I sometimes think there’s a cult of Zanini – Marco Zanini, the creative director at Rochas. He is someone with a solid base of knowledge, a light hand with details and an ego that rarely intrudes. We first met in 2008, when he took over Halston. Hardly anyone knew him; he had been Donatella Versace’s assistant for many years. But Mr. Zanini brought a clean vitality to Halston, especially to the day clothes. That show remains a favorite of mine, and it was his only Halston collection because he and the owners parted ways within a few months. Then he got the gig at Rochas, and he’s taken a completely different approach with the sporty French label. Mr. Zanini was in New York and we chatted about the business, Dior’s next move – what everybody is talking about.
Q. Do you design in Milan?
A. I design everywhere. I find myself designing on trains and in hotel rooms, but mainly I work in Milan because the factories are in Italy. After the resort show, I have June and July to finish the next show. The wheel is turning so fast that it’s hard to keep up with the concentration. You’re being asked to come up with brilliant ideas all the time. This is my desire for Rochas but, not to complain, we’re all trapped in this system that’s accelerating.
Q: How big is your team?
A: I have a person helping me with fabrics and a guy who helps with the bags and another for sure. But that’s it. During the week I’m traveling to factories or I’m in Milan. But the phone never stops ringing.
Q: What do people want?
A: Oh my, anything. They call me about the color of a button or a pattern maker has a question. So the weekend is the only moment when you have quiet time to design.
Q: As you know, I was a big fan of your Halston. It’s still in my mind.
A: And that collection is still in my heart. Not in my mind because of what happened.
Q: With that one show, I thought you put across all the ingredients that you could have worked with for the next…
A: Five years. Totally. It was supposed to be like that. But I think part of the beauty of fashion is its diversity, and to be flexible as a designer is a very exciting exercise. I wouldn’t do what I’m doing at Rochas for another brand, and I’m not doing what I did at Halston for Rochas. For instance, simplicity is a thing that I love very much. But Rochas has to be more playful and light. In my imagination, Rochas has to be unpredictable each season.
Q: Are there Rochas collections that didn’t work?
A: What I thought was peculiar was the reaction to the “Cactus Flower” show of last fall. It got mixed reviews, good reviews but also some brutal ones. And that collection doubled the sales from the previous one.
A: I realized the press reaction and retail reaction can be very different. With that show, I decided to go full-on ’60s: big hair, fun. We embraced that aesthetic. I think the styling of the show had a lot to do with its success. The editorial coverage was also huge.
Q: So editors changed their minds later. That often happens.
A: Also, I never try to conceptualize with Rochas. I’ve been asked backstage by journalists, “Why this style or why that?” And there’s no reason. It looked good to me and I had fun doing it. Sometimes, you don’t need to look for significance. If it’s looks fresh to me, that’s fair enough.
Q: Do you think young women are interested in conceptual clothes? Fashion as sculpture, you might say.
A: I like to hope that there are people who want that. Because I think some things should be preserved, like jams. But I’m afraid we’re living in a time of a global lobotomy of aesthetics, at least where I live. I’m afraid I see people looking the same, very mainstream.True, but if you look at women in New York or at some of the music festivals, you see a lot of diversity and imagination. And people are participating in fashion through blogs and reality TV. But I wish that people could get excited not just about the superficial aspects of fashion but also about the craft and all the hidden people who are never visible in those blogs and on those shows. Now everyone is so opinionated but their opinions are about trite things, the shoes on the runway or does that girl on the red carpet look better than another woman in the same dress. I mean, come on. Fashion is so much more.
Q: Yes, but it’s very much about mass communication now.
A: But don’t you think to go against the grain would be clever now? I mean, let’s concentrate on something else.
Q: When you were at Halston, I suppose people thought you were going to do a Studio 54 homage.
A: I made it very clear I wasn’t going to do that.
Q: Yes, but was it painful to you not to have your clothes, your approach to Halston, understood?
A: It was painful. No, it wasn’t painful. I just regretted that the project didn’t work. And to think about what Halston created only relation to Studio 54 would have been stupid because those years ruined his career and his life. It was the kiss of death. Drug addiction, decadence, it’s not even glamorous to me.
Q: Marios Schwab has been doing Halston a few seasons. I like his own work, but I’m not interested now in Halston. Too late.
A: There were these rumors that I had been fired, but they weren’t true. I left, thanks to Donatella’s lawyers. A year later, I saw editors wearing some of the pieces, like the chinchilla knits. I still see them around sometimes. I like them still. If only we were all on the same page with that project. Again, it’s all about a team in fashion.