Remo Ruffini confesses that he no longer relishes his own birthdays: “I close my house and I don’t want to see anyone!” However when it comes to Moncler—which turns 70 this year—it’s an entirely different matter. This Saturday night in Milan’s Duomo square, Ruffini will throw an open-to-the-public birthday show for the brand featuring precisely 1,952 models and performers, all choreographed by the artistic director Sadeck Waff.
That will mark the start of a whole series of global Moncler initiatives: There will be a touring exhibition-meets-event entitled Extraordinary Expedition rolling through New York, London, Tokyo, and Seoul (with a digital-only Chinese leg). There will be seven NFTs created in a project with the artist Antoni Tudisco. And there will be a new, redesigned edition of the house’s defining product, the Maya down jacket, delivered in 13 colorways with a commemorative 70th anniversary logo.
Possibly the most exciting element of all this, however, is the return to Moncler of seven designers and creatives who have all contributed to the house’s ascent. Shortly after acquiring Moncler in 2003, Ruffini embarked on a model of collaboration—starting with Junya Watanabe, Fendi, and Nicolas Ghesquière-era Balenciaga, and currently manifested by the collaborative colossus that is its Genius project—as a means to generate the “energy” that Ruffini characterizes as the the brand’s driving force. Now it will reunite with some of the key protagonists in that story: Pharrell Williams, Rick Owens, Thom Browne, Pierpaolo Piccioli, Giambattista Valli, Hiroshi Fujiwara, and Francesco Ragazzi. Each has contributed their own riff on the Maya, which will be dropped in a series of weekly special editions starting on October 15, and each accompanied by a campaign starring one “inspiring” person of the designers’ own choosing. As Pharrell Williams said: “There are so many amazing artists also working on this project and I can’t wait to see them all.”
Ruffini said: “All seven of the designers mean a lot to me and a lot to Moncler for different reasons. Pharrell has been an incredible relationship, and I remember for this mountain brand to have 2,000 people queuing in Paris for a jacket, that was a big moment of change. Then Thom and Giambattista represented another turning point for Moncler, because the day we decided—as a company with its history in climbing and skiing—to make catwalk shows, it was not obvious. I learned a lot from them. Then in 2018 I decided to move away from catwalk shows into this Genius world. Francesco Ragazzi, I worked with him for years and he is my business son, so he had to be there for sure. And Hiroshi is another very important one. And then of course Pierpaolo and Rick created great collections with us and generated a unique energy—and this is what we are always working to create.”
So with the exception of Giambattista Valli, who was not available, I got in touch with each of those designers to look back at their parts in the Moncler story and give their spin on the brand. First up is Pharrell, who Ruffini recalls first meeting in Miami in 2007. They got talking and the result was a 2010-launched collection of bulletproof-jacket inspired down pieces and photo-print jackets, that near-instantly sold-out—and sparked an impromptu block party at the launch in Paris. There was also an eyewear collaboration in 2013. Pharrell wrote by email: “I love collaborating with Moncler because they are not scared to take risks and push the boundaries on fashion. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to create anything with them at all. Looking back, I really loved the Keita Sugiura jacket from one of our first collabs with fabric made from my sustainable textile company Bionic Yarn. I still have that jacket today… it was way ahead of its time and it was built to last.”
He added: “I remember that I wanted it to look futuristic and I think we succeeded. I also remember we shut Paris down at that launch! The fans were crowding all in the street at Colette. The sunglasses too are another personal favorite of mine… Moncler has a way of making everything feel fresh and new, while also keeping it classic and timeless. People are still wearing those kinds of sunglasses to this day.”
Next on the call list is Thom Browne, whose collaborative Gamme Bleu collection first showed in Milan in January 2009. Until both lines were closed by Ruffini eight years later (to make room for Genius) this collection was the counterpoint to Valli’s Gamme Rouge, which showed in Paris. On a call from New York, Browne said: “I think like any good collaboration—and hey look, I’m congratulating myself here!—it really worked because each side worked to create something new. I really respected Remo and what he wanted to do for Moncler. And I wanted Gamme Bleu to be the perfect marriage between me and Moncler. And I think that’s what you saw in the shows and at the collections—I wanted people to see my little hand in this big Moncler world.”
He continued: “A lot of those shows are stand-outs in my memory. But I always think of the first one. We built the ski-slope and the idea was the models would ski down. And all of the models had said they could ski when they were trying to get the job, but in the end very few of them actually could ski—so that was certainly a moment! But then there was the camping show, the tap dancers show… so many of them have a special place in my heart. And there was so much I learned from them. But I think the most powerful thing was getting to witness Remo and see his vision and focus to shape Moncler into what it has become.”
At the launch of Genius in 2018, Moncler simultaneously presented eight collaborative collections in Milan. The first of them was by Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli, who wrote in an email: “Collaborations of this kind open my mind to new aesthetic scenarios in a concretely creative way. And the dialogue with Moncler has always given me the chance to question my own taste in a neutral and eminently technical territory…so it’s been fun. The most memorable moments are the ones connected with the exhibitions and the campaigns. I remember my first research and sketches, the romanticism of couture had to meet the technicalities of the duvet. It was an incredible clash. I appreciate the open hub approach of Moncler, and its hunger for evolution and experimentation… Italian fashion needs a disruptive and vital attitude, and Moncler has it all.”
Alongside Piccioli another graduate of that first Genius class is Hiroshi Fujiwara of Fragment, who has since designed five collections with Moncler. He wrote: “When I design, it’s always based on my current instinct. It’s almost like a loop. Ever since I started making my own collection for Moncler Genius, the team has been doing an outstanding job bringing my ideas to life with great execution, to the point I keep looking forward to the new season in pursuit of my absolute favorite collection. I have been working with Moncler for quite a while now and they have always been very supportive. The bond almost feels like a family.”
One of the latest collaborative Moncler designers—not an official Genius on the Moncler roster, but a genius nonetheless—is Rick Owens. He traveled to Milan with Michèle Lamy in February 2020, days before the pandemic first hit Italy and then the rest of Europe, to launch not only a collection of clothes but an Owens-designed tour bus. Speaking from his cabana on Venice’s Lido beach, he said: “Every once in a while I like to jump in and be part of the fashion system—and then retreat! And you know, historically, there have always been powerful dynasties that support the arts. I think in the fashion industry Remo and Moncler are one of those powers that generate creative energy. A lot of it is promotional—of course—but a lot of it isn’t. They could do something else to promote Moncler that took a lot less energy. They engage in an actual participation with contemporary culture in a way I think is unlike any other group in fashion. They have a synergy with Michèle in that they go out and identify and collect interesting people and then put them together in a very dynamic way—which is like the opposite of me: I’m very internal and reclusive. So that history of supporting the arts goes right back to the Medicis, and yes, it can be a way of showing power. But when you show power you can do it in a vulgar way or a sophisticated way, and Moncler I think works in a sophisticated, responsible and contributory way.”
Which brings us to Francesco Ragazzi, who has the last word because of all the designers here he is the most embedded in the feather and nylon alchemy that Moncler conjures. Ragazzi was in his teens when he joined Moncler circa 2006 or so, at first in the press department, but he soon found himself operating as the de facto art director of the house, alongside Ruffini as the de facto creative director. By 2014 he’d learned enough from Ruffini to try launching his own brand, Palm Angels, which is now itself a massive concern and part of the New Guards Group. He formally left Moncler in 2019 to focus on Palm Angels full time.
“Moncler was my university,” he said on a call. “I saw so many things and learned so many things that I don’t think you could have at any other brand working alongside Remo. Moncler is at the top of the pyramid, and what we did—what he did—to get it there is what has enabled me to try and follow a similar path, because why would you not try to replicate that? Those first collaborations, with Balenciaga and Junya, were kind of casual, and the idea was formalized in Gamme. It was all about generating energy. And I think one of the most important collaborations to the brand was with Pharrell because it really reflected modern life, and the life of now. Everything, from all these different perspectives, brought a distinct and different energy. And then for Genius, well, that was when they gave me the personal opportunity to be part of it too. And it worked out really well. So for me very seriously it is such an honor to be one of the seven designers asked to contribute a 70th anniversary jacket—it means a lot to me because Moncler means a lot to me!”