MILAN — “It’s a sort of miracle,” believes Antonio Marras.
The Italian designer still marvels at the opportunities that lie ahead following the acquisition in September of a majority stake in his namesake brand by Gruppo Calzedonia.
“No other investor had grasped the essence of the brand before, or approached it with such respect and attention for what we had done,” said the designer, speaking at his NonostanteMarras concept store here, ahead of his coed show Wednesday.
He recalled he had met many potential investors over the years but Gruppo Calzedonia chairman Sandro Veronesi struck him as “a visionary, pragmatic with great intuitions, but very rational at the same time and he was intrigued by this universe. For years, I worked to keep the brand clean, honest and concrete, defending it so that it would remain untouched.”
Marras admitted the deal could “seem like madness, we are poles apart, with different backgrounds, different careers and he has reached global success while I feel I have not yet fully expressed myself.”
To be sure, Veronesi has built a group that last year surpassed sales of 3 billion euros, counts 5,328 stores and controls the innerwear, hosiery and beachwear Calzedonia, Intimissimi and Tezenis labels, respectively, as well as knitwear brand Falconeri; bridal line Atelier Emé, and wine retailer Signorvino. Exports last year represented 58.5 percent of revenues and investments amounted to around 280 million euros.
“Independence has a cost,” acknowledged Marras, a conceptual designer and an artist, who has never denied the financial struggles he encountered in building his business. “We’ve always done everything on our own, finance is another job, one that I’ve never wanted. I can draw a bridge but to build it you need an engineer,” he said humbly.
Veronesi “is direct and dynamic, in less than a month the deal was sealed. I hate indifference and anyone that does not take a stance. If you don’t act, you can’t make mistakes but you won’t get any result or reach any goal. I can’t stand that.”
He praised Veronesi’s intuition in diversifying the group, and he conceded the agreement with the Calzedonia group will allow his brand to have more contractual power and be able to expand his production and offering. Marras continues to design his namesake label, which includes apparel, accessories, furniture and design objects inspired by his art.
“I am always working, it’s my obsession. I hate Sundays and vacations and now there’s even more work to do,” Marras said enthusiastically. “I even marvel at how much I am still involved and how much I love this job. I am hands-on, from the choice of fabrics on,” he said smiling, the fast-paced conversation reflecting his zest.
“We are getting to know each other, working together, understanding each other’s personality and characteristics, but we share the same objectives,” said Veronesi, who has been structuring a new organization [that] will strengthen and rationalize the brand’s production and distribution and aim at timely deliveries. He is also creating a managerial structure, naming Antonio’s son Efisio Rocco Marras chief executive officer of the company.
“This kind of acquisition was not part of my plans but Antonio is so creative, he is constantly overflowing with new ideas, but at the same time is very focused and very flexible, which makes it easy to work with him.”
Veronesi plans to emphasize the importance of the designer’s atelier in Alghero, on the island of Sardinia, which he sees as a reference point for the brand. He believes events and different activities can be held there, further identifying Marras with the Sardinian town but expanding its visibility. “Unique and artisanal pieces are made in Alghero and that will not change,” he said.
In fact, he is planning to double the space of the boutique in Alghero and refurbish it. The brand was previously mainly distributed through the wholesale channel and Veronesi is working on building a retail network.
A boutique will open in Rome’s Via Condotti in early March. “It previously housed a Falconeri store and it’s a great location,” he said. A store in Italy’s resort town Forte dei Marmi will follow in early June and then a boutique in Venice. Two new units will open in the fall — maybe in Florence or Naples, said Veronesi — while a unit in Milan is planned for early 2024.
The stores are expected to be decorated with artifacts from Sardinia, such as huge carpets made by hand through a traditional and artisanal technique.
“The brand awareness is high and Antonio has a very passionate customer base that struggled to find the stores that carried his collections,” Veronesi said.
He continued by praising Marras’ “unique storytelling” abilities and his capacity to “always innovate while staying true to himself, with a strong link to his Sardinian roots and creating a very recognizable look.” He believes the brand has “every right to be part of the luxury world. And Antonio is an artist through and through which enriches his collections. We are here to support him in this gradual development.”
Veronesi acknowledged the designer’s strength in ready-to-wear and the untapped potential in the development of the brand’s accessories, bags and shoes.
“He is a talented designer who did not have a supply chain to support him and that would be up to the level of his label,” Veronesi said.
Marras was pleased that Veronesi wants to make Alghero “the beating heart” of the brand and Sardinia is central to his fall collection.
He dedicated the collection to Grazia Deledda, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1926 and was also born in Sardinia, in Nuoro. “It’s the story of a woman ahead of her time, born in a location where at the most you could become a wife, she moved to Rome and her husband became her assistant. She decided how to live her life.”
The designer, known for his ability to stage imaginative and theatrical fashion shows, will recreate a lush and thick forest around the runway, inhabited by a plethora of decorative animals, wolves, bears and, in particular, boars. “I love boars; they are standoffish, autonomous, anarchic,” said Marras, adding that he is “against any cruelty toward animals.” The idea is “to tell the story of strong women who venture into this wood and overcome the difficulties in life.”
The designer admitted his obsession with jackets, which he recycled once again for this collection, as well as for military shirts, turning them inside out and applying roses and leaf prints. A dress in stretch, flocked tulle and velvet also showed a floral pattern. “I always say I won’t do flowers anymore, but then in the end I always do,” said Marras, shrugging.
His attention to detail extended to the styling of the models for the WWD cover shoot, as he carefully and enthusiastically suggested backdrops, props and mood, moving furniture around himself.
“The fil-rouge here is mixing, interweaving and combining fabrics, embroideries, prints and patterns,” said Marras, such as a wallpaper jacquard with intarsia, or needle-felted wool with openwork velvet, as he showed a stunning short black and gold brocade dress with a beautiful necklace — an accessory always dear to the designer. A pioneer in working with scraps and discarded swatches of fabrics, he recovered a parka, revisiting it with a jacquard, ethnic motif in black and white, and a recycled knit was given new life with macramé embroideries and lace.