LULA. Hello Antonio, are you living and working in Alghero at the moment? How is it?
ANTONIO MARRAS: Yes I live and work in Alghero, one of the most beautiful cities of Sardinia. Having been under strong Spanish domination, Catalan is still spoken there; Alghero is an island on the island. I adore it like one adores a lover who is slightly neglected and perhaps underappreciated. Alghero has an exceptional microclimate, a strategic geographic position in the heart of the Mediterranean and is immersed in a natural beauty (the coast, the olive groves, the natural parks) that is far beyond what you are likely to find anywhere else. Unfortunately its flaw lies precisely in feeling so content with all this and not aspiring to offer more and to improve. The Algheresi do not consider themselves Sardinians; my mother, who comes from a town in the Gallura region, is called the “Sarda” even though she has lived in Alghero for more than 50 years. But it’s not a question of haughtiness, merely an awareness of a cultural difference.
LULA: Did you grow up in Sardinia – is it where your family are from?
MARRAS: Yes, both my parents were born and raised Sardi!
LULA: You are a LULA hero - who are the heroes in your life?
Antonio: My father was my greatest example of elegance and life, as is my mother still today. I have no heroes in the fashion world, but I certainly admire many designers and people. Besides Comme De Garcons and Yamamoto, who are my absolute icons, I think Miuccia Prada is always amazing and brilliant. I cannot help but mention the first designer I literally adored: Elio Fiorucci. In the seventies, when I was around 14 years old, I took my first real trip to the “continent”. My father and I went to Fiorucci’s warehouse in Milan: a huge place full of objects, clothing, fabrics, and an incredible assortment of bizarre things. It was like being in Wonderland, and I wished I could have stayed there forever.
LULA: We love that your aesthetic has stayed so focused and personal when fashion is, in general, so fickle. How do you stay true to your vision?
Antonio: Basically, I only do things I believe in. I do not do it because it is a conscious moral choice, but because it is the only way that I can live and work. When I do not feel totally invested in a project, I can’t even start it. I do not consider myself a designer against the mainstream. I consider myself an outsider who cares more about creative aspects than anything else and who thinks that to give meaning to what you do, you need to reconcile production needs with the value of research.
LULA: How would you actually describe your aesthetic - and how did your way of working, and style, evolve?
Antonio: “Love, by memorial mould,” said Emily Dickinson. I am not nostalgic, but I strongly believe in memories. My first collection was inspired by the wardrobe that I inherited from my uncle, a sort of dandy who immigrated in Argentina. I still have clothes that belonged to my father: I believe that things that belonged to someone else have a life of their own and live on despite the passing time and wear. I decorated all my places – my home, my studio, my showroom in Milan, and my boutiques – with old cast-off furniture and vintage accessories because I’m fascinated by the idea of giving new life to things that other people threw away or were destined to be forgotten. If I had to describe my aesthetic, I would use three words: travel, memory, and research. Memories are roots: they are what we are made of and where we come from. There is no future without the past. I am continuously inspired, often unconsciously, by the tradition that imbued my childhood, but I re-interpret it through my own eyes, which are the eyes of a person living in the present.
LULA: How do you come up with the stories and themes that shape your collections each season?
Antonio: All my collections are always based on a story, real or imaginary. It might be a poem written by my son Efisio or a love letter, but it might also be a historical figure, a work of art, or literature. When I come across these stories, often by chance, they trigger emotions, dreams, and images that influence my work. I am convinced that a designer is a person, first, and as such, everything around me influences and affects me. Whatever strikes me or sticks in my mind eventually emerges and becomes a part of what I am working on. The fashion show is the high point of my work, and each time I feel the need to be overwhelmed. I need to do things that completely involve mind and body. I need strong emotions to feel alive. I am the “Sturm und Drang” type. I certainly cannot accept only “creating” a collection without making it come to life! The fashion show is the quintessential cathartic experience. That is where we put our careers on the line, and it is the real and most important moment of communication. It is also a challenge and a contest that sums up everything I would have wanted to do in life: stage direction, lighting, set design, choreography, music and, last but not least, costumes. Therefore, I build a stage for presenting my world…
LULA: Do you draw or paint? Who are your favourite artists, and how do they inspire you?
Antonio: I am drawing all the time! It’s the perfect anti-stress remedy and a kind of obsession. I draw on everything, with everything: I feel lost if I don’t have paper and a pencil with me. I even draw while I’m sitting at a table in a café, using the paper napkin as a sheet of paper and the tip of a spoon dipped in coffee as a pencil. I think that fashion and art have much in common. In fact, I think these categories should be partially redefined: it’s no longer a question of a borrowed idea or reciprocal influences. The boundaries between art and fashion have become increasingly fuzzy to the point that there is a whole area of transitional experiences difficult to classify in one area or the other. I’ve always felt the need and importance of working in creatively autonomous areas. I’m certainly lucky to do what I love: a job that lets me combine clothes, music, theatre, and cinema. My all-time favourite artists are Boltanski, Kiefer, Pasolini, Visconti, and Picasso.
LULA: Is music a big part of your life - do you listen to music when you design?
Antonio: I can’t live without music. I always have music playing in the background in my studio. I can’t imagine a fashion show without music, and anyone who has ever seen one of my shows knows that. Sometimes a certain melody or song inspires me and is the theme for an entire collection.
LULA: What is your favourite song or album?
Antonio: It’s too hard to choose just one. I’d say everything written by Fabrizio De Andrè, the great, unsurpassed poet who died too young.
LULA: What is your favourite colour?
Antonio: I do not think there is a colour I have never used or cannot use in the future, even if I have always been fascinated by the starkness of white and black. A certain shade of blood red, which we have immodestly called “Marras red” has always been used in my collections. It is our “red thread” that is linked to memories and represents a sense of belonging. In the early 20th century, Sardinian immigrants would tie a red cord around the sacred images and medals of saints who were supposed to protect them during the long journeys that took them to the continent and far from home. It was a way to underline the blood ties with their land and roots. We all started using red, which became the symbolic colour of my brand. Today it is a hallmark of Circolo Marras, my work group and extended family.
LULA: Do you have any guilty pleasures (eating chocolate cake, watching trashy TV…)?
Antonio: I love chocolate. My drawers are full of every type of chocolate: white, milk, dark, hazelnut. And I did not miss an episode of “X Factor” (a music talent/reality show). But these cannot be considered guilty pleasures!!!!
LULA: You are known for combining your luxury clothing with folk and cultural elements based on your experience living in Sardinia. What is it that interests or inspires you about Sardinian culture?
MARRAS: Sardinia is an ancient land, a storehouse of traditions and cultures, the indelible traces of the many peoples who have come through and left their marks. There are vast empty areas, enormous expanses of sparsely populated land. Sardinia is a true island that is hard to get to, and this generates a surplus of imagination for the spending. Those, like me, who were born on the island learn very young the difference between “here” and “elsewhere”. We have an undying yen for travelling; but after every journey, a mysterious force draws me back home, aware that my true strength is derived from the island.
LULA: Growing up with a family involved in fashion, did you have aspirations to be a designer from a young age?
I was “born” and grew up in my father’s fabric store in Alghero, and that is where I began to develop an obsessive love of fabrics. Way back in 1988, a businessman asked me to design a collection. At first it seemed totally crazy: why me, of all people? I had no experience, no official fashion school behind me. But I decided to accept anyway. After all, I really had nothing to lose! I worked for ten years on a line that didn’t bear my name but that was a great commercial success. And it was precisely this attachment to financial returns that was driving me to give it up. But just as this idea was crystallizing in my mind, I had an encounter that would end up changing my life. I met Maria Lai, an exceptional artist, an eighty-year-old woman who opened up a universe for me, a universe I had not known I might belong to. And so, in 1986, on my own and with the meager resources at my disposal, I chose to make a foray into haut couture, where nothing was oriented exclusively to sales. Those collections gave me back my enthusiasm and desire to work.So I ended up in fashion by chance. I was not born and did not grow up with the intention of being a “stylist”. Actually, I hate the word; it seems like a caricature, a mockery. The English word “designer”, or better, the French word “createur” seem to have an entirely different connotation. On my identity card I still have “merchant” as my profession: it is my first work, my origin.
LULA: What were you like as a boy – what were some of your favorite games or activities?
MARRAS: According to my mother, I was a good kid, sociable and very lively! Like all the children of my generation who had the fortune of growing up in a small town, my favorite games were those we played on the street with other neighborhood kids. School, especially elementary school, was a real nightmare for me: I had a really strict teacher and a mild case of dyslexia that prevented me from reading as fluently as my classmates. One childhood memory in particular stands out. There was a carpenter’s workshop right near my house when I was a little boy. At any hour of the day or night, he was there, bent over his work with a small lamp, a bit like Geppetto, Pinocchio’s father and a bit like something out of <em>A Christmas Carol</em> by Charles Dickens. The carpenter and his shapes always held an obsessive allure for me. Later, by chance in a street market, I found a junk dealer who had one. Since then, without looking for them I come across them and collect them regardless of their era or origin. Obviously I am fondest of the ones that are the “shabbiest”.
LULA: As a teenager what bands, artists, designers, directors did you love?
MARRAS: I have always been an “omnivore”, listening to everything, from Gloria Gaynor to Kurt Weill, with Fabrizio De Andrè and Ivano Fossati in between, and they are still among my favorites today. But my real great passion has always been the cinema: I adore Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luchino Visconti, Truffaut, Kubrick and Kurosawa.
LULA: Have these early cultural influences carried through to your adult life and designs?
MARRAS: I would certainly say they have: everything that strikes me, everything I absorb, sooner or later returns to the surface and is transferred into what I do. I have always really loved Anselm Kiefer and Christian Boltanski and their work on historical and individual memory. About fifteen years ago I saw, in New York, an exhibition of Boltanski and it blew me away. I think that sometimes there are things that mark and open your mind. Before Boltanski there was Pina Bausch. I had heard of her and went to see her in Sassari: her way of dancing, so full and direct, sent a lightning bolt through me. I went everywhere where I would get a chance to see her, and the news of her death filled me with a great and lasting sense of grief and loss!
LULA: Do you still produce your ‘Laboratorio’ line? The concept to create a line that was between couture and ready to wear was really interesting, why did you launch it?
MARRAS: In every ANTONIO MARRAS collection there is a part called “Laboratorio” (Workshop), here the clothes are made using artisanal techniques and produced entirely in Sardinia. The formal and cultural patchwork of my designs requires procedures that force the limits of prêt-a-porter. Serial production cannot fully guarantee the attention to detail that I am looking for, nor can it render the myriad decorative motifs I like to lavish on every model. Recourse to the handiwork of artisans is indispensable, and I find this in the seamstresses and embroiderers of the town of Ittiri, a short distance from my hometown of Alghero, Sardinia, where I live and work. Thanks to them, I can present a limited line called “Laboratorio”, alongside my normal production. Laboratorio preserves the freer and more adventurous side of my quest. This is where I get into the most daring experimentation in materials: burned, stained and crumpled fabrics, cloth dyed in tea or washed in very hot water to create a matte effect. Sometimes the decorative motifs of a fabric are cut out, appliquéd to another, and retouched with painting. Silk, cotton, muslin scraps, remnants, and warehouse oddments make every piece unique and impossible to repeat exactly. Vintage garments are transformed: a shirt becomes a vest, a bed sheet is turned into a top. Nothing is lost; while an old jacket is put through a process of matting to give the cloth unexpected color and texture effects, the lining is taken out in order to become a jacket in its own right, maintaining all the seams in full view, but with the addition of precious details, painted motifs, fabric intarsias, lace, and sequins. And again, old, long-forgotten techniques are revived, like hand pleating, traditionally used in Sardinia for the skirts of the regional costume.
Once the prototypes are finished, the next step is making the clothes in limited series, a job for the artisans of Ittiri. They draw on a fund of knowledge and skill handed down from generation to generation. In weaving and embroider, Sardinia boasts a rich tradition.
LULA: What inspired your SS10 womenswear collection?
MARRAS: When I work on a collection, I always think of a story to tell. This time I was inspired by two contrasting figures from cinema, the tender Violet of Louis Malle’s <em>Pretty Baby</em> and the seductive Salome of Lina Wertmüller’s <em>Love and Anarchy</em>, with glimpses of Bellocq’s beautiful book of photographs of 1920s prostitutes. All of this produced clothes that looked more like lingerie, both in terms of form and for their fabrics and colors.
LULA: Have you started working on your AW10 collection yet – what can we look forward to seeing?
MARRAS: To tell the truth, the collection is already at an advanced stage, but, superstitious man that I am, answering your question before the show would be insane!
LULA: If you have any, how do you spend your spare time?
MARRAS: Free time is, in effect, the main luxury I aspire to. Practically every minute that I am not working, I spend with my children and my family.
LULA: What are you going to be doing over the holidays – taking a trip somewhere?
MARRAS: After so many business trips throughout the year, I can’t wait for vacation… so I can stay at home! I live in a stunning tourist city, with an enchanting sea and a fantastic climate: what more could you want in summer? For Christmas vacation, on the other hand, I take refuge in my living room, I unplug all the phones and watch all the movies I haven’t had a chance to see yet!
LULA: Are you looking forward to the New Year, any resolutions in mind?
MARRAS: I don’t know what I am going to do tomorrow and I don’t have any dreams on hold; I live intensely in the present and don’t have time to make plans for the future. There are, however, certain things and certain fields (more attractive even than fashion) that I would like to delve into: perhaps working branching out from fashion, tracing out the lines for a global artistic pursuit. Yes, I would like to have more time to dedicate to these things because I think they are the lifeblood of my work.