Marni isn't a fashion house like any other. Although the collections by its founder and creative director, Consuelo Castiglioni, have a strong identity – beautiful clashes of print and texture, from Bauhaus geometric motifs one season to tribal patterns the next, with dots, scribbles, flowers and grids along the way – in many other respects it's quite an enigmatic enterprise.
Despite a global presence, with nearly 100 standalone stores worldwide, the label remains a family business and not part of any luxury conglomerate. Marni doesn't advertise its clothes. It doesn't court celebrities. Last year it collaborated with H&M and pieces were snapped up with all the more enthusiasm by fashion fans who could never have predicted its participation in such a project.
Now Marni is again reaching out to the market section not normally able to access its wares, by releasing its first fragrance. It is labelled simply Marni, the logo depicting the same label you'll find inside the collar of any of the quirky garments from the ready-to-wear ranges. It's a grown-up scent, rather masculine on first sniff, with spices such as cinnamon bark and cardamom, tempered by black rose with bergamot, pink peppercorn and ginger. It's testament to the Swiss-born Castiglioni's love of unexpected combinations.
“My mother doesn't like sweet fragrances,” says Carolina Castiglioni, Consuelo's daughter, who launched the fragrance in the European capital of cool, Berlin, last week. “We spent two years creating the scent, first trying out all the possible raw materials, saying 'yes' to this and 'no' to that until we have narrowed it down – which took a long time.”
The pair worked together on the bottle, a cute, vintage-inspired flacon, minimally packaged: “We wanted the fragrance to be timeless, not seasonal. And we wanted it to be unmistakably Marni, so we took a clean, simple shape for the bottle, then we added the polka dots, because they are our signature,” Carolina says.
The brand began life in 1994, when husband-and-wife team Consuelo and Gianni Castiglioni launched ready-to-wear items based on prints, texture and modern, architectural shapes. Celebrity fans of the upmarket label are found at the more cerebral end of the spectrum – the art photographer Cindy Sherman and actress Maggie Gyllenhaal are devotees, while the likes of Carey Mulligan, Elle Fanning and Rihanna are also partial. Fashion editors sport Marni's oversized necklaces and the chunky flatform shoes that have become so recognisable to those in the know.
Annalise Quest, general merchandise manager for beauty at Harrods, which is stocking the fragrance, explains the brand's appeal as: “Synonymous with an effortless and cool chic style.” She adds: “Marni's first foray into fragrance is the perfect reflection of the iconic fashion house's DNA. The scent exudes sophistication, yet captures the essence of the quirky individuality that defines the Marni woman.”
Ah – the Marni Woman, much remarked upon in any discourse about the brand. Carolina, the 31-year old heiress and the brand's Special Projects director, embodies this elusive spirit as much as anyone can. She regularly features in fashion cool lists thanks to her low-maintenance glamour.
“I'm not someone who wears a lot of make-up – or any make-up,” she says with a shrug.
“I don't often get changed into eveningwear when I go out. I like to mix different styles together, that's what interests me, not a [gestures to self] – a top-to-toe look? I like casual clothes, or men's clothes mixed with something more special.”
Does Carolina think her approach is typically Italian?
“No,” she says, after an infinitesimal pause. “It's typically... Marni.”
Marni eau de parfum, £95 0870 034 2566; harrods.com