Following their crowdsurfing Fall/Winter 2023 runway show, the label’s co-founders reflect on fashion’s boundaries, and the value in breaking them down
As showgoers packed shoulder-to-shoulder inside SUNNEI’s Milan headquarters, they knew to expect something against the grain—there was no runway, after all. No one, however, could guess the nature of the presentation that would come to play out: crowd-surfing “models” (really, SUNNEI’s team of designers, assistants, accountants, producers, and so on) suspended by audience members themselves, forced to pocket their phones and participate, lest they be crushed.
It’s the perfect next page to the label’s nontraditional practice, which boasts a long line of runway shows that double as performance art—from those sprinting models to the twin casting phenomenon (which Gucci doubled up on mere hours prior). “For us, a show shouldn’t be a moment to visually record, but rather a memorable experience,” say Loris Messina and Simone Rizzo, SUNNEI’s co-founders. “Giving guests an active role is what makes the show immersive, because it eliminates those traditional barriers between the observer and who is observed.”
The clothes had to be considered in the aftermath, shot from above: denim patchwork, color-blocked long-sleeves, lace-up boots, and “crochet fur” headpieces, jackets, and detachable sleeves—a medley of textures and patterns and colors, joyful and refreshingly straightforward.
Messina and Rizzo join Document, referring back to the so-called “SUNNEI state of mind”: in the designers’ words, one that’s positive, smiley, and free-spirited, “with a touch of nastiness at the core.”
Morgan Becker: What sorts of research went into the design of this latest collection?
SUNNEI: As always, we started from what was already there. We reject the orthodox idea that a label should constantly create ‘new’ pieces, forgetting whatever has been done before. Who said that? This ‘quantity over quality’ ideology leads brands to lose their essence. Our process is the opposite. We take a look at our previous collections and ask ourselves, How would we do this today? It’s a constant upgrading practice where we try to elevate quality, and make every feature bloom with an explosion of colors, textures, prints, and materials.
Morgan: Is there a piece from the show that you imagine could become a future signature?
SUNNEI: The Duetto Bag.
Morgan: Tell me about the concept of the show itself—its staging, its soundtrack, its immersiveness.
SUNNEI: For us, a show shouldn’t be a moment to visually record, but rather a memorable experience reflecting a brand’s vision. Each season, our aim is [to create] an interaction between us, our guests, the models, and the location. Giving guests an active role is what makes the show immersive, because it eliminates those traditional barriers between the observer and who is observed. This season, we took this concept to the limit.
“This ‘quantity over quality’ ideology leads brands to lose their essence. Our process is the opposite.”
Morgan: What sets Milan Fashion Week apart, and Italian design in general?
SUNNEI: Each Fashion Week has its own ‘character,’ so to speak. Milan has a special energy we’ve always been aware of, and now, it seems that the world has finally started to see it. Our design is highly influenced by that ‘Made In Italy’ heritage. It’s cliché, but undeniable.
Morgan: How does SUNNEI fit into this tradition?
SUNNEI: For us, this was translated into our taste for timeless beauty: We invest in materials and craftsmanship so that a SUNNEI item can last a lifetime. Its style shouldn’t reflect a fad, but a type of aesthetic you won’t get bored of.
Morgan: You’ve referred to SUNNEI as a ‘cultural container,’ rather than a brand. Where do you draw the distinction?
SUNNEI: We always say that fashion is just one of the many different expressions SUNNEI could have. This is exemplified by the existence of Radio SUNNEI, which has a life of its own, unrelated to our ‘core business.’ The same goes for those disparate projects we carried out [over the] years, such as BIANCO SUNNEI, an urban regeneration [project on] the outskirts of Milan.
Morgan: Where do you seek inspiration—in Milan, and then in the world at large?
SUNNEI: Our inspiration comes from a place closer than you [might] expect—what we see around us and the people we interact with. Our latest show was an ode to that. The Fall/Winter 2023 models were SUNNEI’s team members, and the [show] location was our HQ. We transported guests into our universe, quite literally this time.
Morgan: How would you characterize the SUNNEI state of mind?
SUNNEI: SUNNEI’s state of mind is positive, no matter what. It’s smiley, but with a touch of nastiness at the core. And finally, it’s free-spirited, because we don’t follow this industry’s mechanisms. The sky is the limit, really.