In a Vast, Empty Swimming Pool, a Fashion Show



In the intervening years, Sunnei has been a rarity in Milan: a youthful, scrappy and successful upstart among the corporate leviathans that dominate Italian fashion. Rizzo, 32, and Messina, 31, lead a dozen team members, all in their twenties, who together create subversive, reimagined Italian tailoring — like this season’s long-lined, velcro-cuffed blazer and boxy, rose-colored neoprene trench coat — along with ’90s-inflected staples like cargo pants, button-up denim dresses and crop tops. Inspired by the coolly offbeat crew that surrounds the designers, the line avoids trends and instead creates clothes that feel like a uniform for a forward-looking subculture — while also continuing the Italian tradition of privileging exceptional construction and materials, from smooth gabardines to high-tech nylons and experimental wool knits. “This is still a very difficult period,” Rizzo acknowledged of hosting a live event, “but it’s an investment for our brand but also for our values, and for Milan.”

The day of the show, Rizzo and Messina stood lost in the immensity of the pool’s blue basin under a rapidly shifting sky and talked more of rain — until they were reminded about the investment. “Today’s important. It’s the last runway show that will be entirely ours,” said Rizzo. The pair had shared the news with their team at 2 a.m. the previous night, after a seemingly interminable day of fittings. The step will be fundamental, explained Messina, in easing the burden on the duo and their staff. “You lose the energy you need as an independent after a while,” he said. “Fashion seems easy, but it’s extremely complex to make it work. Eventually, you need some help.”

Just after sunset that evening, help also arrived from the heavens, which unleashed an icy hailstorm farther afield in the center of Milan, but only glossed the pool’s concrete with enough rain to render it a dramatic, reflective backdrop for the collection. Umbrellas went up in the audience, but the sky mostly held for the finale, when the models trouped across the pool into two spotlighted rows and Rizzo and Messina emerged from the darkness to give the triumphant last bow of the first chapter of their brand.

Wednesday, Sept. 23, 1:03 P.M.

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