Serena Di Marino has had a long journey through the fashion industry; though starting her career in lingerie, she came to be one of the hottest up-and-coming womenswear designer. Her young brand, Plusthirtynine, counts Lady Gaga among its fans and, since last October, has been stocked at Luisa via Roma. Serena, who has currently been busy relaunching her label, discusses revamping her brand and current trends among the industry, and offers a bit of valuable advice for all aspiring designers out there.
Walk us through your journey in the fashion industry. How did it all start and how did you end up where you are today?
Having shown a passion for fashion from an early age, I pursued my dream and completed my degree in Fashion Design in Naples, Italy. I was very determined to make my own way, although my environment was not stimulating. Growing up in Naples was challenging at times, as fashion is considered a hobby and not a serious career.
However, in my final year at university in 2000, I took part in Riccione Moda Italia, a contest for young designers, and I was awarded the “La Perla” prize; I interned six months for the luxury underwear brand. After completing my internship, La Perla offered me the position of Assistant Designer, and my new journey began. I lived in Bologna for seven years, traveling on many occasions to London, Paris and Berlin to get inspired and broaden my mind.
I was Designer Coordinator at Gaetano Navarra, when in 2007 after the sudden loss of my father, I felt the need for a change and I decided to move to London. I worked with Emilio de la Morena for three fantastic and frenetic years, establishing his label at London Fashion Week. I thank people like him for what they taught me. He inspired me and gave me the courage and strength to start my own label; in 2011 Plusthirtynine was born. I had no idea how to design and manage a label. I needed to be both creative and commercial at the same time. I learnt by experimenting and making mistakes how to empower women and make them feeling comfortable in their own skin. I had great success with Lady Gaga and Luanna Perez who wore my clothes, and had the pleasure to have my collection being sold in Luisa Via Roma. Today, after five collections, I decided to take a break to relaunch my label and focus on developing a brand that speaks to women with the sole purpose to serve them.
You are an Italian living in London. How has each place inspired you and your work?
All my collections are very personal and related to specific moments of my life. “Nº2 – Links,” for instance, is related to an important relationship and a subsequent breakup. The braids represent the bond between two people who become one. A huge influence on my work is my upbringing in Naples. The richness of the collections comes from my picturesque hometown. It is very baroque at times and always dramatic. London gives a contemporary touch to my clothes because I always have in mind the different cultures and the metropolis.
Your collections are named after numbers. In what ways have your grown and what did you do differently in each collection?
I’ve always been fascinated by numbers and the crescendo. Numbers are infinite and I like the idea that my collections are seasonless. So, every new collection is a consequence of the previous one. I polish the shapes and I experiment with materials, although I always keep in mind comfort and practicability. In the last collection, I developed the first Plusthirtynine print. This is a reflection of my artistic growth because I didn’t want it to be another print in the world of print. It was due to express my vision throughout images and not just for selling purposes.
You have experimented with colors and textures. What about materials; is there a particular material you keep coming back to?
I always approached the collection like I’m reading a book. It has to flow, and needs to have an invisible thread that keeps the garments together. When I launched Plusthirtynine, my focus was on jersey, and the concept was to develop one fabric in one color. I still find this extremely fascinating. Now Plusthirtynine has developed into a more playful and dynamic collection with simple shapes and unconventional fabrics. Apart from jersey, which will always be my focus, vinyl is my latest obsession and I’ve been using it in the past two collections. I don’t necessarily research my fabric swatches in textile fairs; you might see me more in homewear textile shops. That’s where “Nº3 – Ave Maria” tapestry fabric was found.
Do you do fashion shows or presentations? Which works best for emerging designers?
I don’t do fashion shows, the investment is too big. Presentation works better, it’s more intimate and you have better control. But I’ve always been thinking differently, and performance art or flash mob is where my focus is at the moment. I believe fashion is a form of art, therefore I use unconventional ways to present my collections.
Do you have a signature or prefer to do something different in each collection?
My signature is layers and geometric forms. No matter the layers, the geometry and the garments, there is always symmetry and harmony. I obsessively seek for balance between forms to create the perfect equation between shapes and materials.
You have been working in fashion for 13 years. What has been the highlight of your career?
I don’t have to think twice; it was when Lady Gaga contacted me to wear pieces from Nº1 and Nº2 collection for the Britney Spear concert at Planet Hollywood!
What are your thoughts on eco fashion?
I try to use natural fabrics but I don’t sacrifice the concept for it. For me, “eco” means wearing what you find comfortable on your skin and wear it season after season. It’s more about the lifecycle of the garment rather than the materials used and the ways to produce it.
Do you feel there is a significant interest towards emerging brands and designers?
Unfortunately, given the situation we are in globally, there is always less and less interest toward emerging designers. Buyers are playing safe, and investing on new labels has a high percentage of loss. However, consumers and especially “web intelligents” are actually looking for non-global labels. There is almost a trend to research unique designs. The down side is visibility and volumes. I am currently working on expanding my label and reaching my target customers directly.
What are your future plans?
My future plan is to relaunch Plusthirtynine and create the “Core” collection. The idea is to have a range of clothes that doesn’t expire with the season but can be shopped and worn all year around. We are going to have selected pieces from our past collections in several colors and fabrics ready to be purchased on our new e-commerce from January 2016. We are pioneers in this concept in the apparel field. We are going to create the perfect dress and blazer in several colors and fabrics repeating the shape with new trims or techniques; but there will still be more artistic pieces as “flash collections” in order to keep the wardrobe fresh and relevant.
Images © Plusthirtynine