Moncler doesn't just make cool puffer jackets – but you knew that already. In addition to those (of which there are many), the Grenoble-born skiwear brand is a fashion brand proper, with Moncler branching out into directional, just-the-right-amount-of-mad Big Look menswear in recent times. A large part of that push came in 2018, when part-owner Mr Remo Ruffini – an Italian businessman who echoes the Milanese magnates of yore with his neat, swept back hair and neat, marble-slick suits – launched the Moncler Genius project. Its intention was, and is, to showcase the best design talent that can make a new Moncler of the old Moncler. The brand's long and winding history is used to full effect. Nods to the archives become the next new Moncler moment. It's a sound example of brand shapeshifting that doesn't forget itself, its roots, or who it's ultimately for. That's you, BTW.
Sergio Zambon is the latest designer-elect for the 2 Moncler 1952 collection, a range that sits under the Genius umbrella. It's an assignment he's spearheaded intermittently since 2015. And, despite another lockdown, and a fashion week in flux, Zambon has kept the Genius project one of vim and very good menswear. Esquire sat down with the Italian designer to find out how it's done.
MC: How did you even get into design in the first place?
SZ: I did a couple of years of architecture, then I did fashion school. I'd say a big part of my background is with the house of Fendi where I stayed for a long time and I worked across menswear and womenswear. Then I kind of have a very varied background, before Moncler I did the menswear for Acne Studios and then Max Mara. I worked across most things: luxury, lifestyle, I'm always mixing different approaches like sportswear and streetwear and so I came to Moncler after being approached by Mr Ruffini.
We started working together on a capsule and after a couple of years he talked to me about the Genius project and [Ruffini] asked me to join. So I've been working on the Genius project since the start.
So what prompted a move from designing buildings and spaces to a job designing clothes?
Well, I always say, it's all about making projects. My real passion was like town planning, which is very different to architecture, and the other passion was clothing and fashion. So after a couple of years of architecture, I moved to fashion design. It's a love for projects, and a love for what's going on culturally, and that's a big part of the project. I'm always curious and aware of what's going on – especially in these harsh times that we're living – so I'm looking at comfort, and easiness which tends to bring us to things that are already there, but we look at them in a deeper way.
I think at the time, I just liked it more. But I'm still very interested in architecture as my pleasure.
Would you say that a lot of the skills you learnt in architecture lend themselves to fashion design?
No, it's very... OK. My love for architecture is not visible at all in the clothing I'm doing. What I took from architecture and town planning is more how I organise a project. I organise it in a very practical, functional way. First of all, when I design a collection, I have a vision of where the guy will be, how he'll be dressed, the accessories – everything. What I took from architecture was organising from the start; I know where the yellow will be, and I can almost merchandise the project.
I would say I have kind of a clean taste. Even when things are printed or decorated, I tend to clean a lot as a contemporary architect would. But I wouldn't say my taste or style is very architectural.
What was the initial brief for the Moncler Genius project then?
Genius was to be the fashion part of the Moncler mainline, so let's call it the facade of Moncler. Mr Ruffini wanted an evolution of Moncler; something new, but recognising the brand trademarks. It's like doing Chanel. You have to recognise Chanel.
I started from one of the few street movements Italy had in the Eighties. They were called paninaro. They were groups of kids meeting in the centre square of Milano, and they were wearing two or three styles that they were obsessed with, and they all wore the Moncler puffer jacket – girls and boys. So I started there as I like to relate to street culture and youth culture, which was right in Milano and as a first proposal, I recreated the new logo which for the first time was in one colour. It was working on the chromatics and attitude of Moncler and restyling the Italian street movement, the paninaro.
It was visibly Moncler, but a new start. It's an evolution of the style.
This paninaro street movement sounds really cool? Was this everywhere?
It was the middle of the Eighties. I just remember the song, "Paninaro" by the Pet Shop Boys and after the first season, people asked if it was too young. But I said Moncler's first success was a young success. These kids were obsessed, and so that's why I went straight to that youth culture.
Also, there's another that's really important. They wore Moncler in the city. On the fourth exit from the Subway, it was the first time the brand moved from the mountain to the city – it was skiing to big cities. That movement and taste was symbolic, to me, for the heritage of not just the style but the success and message of Moncler.
With so many influences on the table, did you have any challenges merging your aesthetic with new Moncler and the older archives of Moncler?
I found it very easy in a way. For example, I always had this love for sport and for functionality, even at Fendi and Acne Studios. With menswear, I always used the functional staples. So for me, it was kind of easy? I had my experience in luxury fashion on top of that, so that's the alchemy I created. It was a smooth process. It was just an exciting one, because it was a new challenge for me.
For Moncler it's about creating a world around one icon. Again, I'm talking about Chanel – one jacket, one bag – so for Moncler, it's focusing on a single item and that's a good challenge. You're free to build a new image around the jacket.
How did Moncler move into the city then? Was it just by chance or were there other factors at play?
I think it was a process. After Prada, nylon entered the luxury world in the Nineties and into the city. So when Mr Ruffini started working with Moncler, it was only natural that the company would go for luxury sportswear. It was a smart move. But yeah, all that began in the Nineties when Moncler doubled-down on functionality in the city.
And how do you manage to keep creating and keep imagining in lockdown? How does that design process keep going?
Well, design is more introspective. You really have to find more in your personal references in terms of culture and knowledge of fashion. Of course, when I did spring/summer I started in January, so for a couple of months, I was free to go out and explore. But out of the blue, in the first week of March, I was locked in for two and a half months. It's a moment where you look inside yourself and take all of your creativity from your imagination. Yeah, there's the computer, but you can't travel, or undertake visual research.
It was a test of how your creativity can work, and the first approach I have to say, it wasn't so shocking. I could slow down in this hectic world where we work. Now it's a bit more heavy duty, but yeah, it was a productive isolation fortunately.
Is there one piece from this collection really embodies the project, and you as a designer?
Yeah, it's the parka. There are three variants: one with a photographic mountain print, one is with very Sixties flowers, and the other is in army green. I like this because it gives a more commercial option and a more image-led one. Then there are trousers – very large trousers – that are inspired by Nineties rave culture.
The latest 2 Moncler 1952 collection is available online at moncler.com
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