world, filled with deadlines and urgencies. I did the lockdown in Ibiza and I took my life back into my own hands. I feel like I’m living a moment of maturity and awareness. I really believe that if you have the strength to see things with a certain distance, then you are really able to understand what’s good for you.
WWD: You are busy with different things, but above all you still run County of Milan. What do you see in the future for the brand?
M.B.: I’m still the creative director, I deal with New Guards Group and I have a great team. The brand always grew without setting big strategies in advance. And I think we will go ahead that way. We are opening two stores, one in Milan and one in Ibiza. We will do many new collaborations for the 10th anniversary. I’m the only owner of the brand and I have a licensing contract with NGG until 2035. We will see if at that time they will want to renew.
WWD: At the same time, I know you are working on a lot of projects, from the Healthy Colors food chain to supporting the projects of friends…
M.B.: I also opened Noa, named after my dog, that is a real estate company. We buy apartments in strategic areas of Milan, we revamp them and we resell them. However, the project I care more about now is the Marcelo Burlon Foundation, which has the goal to spread culture and education on very sensitive issues, especially on racism against the LGBTQ+ community. We organized an event in Ibiza to raise money to open in Tuscany a shelter, called Marcella, where we welcome and protect trans people who suffered from different types of violence. We are publishing a series of books with a National Geographic photographer on different environmental catastrophes. We are starting with the wildfires that destroyed Patagonia earlier this year and the proceeds from the sale of the books will help people who lost everything in those areas. In addition, I’m working with Jason Campbell on a book retracing the evolution of racism in fashion from the ’70s to today.
WWD: Future goals for the foundation?
M.B.: Opening a shelter for dogs in Ibiza and in Patagonia, with vets taking care of them and all the facilities to guarantee them a happy life.
WWD: You have done so much in your life, from dancing in clubs and acting to working as a PR, organizing events and launching a successful fashion brand, among other things. Is there anything you still want to do to feel really accomplished?
M.B.: You know what? No. I have done everything I wanted to do, I put all myself in so many projects, and I feel OK and happy. At one point, I wanted to make a vegetable garden here in Ibiza and I made that. I’m getting ready to start driving around the island with my Mehari car giving people my vegetables. I like simple things, those small pleasures that you almost don’t see. The truth is that I made my dreams come true… Listen, I tell you this — they are doing an eight-episode series on myself with great actors and a great director…Can you believe that? It’s insane!