Milan fashion week kicked off a night earlier than usual this season. Breaking years of tradition—Gucci is typically the Milan opener—Remo Ruffini staged the relaunch of his Moncler brand with something he’s boldly named the Genius Group. In an era of mega fashion collaborations, this is the mega-est, with a designer roster that includes Pierpaolo Piccioli, Simone Rocha, and Craig Green, among others. Let’s just say Ruffini doesn’t think small. Consisting of eight unique collections to be rolled out one at a time on a monthly basis, it’s a timely attempt on Ruffini’s part to address shifting buying patterns. The simultaneous rise of social media and streetwear’s “drop” phenomenon have trained a generation of shoppers to consume differently. The Genius Project’s aim is to tap into that.
The launch effectively puts an end to the company’s former structure. The Gamme Rouge and Gamme Bleu shows, with collections designed by Giambattista Valli and Thom Browne respectively, tended to come off as expensive branding exercises: entertaining to attend, but not necessarily reliable sources of viable outerwear anywhere near the level of the main range. Moncler is a kind of winter uniform in certain precincts, a status symbol that earned its status thanks in part to its functionality, but also to its coding—that red, white, and blue rooster logo patch is an effective means of messaging. Ruffini’s other aim here, equally important, is to expand the little rooster’s reach with collections that target specific niches. Piccioli’s offering could attract the Valentino client, Green’s the experimental menswear shopper, and so on down the line.
So, how did Ruffini’s geniuses do? First a word about tonight’s production, which was handled by Etienne Russo and had the feeling of a happening, with long lines to get into the eight tented spaces. The logistics were far from perfect, but there was a tingle in the air; here was someone (or someones) doing something different in a city long critiqued for playing it by the rules.
Pierpaolo Piccioli’s installation was the first you encountered upon entering the cavernous space. It was like stepping into a chapel, with canvases by the artist-monk Sidival Fila hanging on the walls; and on the mannequins, A-line puffer capes, capelets, and skirts designed, Piccioli said, to evoke the Madonna. Almost divine in their simplicity, they won’t be unfamiliar to his followers at Valentino.
Rocha’s and Green’s creations were also in keeping with their own established vocabularies, but where Rocha’s designs (most of which weren’t true outerwear, but ready-to-wear) were ineffably light, Green’s felt heavy. Evocative of life rafts and space suits, his pieces were the most conceptual of the lot. Intricate workmanship and fabric manipulation are hallmarks of Noir’s Kei Ninomiya, and they were duly impressive in his all-black collection of lofty down and leather. Fragment’s Hiroshi Fujiwara reinterprets American grunge through a Japanese lens; his down-lined flannel shirts will be hot commodities with guys, and we saw a few girls admiring his fuzzy mohair sweaters. Also destined to connect with consumers: the cheery prints in the technical, yet fashion-conscious Grenoble line, and the tweaked classics of the 1952 range, the best of which was a quilted and patch-worked poncho.
The virtue of this new strategy for Ruffini is that it secures Moncler’s high-design bonafides and ensures strong sales figures. It’s a win-win, as long as you can get the customers to pay. Palm Angels’ Francesco Ragazzi, who moonlights at Moncler, reported that his gift shop (the eighth installation) was mobbed by people trying to make off with his logo-heavy products for free. The floodgates have opened, now let’s watch to see which brands follow Team Moncler’s innovative lead.