A Conversation with - Sunnei
Forging a new brand identity in a fashion capital such as Milan can be a serious task. The shackles of history and traditions all come into play as the city struggles to cast off the old, recognise the future, enabling the nurturing of a new generation of designers. There is one irrefutable and prevalent element that Milan visibly has over its Paris and London counterparts, and that is the luxury of space and time. The heavyweight showroom calendar yet non overtly packed show schedule has given rise to new group of modernist and soon to be iconic labels such as SUNNEI.
Founded by Loris Messina and Simone Rizzo, SUNNEI has consistently pushed an identity focused on the lighter and more playful side of life. Perhaps we should all be a bit more SUNNEI /
First of all let’s start with the two of you... where did you both grow up?
Simone; Loris is from Grenoble in the Southeast of France. He started to pursue his wish to travel and moved to New York and then Milan, where he graduated in economics.
Loris; Simone comes from Catanzaro in southern Italy, but he lived in various Italian cities before moving to Milan to complete his master’s degree in digital communications. We grew up in very different places and environments, but we both felt the desire to settle in a new place and build our own lives.
I often find that creative's teenage years can often influence their output... given you grew up in different places, would you say these formative years had an impact on your collective work?
Simone; Our individual personalities and attitudes, which are quite diverse yet complementary to one another, were shaped by the environments where we grew up. Loris is very considerate and has a very clean and fresh aesthetic, influenced by his French attitude and by his interest in architecture.
Loris; Simone has a passionate, instinctive spirit which is typical of Italian minds and adds a colourful touch to the brand’s vision. Aside from this, we have a similar way of seeing things, and we soon discovered that the balance between our personalities was what we needed to shape the SUNNEI aesthetic.
And ultimately where did you both meet meet? And how did you progress into working together on Sunnei?
We were introduced by mutual friends in Milan about seven years ago and interestingly we were both feeling unfulfilled by our jobs at the time. Prior to SUNNEI, we experienced the Milanese fashion scene from all angles: between the two of us we had backgrounds in visual merchandising, PR, buying and retail. When we realized that we both felt the need to create our own project – to bring something new and fresh to the Italian scene – we quit our jobs and dedicated our time to SUNNEI 100%.
Did you both dive in together full time on the project or was it a case of working to pay the rent and then on Sunnei after hours to get things started?
The decision to create SUNNEI meant taking on a major change in our lives: when we decided to focus on our brand we were pretty aware of the business part but had less experience in design. Thanks to our friends’ support, we quit everything and started with a clean slate! At the time we knew only that we wanted to build our own aesthetic, which we had very clear in our heads. We started from the basis: fabrics. The beginning was quite challenging but valuable, and over the years we figured out all the aspects that go into starting a label.
Give us some background on where the brand name comes from... Why should we all be Sunnei?
The name encompasses all the brand’s fundamentals: irony, spontaneity, freshness and a free-minded attitude. SUNNEI is the Italianisation of the word “sunny,” which, as with many foreign words in Italy, we tend to pronounce with completely fictitious - and very Italian – rules. We have always been intrigued and fascinated by Italy’s lexicon and customs, working and translating this idea into our clean aesthetic.
When i think of Milan, and the iconic brands that have emerged from an industrial city such as this, I feel the Sunnei aesthetic is a million miles away from this.. And in fact has more in line visually with somewhere like Tokyo?
Actually at first take perhaps it’s easy to associate the SUNNEI aesthetic to that culture, but we feel that now we’ve developed a wider, global vision that speaks more about an attitude rather than an environment. We also feel very close to the expertise and know-how that has come to characterise the Italian fashion scene over the years, although this is something that we use according to our own point of view.
How or did Milan have any effect on the brand? Or do you look toward other city’s & cultures for influence?
Milan is the city where we both relocated and established as our home, it’s the location of our headquarters and our first store, Spazio Sunnei. Over the years, we’ve also been building a network of friends, artists, musicians, and personalities, who became regulars at our shop and with whom we often collaborate.
In our work, we’re always looking for inspiration and references that go beyond the fashion scene and involve people, culture, daily life. Milan offers plenty of amazing everyday people and has rituals, like the aperitivo after work, that became part of our lives. This is one of the most important Italian cities, and we like to play with some of its clichés and nuances with a bit of irony.
Your SS19 for me was arguable your most accomplished in terms of the balancing the core DNA/ design signatures of the brand with a fully rounded mens and womens offer... why was the time right for womens to be part of the brand statement?
We had been thinking about the feminine side of SUNNEI for a while, and when we started working on the collection it came so easily to us that we felt it was the right time. Over the years, we had the chance to gain more awareness of all the steps involved in the product design and production processes, and our next move was to extend and develop a wide range of product categories including bags to jewellery. It was a challenge and we are really pleased with the outcome. We know that this was the start of our wanting to offer a complete look into the SUNNEI world.
Stripes seem to play a reoccurring theme in the last few seasons collections... what is about these stripes in varied forms that you love?
Architecture and clean lines have always been part of our references, and wide stripes were an inspiration when we first began. The impact is a minimal yet clear statement. We’ve been working on them from one collection to another, adapting them to different kinds of products, fabrics and colours – from oversized, colourful shirts to blue puffy jackets or neon yellow bags – and they naturally became part of our DNA.
Given the brands offer is quite complete, from apparel to accessories. Are their any brands you would love to work with and that you feel can add something to the mix? And not just a collaboration for the sake of it.
Fashion and garments have always interested us and we worked with RETROSUPERFUTURE for the Spring Summer 2019 collection to develop eyewear, which will be available from January. Lately we realized that we would like to provide a wider take on SUNNEI and work on a lifestyle project beyond fashion more relating to the arts, music and different kinds of creativity. We already had the chance to join forces with some remarkable Italian brands, for instance BLOC STUDIOS, which manufactures incredible design pieces in raw marble and with whom we celebrated the “Salone del Mobile” few editions ago. We would like to keep working on these kinds of projects that match the interests of our audience.
Given the brands growth through instagram, and your digital Marketing background... do you foresee a fatigue in this form of communication? As a lot of young creatives we speak to, while understanding the benefits, feel that their is a darker poisonous side to the levels of social media we are embracing these days?
SUNNEI was born on Instagram and we used this incredible tool to share with an international fan base all our offline projects. We are well aware that social media is just one step of the ever-changing evolution of communications landscape and it will be soon replaced or linked to a new kind of tool. For the time-being, we keep using it as it was meant to be, and today we share the brand’s day-to-day life and news with our international community. Along the way we have never lost interest or passion for tangible objects and print media. We apply this side of our creativity to our invitations, posters, and the books that we have created for our recent advertising campaigns.
Is there a need to slow down?
Daily schedules and fashion timelines are getting more and more strict, and we have experience the pressure of never-ending deadlines. However, we try to follow our own needs and plans while keeping track of the market. For example we’ve never truly believed in seasons and we would say that our pieces are timeless and can be part of one’s wardrobe for a lifetime. Our goal is to not take ourselves too seriously and avoid seasonal trends in order to go our own way.
And finally on that note... What does the world need right now?
We feel so much energy from our peers and we are proud to be part of a new demographic in the Italian fashion industry. We have a young team at our studio, and this is one of the core values at our start-up company. We would like to see a world with more opportunity for young designers from our generation and from generations to come.
Words / Graeme Gaughan
Images / Adam Titchener
Art Direction / Jordan Dean Schneider