Five little-known facts about the irreverent art movement that inspired Marni

Francesco Risso, creative director of Marni, turned to the tactile fantasy of Dada when creating the house’s latest model pre-fall collection


Since taking over the reins of Marni Francesco Risso was dubbed the Willy Wonka of fashion last year, and for good reason. Sweet on the surface, his quirky creations reveal a bitter, liquorice aftertaste; his signature mismatched proportions, bonded prints and off-kilter hemlines marked him as one of fashion’s most individualistic designers.

For pre-fall, Risso’s confectionery carousel had a very different subversive undercurrent. Inspired by the artists and writers of hobby – the playful, provocative movement that probed the absurdity of modern life with a winking sense of humor – it delivered a riot of color and texture, replete with references to the tactile fantasy of Dada sculpture.

The Dadaists couldn’t be more perfect for Risso’s childlike eclecticism: if anything, we’re surprised he didn’t come across them sooner. Tracing the line from the movement’s origins to its unlikely legacy in fashion, here are the five things you need to know about this eccentric pocket of the Parisian avant-garde.

1. The movement was born in a Swiss nightclub

In keeping with the raucous spirit of Francesco Risso’s Marni, Dada’s origins lie in a group of artists and thinkers who gathered in 1916 around the Zurich nightclub, Cabaret Voltaire. The unusual name Dada developed from the work of German writer Hugo Ball, a pioneer in the obscure field of “sound poetry” – he loved the word for its childishly absurd rhythm and absurd flavor. .

Even the club itself, where they met regularly for literary salons and performances, has a touch of titular serendipity: it was named after the famous Enlightenment satirist Voltaire whose novels, the most famous Candid, skewered the intellectual culture of his day in the shadow of the Seven Years’ War. Dada took Voltaire’s impulse to impress the bourgeoisie and ran with it to sometimes confusing extremes.

2. It was a direct response to the horrors of World War I

Part of the reason these important cultural figures gathered in Switzerland in the first place was World War I: many of them were Jews, they had fled persecution in Germany and other Nazi-occupied countries. . Another infamous Nazi policy was the condemnation of what they considered “degenerate art”, a category that encompassed almost all modernist artists. For the Dadaists, this posed a challenge: what could be left for art in the age of mechanized warfare?

Their response was a kind of anti-art, characterized by its refusal to subscribe to conventional rules of what constitutes an art object and rejecting secular paragon of painting, sculpture and architecture – after all, if that was the dominant art culture of the West, it had reached a barbaric endgame. Their response was to create relentlessly as an act of protest: as one of the movement’s pioneers, artist Hans Arp, put it, “While the cannons rumbled in the distance, we sang, painted, made collages and wrote poems with all our might”.

3. There is no easy way to identify a Dada work

This anarchic spirit gave rise to a movement notoriously difficult to define in aesthetic terms. Perhaps the most famous Dada piece is that of Marcel Duchamp Fountain, making a splash by taking a porcelain urinal and placing it in a gallery context, signing it ‘R. Pooch’. Rather than focusing on the production of the art object, it was a voluntary and performative act of defiance; a stone’s throw from the cultural establishment.

Elsewhere, artists explored everything from collage and poetry to music and theater in order to expand their free-thinking creative universe – it was as much a state of mind, an experimental spirit, as a definite movement. by any kind of visual patterns. As other centers of Dadaist activity emerged in Paris and Berlin, the movement further splintered, eventually evolving into styles as diverse as surrealism, pop art, and Fluxus.

4. Marni isn’t the first place Dada has appeared in fashion

While Francesco Risso might be an interesting case of a designer explicitly referencing Dada as inspiration, the movement’s iconoclastic spirit has already made its way into the fashion world. Elsa Schiaparelli is usually associated with surrealism for her close ties to artists like Salvador Dalí and Jean Cocteau, but she was first inspired by the irreverence of Dada. During his collaboration with Man Ray, Schiaparelli contributed to his explicitly dadaist magazine Societyandé Anonymous, and she was close friends throughout her life with Gabby Picabia, the wife of the famous Dada painter Francis.

Her famous designs included a shoe turned upside down as a hat and a sheer bra that featured silhouettes of hands covering the breasts – all in the upside-down-world tradition of Dada. A case could also be made for Viktor & Rolf’s cut-and-screwed tailoring as carrying on the Dada tradition: be it their S/S10 tulle ball gowns with Swiss cheese holes cut through them or their A/W15 dresses built to look like paintings shattered and ripped from their frames, they have always approached high fashion with a progressive – and distinctly cheeky – spirit.

5. Why Dada is more than just an art movement

In many ways, Dada and fashion are perfect bedfellows: Against the high-minded seriousness of the art world, fashion has always seen itself as the fun, rebellious younger sister. Dada’s enduring appeal lies in its accessibility; it’s more a way of thinking than a particular artistic approach requiring specific equipment or training.

If you’re playful enough to repurpose everyday items to make a sartorial statement, or just flout conventional rules of how to put an outfit together, your wardrobe has inadvertently been sprinkled with a little playful Dada magic – though few designers channel that spirit into clothes as desirable as those of Francesco Risso. After all, if you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?

Norma D. Ross