Sunday 9th April

| BY 10 Magazine

Marcelo Burlon: The Queen Of Milan

Marcelo

Like a modern-day Evita, Marcelo Burlon is an Argentinian sensation, whose democratic approach to fashion has conquered new generations on his very own rainbow tour of the social-media era. Moving with his parents to Porto Potenza Picena in Italy at 14, he would become a notorious club kid in Rimini.

That was until a career organising events for major fashion houses and DJ-ing relocated him to Milan and paved the way for the launch of his streetwear brand Marcelo Burlon County of Milan in 2012.

Five years on, he has become a fan phenomenon in Italy and beyond, and the poster boy for a new wave of fashion entrepreneurs who are set on challenging the fusty industry establishment, not least through his very own mini- conglomerate, New Guards Group, which backs young businesses such as Off-White and Hood by Air.

When Burlon answered the phone to me on a December afternoon in Milan, he had just given a talk for the magazine Amica International, held at Sala Buzzati in the Corriere della Sera palace.

ANDERS CHRISTIAN MADSEN: “Do you do this often?”

MARCELO BURLON: “Twice a year I give a talk for fashion and marketing university students, and I talk about my story. Many students bring up my case as their thesis, so it’s quite interesting to tell the story of how I built all my companies. It’s good for them and it’s good for me, so I’m reminded where I started.”

ACM: “You’re still Jenny from the block… ”

MB: “So ’90s.”

ACM: “Have you become something of a celebrity for these kids?”

MB: “Kind of, yes. Do you follow my social-media channels? It’s crazy. Dude! I just came back from Napoli and they were following me with the scooters and getting crazy taking pictures. I think I did, like, 500 pictures in two days – selfies. I became something super-massive that I didn’t expect, because I just launched my label as a different type of project. At the beginning I was a club kid, and then I started working at a very important club in Milan where everyone used to come on a Friday night.”

ACM: “You were a creature of the night.”

MB: “But then Domenico Dolce wanted me to work on a project, so I started working in the day, putting together a very interesting mailing list – something that had never happened before in Milan. I brought together different kinds of people in a single event. If Gucci asked me to organise their event, I was taking care of the mailing list and my people were from totally different fields – street kids to fashion victims and drag queens and the bourgeois. Finally, in Milan, there was someone bringing diversity and something more international.”

ACM: “How did the brand happen?”

MB: “Through social media, I became a DJ and built a network all over the world. Kids were coming to see me DJ-ing, but they wanted something more. That’s when I launched my brand and it became massive. I’m still kind of shocked about it.”

ACM: “You’re sort of a modern Leonardo da Vinci – you’ve had your hand in everything, no?”

MB: “Every project I did, I did it by instinct. I wanted to do whatever I liked to do, which was very difficult in Milan, because my profile was really uncomfortable for the fashion system, because I was doing a little bit of everything. Before the label there was a video on The New York Times that told my story, which was when the fashion industry accepted me. But da Vinci was a fucking genius – I’m just someone who’s trying to break the rules of the fashion system and bring some new energy into this really old system.”

ACM: “But when da Vinci was starting out, he wasn’t part of the establishment either, much like you or Yeezy, Vetements, Gosha and Off-White, which are very Instagram-driven labels that are taking matters into their own hands.”

MB: “I’m one of the partners in New Guards Group, so I was the first one to believe in Virgil Abloh [founder of Off-White]. We brought Virgil to the company, which I own 25% of. I always believe in young people, because no one believed in me. Me and my partners began New Guards Group, through which we distribute and produce Off-White, Hood by Air, Palm Angels, Ben Taverniti Unravel Project, and now the new Heron Preston. I’m the investor in this – I don’t have anything to do with creativity with these guys. They’re all partners.”

ACM: “What does New Guards Group signify to you?”
MB: “There’s a new wave. We’re all people, who come from different fields – some from music, some from architecture, some from the party scene. It’s new blood and we create so much traffic around social media and retail that nobody else creates. Big fashion companies now want to understand how Marcelo Burlon did it, how he created this, but there’s nothing behind it.”

ACM: “What’s the answer, then?”
MB: “It’s just being real and yourself and trying to make beautiful things and making people work. I just want to create something to remind someone who comes from nowhere, with no schooling, no family with double surnames, no money behind them, that you can make it if you have a good idea and the structure behind. I was lucky to have my two partners, who gave me this structure to create whatever I wanted to create.”

ACM: “How was the New Guards Group born?”
MB: “I saw Virgil in a club in Paris and he said, ‘I have this amazing idea but I’m looking for someone to create it with me.’ I brought him to Milan on a Friday evening and on the Monday morning he was already sitting in our office. That’s when we created Off-White, and after, of course, New Guards Group. I’m just the investor. Davide de Giglio and Claudio Antonioli are my two partners, and they’re more involved in the daily things with the brands. There are 180 people working for us, so we’ve become a big company.”

ACM: “Why do you think fashion is ready for this new movement?”

MB: “Because I think people in fashion are tired of these fucking icons – designers who are sitting on their thrones watching everyone. I’m on the dance floor, I’m a DJ myself, it’s a different approach. We communicate directly with the consumers, we know what they need, because first of all we are the consumers. I design for first of all for myself and my friends, so in everything I do I try to make my people happy first. I think people are ready for something more authentic.”

ACM: “But didn’t you partly rise to where you are now by working for some of those icons?”

MB: “Yeah, I grew up watching Helmut Lang and Jean-Paul Gaultier, you know. I was a club kid. If it was too expensive to buy, we’d copy the style of Margiela. Those conceptual designers built my taste. Raf Simons was a big influence as well.”

ACM: “When you look back at your childhood, what factors paved the way for what your life eventually became?”

MB: “Well, when I was six years old back in Patagonia, I used to organise fashion shows in the backyard with my friends, which is so weird because we didn’t have TV or magazines to pick things from. It was just instinct. That was back in 1981 or ’82. I always wanted to do things related to dance or theatre. I didn’t go to school, so I grew up on experience.”

ACM: “You mean you didn’t go to university?”

MB: “No, I finished school when I was 14. I went straight to work, because my family didn’t have any money. We left Argentina in 1990. I did two years of school in Italy, around the age of 14 to 15, and that was it. I went straight to a shoe factory in Italy to help my family and I grew up in the clubs. When I turned 16, I quit the factory and became a club kid. At the time, club kids were paid really well to dance, so I danced with a group of friends around Italy and that was my job.”

ACM: “Why did you leave Argentina?”

MB: “The economic crisis was getting bigger and bigger, so we left two years before everything crashed. My father is Italian so I had two passports.”

ACM: “What’s Patagonia like?”

MB: “I’m building a farm there in the mountains, which is going to be my house for ever. I go down there with friends. They’re filming a documentary about my life – it’s going to be super-intimate. All the truths. It’s going to be me and my friends and a camera around Patagonia. It’s beautiful, you’re surrounded by lakes and rivers and hippies. There’s not even a stop light in the streets. The patchouli smell in the air is amazing – and the marijuana, of course. My grandparents came from Lebanon and chose that place to build their family. I come from a very special place and that makes you more special as a person.”

ACM: “How do your parents feel about everything that’s happened to you?”

MB: “I always y them to Milan for my shows, because after 23 years they went back to Argentina, three or four years ago. They’re very shocked – very proud because they know where I come from and how hard it was for me to get here. Now they’re flying on business – you know, my mother didn’t know you could properly sleep in a seat that goes down. It’s very beautiful. Every time they go crazy. Sometimes my mum gets super-high from the adrenaline of the show and she doesn’t even say hello to me after the show. She goes straight to the poncho and sees that it says El Bolson, Patagonia, and she’s like, ‘Oh my God, my hometown!’”

ACM: “How did they feel about your club-kidding as a teenager?”

MB: “They weren’t very happy. Coming from Patagonia to a small town in Italy, which was a clubbing area in the ’90s… Gaultier, Marc Jacobs and all these designers used to produce their collections in this area where I used to dance. Rimini was super-famous in the ’90s. For my parents, though, the nightclubs were related to drugs. Which was true, because for a while I was taking ecstasy. They were very afraid, but then they saw that I was making money and things changed.”

ACM: “At what point did you come out?”

MB: “When I was 21. A little late. It was when I fell in love for the first time. I was already in Milan, because I came to Milan in 1998. I fell in love with this guy and I called my mum. She said, ‘Are you gay? You always had girlfriends.’ I was living two lives, pretending I was straight because I didn’t know how to approach them and face my real nature. After that they started to understand me. But my mother is also Buddhist – my family is Buddhist – and I’ve been practising Buddhism for the past 25 years, so the sensibility is quite different. You’re quite open to the world.”

ACM: “How do you use Buddhism in your day-to-day life?”

MB: “I try to not get stressed. I’m a very calm person. I bring love first. The other day, when I went to Napoli to play, there was a concert of a big Italian rapper and I went on stage with him. In Napoli they go crazy for my stuff. We went backstage and there was a young girl, 16 years old with her sunglasses, and she was in heaven. And I felt like I was her at the time – you’re there, but you’re too young to make people see you. I try to be nice to everyone, because if I’m here it’s because they brought me here. I’m always very grateful.”

ACM: “Do you have a boyfriend?”

MB: “No! I’m single and I’m single for ever. This is my theory – after trying to have a relationship with different people and build a family, I understood that I love to fuck around. Let’s be clear, I like to have sex with people, and if I get a boyfriend there’s so much jealousy. I’m playing a strange role. I always have to be available for people, because people want a picture of you, they want to dance to your music. I’m constantly a public figure. There’s so much jealousy that I prefer to engage with my friends and my family, and then I have sex. I don’t give a fuck. I’m going to be a single father, that’s already written in the stars, and I don’t want to waste my time any more with someone who doesn’t… It’s too complicated.”

ACM: “What do you mean you’re going to be a single father?”

MB: “I mean I’m going to have a couple of kids in a couple of years.”

ACM: “Will you adopt?”

MB: “If it’s the case, I will adopt. If it’s the case, I will have them biologically. I don’t know yet.”

ACM: “How did you first react to making all this money?”

MB: “I never had any money, but I always tried to have a comfortable life. Now that my company is making money, I like to share it with my people. I always rent a house in Ibiza with four cars waiting outside. I like to share a lot. I bring all my friends on business every time I have to fly around. I don’t like to keep everything for myself. What do I do with my money? I go on Supreme online and buy five pieces, or to Saint Laurent and buy a tuxedo. I’m not a big spender.”

ACM: “How much has it changed your life to suddenly have this kind of access, though?”

MB: “It changed a lot in terms of comfort, going from a 60-square-metre apartment to 300 square meters, or building my own house in Argentina, which is 600 square metres on 23 hectares. I’m not wasting money, but now, if I don’t like a hotel because the service is wrong or whatever, I just change it. Your life changes a lot, but I can y on a private jet and still get the bus to my house when I land. I come in to the office on a skateboard. I like to live how I am.”

ACM: “Do you think your ethos will be hard to maintain as you eventually, inevitably become a part of the establishment?”

MB: “No, because I come from another generation. I think it’s a totally different mindset. You can call it a new school, but it’s a different approach to life and people. The more I grow, the more I realise how lucky I am, so it’s the opposite. I become more humble and more surprised all the time. I feel like a kid. When I’m stuck in my office every day and I look at this incredible 17th-century building with these incredible ceilings, I can’t believe it’s all mine and my partners’ – that we made this. I feel so thankful. The more I have, the more I share. And that’s the opposite of what’s going on out there in the fashion system.”

ACM: “Speaking of the fashion system, there’s a lot going on right now with men’s and women’s shows merging, ‘see now, buy now’ and so on. How do you see the future of the industry?”

MB: “I was always a very uncomfortable character in the fashion system. Someone said in an Italian newspaper that I had more sales in two years than entire generations of Milanese designers, who closed down within two years. But I’m not a designer – I became a designer and I drive a design team. I think the fashion system really needs this new blood, from Gosha [Rubchinskiy] to Vetements, Off- White, Hood by Air, Astrid Andersen and so on.”

ACM: “It’s a new dawn.”

MB: “Well, Raf [Simons] is the example of what’s going on today. He’s a proper designer, but people never really liked what he did because he was so anarchic and talking to the niche. Then he did Jil Sander and Dior and now Calvin Klein, so he’s the perfect example of what my generation should do and be.”

ACM: “Some would say Raf became part of the establishment when he did those brands.”

MB: “Sometimes you can accomplish a brand but your essence will be the same. I mean, look at him today. He’s amazing. His creations are amazing.”

ACM: “I guess it’s the same with Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga. What do think about the Gvasalias and Vetements and Balenciaga – the whole wave?”

MB: “I like Lotta [Volkova] a lot. She used to shoot for me at Rodeo. They’re doing a good job, they’re selling a lot, his brother [Guram Gvasalia] is doing such an amazing strategy. They have their audience, I have my audience, everyone has someone who will always buy our clothes. I respect any form of creativity and business, if it’s a smart one.”

ACM: “Is there anyone, young or old, you’re really excited about in fashion right now?”

MB: “Rei Kawakubo is of course the one. Yohji [Yamamoto] is always amazing. Jun Takahashi, I love. In new talent, one of my best friends is called Edward Buchanan. He has a knitwear brand called Sansovino 6, which I love. Lucio Vanotti from Milan is quite cool. But I don’t really watch out there what’s going on.”

ACM: “And what’s Milan like these days?”

MB: “Milan, like every place, has a hype side to the city, which only the locals see. I would love to be the guide of you guys every time you come here and be able to show you how beautiful and interesting Milan is. There is so much going on – so much music, so much contemporary dance. There are amazing underground parties – electro, rave. There’s a scene out here, but you need the right people to discover cities. I brought the name of Milan into my label – Marcelo Burlon County of Milan – because it’s the city that allowed me to become a man.”

ACM: “You’re the Prince of Milan now, aren’t you?”

MB: “Um… ”

ACM: “The King?”

MB: “The Queen. Let’s say the Queen.”

Taken from Issue 45 of 10 Men, FLUID UNIQUE BRAVE, on newsstands now… 

Photographer: Sha Ribeiro
Text: Anders Christian Madsen