Italian menswear is probably best described as a tale of extremes. On the one hand there’s classic Italian tailoring—with its double-breasted suits, spread collars, double-monk dress shoes and knit ties. On the other, there’s maximalist contemporary menswear—the silk Versace shirts, all-over Fendi logo prints, garish Dolce & Gabbana garments and the fantastical Alessandro Michele-designed Gucci. It is more extravagant than elegant. And, then there’s the contemporary Italian brands’ proclivity for controversy.

Furthering the tale of extremes is the fact that Italian menswear tends to have its moments—consider Gucci’s sexy success during the Tom Ford years, followed by a relatively barren period before becoming a star brand again under Alessandro Michele. Italian menswear is, in turn, the driving force of the industry—and the laggard.

And then there’s Marni.

Marni is an Italian house in name only, really. The brand’s aesthetic is neither similar to its maximalist contemporaries, nor a throwback to classic Italian tailoring. The brand wasn’t even founded by an Italian, with Consuelo Castiglioni hailing from Switzerland—though she did have ties to Milanese fashion through marriage. Marni is, quite simply, an oddity of Italian fashion, existing largely independent of what everybody else is doing in Milan.

But it’s also a brand that garners both respect and curiosity—often in equal measure. It’s a brand that has enjoyed steady growth over the years, but is still relatively small. It has a cult-like following, but lacks the name-brand recognition of its Italian peers.

So how has Marni done it over the last 26-plus years? How has the brand cultivated such a distinct aesthetic—one often described as “intellectual”, with the unspoken suggestion that that label positions it as diametrically opposed to what we’ve come to expect from the brand’s peers.

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Tags: otb, only-the-brave, maison-margiela, renzo-rosso, prada, consuelo-castiglioni, francesco-risso, milan, italy, italian-tailoring, marni