On Monday night, thousands of people dressed in their finest outfits (dystopian Rick Owens gear, black leather varsity jackets from hometown hero Corteiz, and of course a slew of shiny Moncler puffers in a rainbow of colors), lined the streets outside of the Olympia London, a historical exhibition center in the city that has been open since 1886. It was the type of crowd you may expect to see outside of a concert, but these hoards of fashionable individuals weren’t here for music. (Although, there was a concert. More on that later.) They were here for “The Art of Genius,” the latest presentation from Moncler.
Started in 2018, Moncler Genius was created to provide new takes on Moncler’s historic archive from some of the biggest names across the fashion world. Five years later, it has morphed into something even bigger that invites creatives from various realms of the art world to provide their spin on its ever-popular puffer coats and winter gear in hopes of attracting new, and oftentimes younger, customers to the brand. Instead of tapping well-known designers and brands like Francesco Ragazzi’s Palm Angels, Hiroshi Fujiwara’s Fragment, Adidas, and Salehe Bembury this time, Moncler also stepped outside of the box. Newly appointed creative director of Louis Vuitton Men’s Pharrell Williams designed his own capsule. Alicia Keys channeled her upbringing in New York City for her line. Jay-Z’s Roc Nation was another musical act selected to produce its own capsule collection. And rounding everything out was automotive titan Mercedes-Benz, which crafted one of the most unorthodox vehicles we have ever seen, a G-Wagon dressed in a chrome puffer jacket produced in partnership with Moncler Genius.
Unlike most fashion events, this one wasn’t limited to VIP clients and press. While the Biebers, Serena Williams, and J Balvin were there, Moncler also opened up the experience to 10,000 guests who were able to sign up through its website.
Moncler’s “The Art of Genius” was a spectacle that was over-the-top by design. And while it was positioned on the calendar as a grandiose bookend to London Fashion Week, the clothes were far from the focal point of this experience. In some cases, they were hardly even present. For example, Palm Angels held a foam party in a red-lit box complete with a rotating setlist of Boiler Room DJs throughout the night. But aside from the complementary plastic poncho guests were encouraged to wear that featured a Palm Angels logo hit across the back, there were no signs of the brand’s upcoming Moncler Genius collection anywhere.
The same goes for Roc Nation. Rather than act as a showroom for its clothes, the record label’s space featured four recording booths that allowed guests to record 40-second snippets to their liking. In a room next door lined with acoustic foam, Mike Dean stood at the center surrounded by various equipment and mixed the audio into an instrumental in real time. Without the context, you would hardly know that this space was meant to promote clothing of any sort. That being said, getting to stand five feet away from a legend like Dean in his element as the bass vibrated through your body and you started to accept the fate of permanent hearing loss made for one of the most memorable experiences of the night. While the crowds eagerly gravitated toward every activation, Palm Angels and Roc Nation seemed to garner the longest lines throughout the night.
Mercedes-Benz also opted to center its installation on something other than clothing. A G-Wagon was adorned with a chrome body kit and even a zipper pull at the rear, answering the question of what a luxury car may look like if it could wear its own Moncler puffer jacket. The art piece, dubbed PROJECT MONDO G, sat on a rotating stage surrounded by images of celestial skies on LED screens and chrome performers hanging from wires. It showed off each co-creator’s hallmark design in a way we had never seen before.
“The idea of combining the two worlds—the iconic angular shape of the G-Class body and the soft, fluffy feel of the Moncler puffer jacket—fascinated our designers right from the start,” a representative for Mercedes-Benz told Complex via email. “Each of our show cars tells a story. In this case, it’s about the metamorphosis of a purely utility-oriented product into a luxury product. In this respect, the G-Class success story forms the perfect basis for this project.”
Adidas sat somewhere in the middle of both approaches. The outside wall of its activation featured boxes that housed live models wearing the pieces from its collection like shiny blue puffer hoodies with giant Trefoil logos stamped into the chest, bright orange bubble coats layered with utility vests, bug-eyed goggles, and fluorescent tracksuits. Seeing onlookers come to the realization that those were in fact real people and not mannequins became a common occurrence throughout the night, and camera flashes soon followed. Inside, there was neither clothing nor branding in sight. Guests were sent down an airport-style conveyor belt that moved through the space covered in mirrors and screens projecting images that made it seem like you were encased in a frozen glacier. It made for an amazing photo opportunity, sure, but did little to provide any further context about the Moncler x Adidas clothing.
That isn’t to say that there was no clothing on display inside Olympia London on Monday night. Bembury, Williams, and Fujiwara each used their activations to give attendants a glimpse into what they will be releasing in the coming months.
Bembury’s station featured a sand pit with a giant boulder positioned at the center. The boulder would sporadically move, and smoke would billow out of a hole in the ceiling as a natural soundtrack of bird calls and running waters filled the space. A group of models dressed in Bembury’s utilitarian debut collection with Moncler—quilted liners bearing Bembury’s signature fingerprint pattern in orange and olive green, fishtail parkas displaying a Moncler logo written in the font for Bembruy’s brand Spunge, and multiple colorways of his redesigned Trailgrip sneakers—wandered around space drawing pictures in the sand, pushing at the boulder, or just lying down for some relaxation.
“Having the audience be able to walk into your literal world as they see your work completes the story, whereas in past projects, I’ve had to hope that they understood my marketing through the foreign screen on their phone,” Bembury tells Complex via email. “In the past, I’ve been restrained by only being able to tell a story from the ankles down, but now I am able to tell a complete story of uniform in totality.”
Williams also channeled the great outdoors through his space covered in real grass and moss-covered trees. A camping setup with folding chairs and an overhead tent was stationed at the center. A sound system crafted audio based on the natural movement of visitors as they walked along the grass. The apparel—which included cream jackets with zip-off sleeves, teal hoodies, chunky ski goggles, triangular quilted coats and blankets in various colors, puffer beanies, and a high-top hiking boot with an ultra-thick lug sole—was arguably the best of the night. If you still questioned if Pharrell could fuse his decades of know-how and taste level with a fashion house’s DNA, this collection acted as perfect evidence.
Fujiwara decided to create his own peep show in the center of the venue floor. Event-goers huddled into booths in a dark room that acted as windows to a bright white circular living space occupied by models dressed in pieces from Fragment’s upcoming capsule collection with Moncler including outwear covered in prints like houndstooth and flowers, black nylon snow pants, and puffy calf-high boots. Their cohabitors were LOVOTs, cute furry AI creatures that responded to human interaction, which were also dressed in adorable miniature versions of Fragment’s latest Moncler Genius capsule. Fujiwara embraced the creative freedom that was given to so many unique perspectives at the event. “I’m intrigued by the fact that this event involved many people and communities. Artists and non-fashion brands, too. I am looking forward to seeing how it evolves in the future,” Fujiwara told Complex via email.
The night concluded with a concert from Alicia Keys, who ran through some of her hit records like “Fallin’” before closing out the set with her chorus from “Empire State of Mind.” (Unfortunately, despite being a Moncler Genius co-creator himself, Jay-Z did not make a cameo to rap his verses.) Keys, the dancers onstage, and surprise performers like Little Simz and Cleo Sol were all outfitted in pieces from the upcoming project, which is inspired by Keys’ upbringing and ’90s New York fashion. “Being from New York, it was always the biggest, coolest thing to have anything from Moncler. As a kid, it was not something you could get like that. Moncler, for me, has been a part of my New York experience,” Keys told Complex via email. A chrome trench coat worn by Keys commanded attention. Little Simz donned a varsity jacket that featured a flip of the Moncler badge made to look like the Statue of Liberty across the back for a more literal nod to the singer’s home city.
While not officially billed as part of the Genius lineup, Rick Owens also had his own space that acted as the official after-party and gave a glimpse into the energy he would be bringing to his latest work with Moncler. A dark room was filled with long lines of light and bass-heavy club music. A tomb-like, soundproof bed was placed on a metal platform at the center of the madness that allowed fans to “get in bed with Rick Owens,” if they so pleased.
The crop of co-creators tapped by Moncler is indicative in many ways of where luxury fashion is as a whole right now. Being a classically trained clothing designer with a unique point of view and making intricate clothing isn’t the be-all and end-all of success. Ultimately, can you make something that moves the needle? Does your name hold weight outside of the fashion industry and can it introduce new eyes to what your brand is doing? It’s this line of thinking that made LVMH tap Williams, a multi-hyphenate with decades of influence and curating cool under his belt, as the next creative director of Louis Vuitton Men’s. At Moncler’s “The Art of Genius” event, we see it double down on this approach through its work with names like Williams or Jay-Z, while also still being able to embrace designers with cultlike followings such as Owens or Bembury.
At the end of the day, Moncler is a fashion brand. Making money and selling product is still the goal. But will this commitment to expanding its cultural reach and democratization of the once-exclusive luxury fashion experience continue to result in growth? While we will have to wait and see how these new capsule collections fare on the market as they roll out across 2023, it seems to be working for Moncler thus far. According to WWD, Moncler reported a 21 percent gain in revenue in the first 9 months of 2022 with sales eclipsing 1.25 billion euros.
“The Art of Genius” allowed creators a platform to create immersive experiences that fans clearly latched on to and were excited by. These collaborators brilliantly sold 10,000 people on 8 unique visions, and all of them made sure to document the experience for thousands more people who couldn’t make it to London on Monday night to see them firsthand. As Chairman and CEO Remo Ruffini told WWD in 2022, that means Moncler has already accomplished the hardest part of the equation. Naturally, the sales will start to follow.
“Relationships are more important than transactions. If there are relationships, the transactions will follow,” said Ruffini. “There is always an evolution of micro-communities around the world, and to intercept them is a complex job. But this is what we have to do. Luxury fashion used to be about exclusivity, but now it’s more important to build our communities.”