MILAN — Simone Rizzo is a bubbly, chatty dark-haired young man from Southern Italy’s Calabria region, while Loris Messina, blonde hair and blue eyes, is a more reserved, discreet man, born and raised in Grenoble, France. These two contrasting personalities are the creative minds behind Italian emerging men’s wear label Sunnei.
“We were singing ‘Sunny, yesterday my life was filled with rain,’ when we picked the name of the brand,” Rizzo said. They twisted “sunny” into a more extravagant “sunnei,” and established the label in January 2014 after a trip to New York.
“We were always talking about the idea of launching our own label, so when we returned to Milan we quit our jobs,” said Messina, who was a visual merchandiser at Gucci, while Rizzo was working as a digital manager and buyer.
Candidly admitting to not being “fashion designers,” Rizzo and Messina used their knowledge of the market and the skills they developed in their previous jobs in the fashion industry to create a brand that could offer something different from what was available on the Italian apparel scene.
“We revisited the Italian sartorial tradition of the Seventies in a contemporary key,” said Rizzo, explaining that for their first collection they focused on specific items, such as shirts, blazers, workwear jumpsuits and bombers, which they infused with a streetwear sensibility. “We do what we like and we do research on the street,” Messina added.
In order to guarantee high quality and high-end construction, Sunnei produces everything in Italy’s Veneto region. “We created a special collaboration with manufacturing companies, who we pushed to experiment on things they had never done before,” Rizzo said.
While keeping silhouettes simple and clean, the duo spend a lot of time on fabric research. For example, for spring 2015, the designers collaborated with a Como-based company that gave Rizzo and Messina access to its archives and let the designers choose a range of vintage fabrics available in limited editions.
Denim, worked with special treatments or turned inside-out, is a trademark of the brand. “We like the idea of using denim for both day and night,” said Rizzo, pointing to relaxed denim suits with a sartorial feel.
For the fall collection, which the brand presented in Florence in January and then at trade shows White in Milan and Man in Paris, Messina said “we defined our path more clearly and we tried to create unexpected effects using contrasting fabrics.”
Among the standout looks, they worked soft corduroy to realize a pair of comfortable pants with a skating-inspired attitude and a front pocket jacket, which they paired with a striped shirt crafted from cotton jacquard with a smooth, silky texture. The duo also played with construction: A wool coat would have been completely unconstructed had it not been for a rubberized material on the inside, which gave the garment its shape.
This unconventional approach to the sartorial tradition is among the elements that have captured the attention of international buyers including Opening Ceremony, which sells the brand exclusively in its stores in New York and Los Angeles.
With the fall collection, Sunnei will be sold in 16 stores worldwide, including in Italy, the U.K., Canada, Mexico and Korea.
“We think this project has an international attitude and that it could work well, especially in the U.S. and Asia,” said Rizzo, who added that, even if they produce everything in Italy using high-end fabrics, they are trying to keep prices competitive. Shirts retail for between 170 euros, or $180 at current exchange rate, and 250 euros, or $265, while pants and coats are priced at around 250 euros, or $265, and 800 euros, or $849, respectively.