It’s no mean feat to translate a lifetime of experiences into a brand. But that’s precisely what Marcelo Burlon has done. From events planning to public relations, working as a stylist and DJ’ing, the Patagonia-born, Milan-raised multi-hyphenate is writing his latest chapter, one where he plays the lead as a designer of his own label, County of Milan. Recently in town for the opening of his County of Milan store, he sits down with Esquire Singapore to talk about his childhood in Patagonia, how DJ’ing inspired him to start County of Milan and why he doesn’t think that streetwear is going to evolve.
ESQ: What was your childhood growing up in Argentina like?
MARCELO BURLON: I grew up in a village in the south of Argentina, Patagonia actually. I came from a Lebanese and Italian family, so my family decided to move to Italy during the end of the 1980s. We arrived in Italy in 1990. My childhood was really nice because growing up in a small village we used to ski every winter because it was a mountainous area. It was pretty amazing that you're in the middle of a lot of culture. It was a pretty special childhood.
ESQ: You talked about how going to parties had a huge influence on you. What was it like back then?
MARCELO BURLON: The club was what got me interested in fashion. I used to live in an area where the club scene was really strong. For over a year, I used to go there for the weekend just to dance. So it was a very important area, where designers like Marc Jacobs and Jean Paul Gaultier would drop by from time to time.
ESQ: Was that when you started DJ’ing?
MARCELO BURLON: I started DJ’ing when I used to run a party that became very popular—and when things become too popular I like to step out and start something else. So, we moved to another club and we started a party called ‘I pretend to be a DJ’. We invited other designers, journalists, architects, VJs from MTV to party with us while we pretended to be a DJ. But then it became my real passion and I started to DJ professionally and started DJ’ing around the world. When social media came out and I started having a lot of gigs, DJ’ing for the fashion scene, I saw there was so much following, even right before social media. I was like ‘Oh, the people want something else rather than just one-night stands’. They wanted to be part of something or belong to a group. That's how I launched my brand. I was like, ‘you know what, I'm going to try to show my rules and my experience through the brand and tell my story through the graphics’.
ESQ: Why call it County of Milan? Is there a meaning behind it when you started it?
MARCELO BURLON: I had an agency called Marcelo Burlon Enterprise County of Milan. The concept [was based on what] one of my best friends did—this guy is an art director and he was researching secret letters, secret documents from Russian spies. That was the concept of my agency. And there was County of Milan. It doesn't mean anything but it means a lot as it doesn't exist as a county. It was like a funny thing to develop something that doesn't exist. Milan was the place that gave me the chance to tell my story, to realise my dreams and express myself.
ESQ: How would you define County of Milan?
MARCELO BURLON: Contemporary. I don't like to call it streetwear because it doesn't exist anymore. Somehow everything overlaps. Luxury, streetwear, fashion and everything are together now. There's not much difference you know? As long as the quality is high.
ESQ: What do you feel about hype? What are your thoughts on hype?
MARCELO BURLON: Hype is just boring, but we need hype because that's what makes the brand alive. But I think it's too superficial. Hype is just for kids. I don't know, it's something that we need but we don't like. You know what I mean? I think people should go deeper into things instead of wearing something because they see it as a status symbol.
ESQ: What advice you would give to kids or young designers who want to start their own label one day?
MARCELO BURLON: FIrst of all, the quality should be amazing. There are so many clothes out there, so many labels. And also, they really should think about making something unique. Something that doesn't exist, you know. They shouldn't copy anyone; they should do their own thing.
ESQ: Let's talk about your collection right now. So the autumn/winter 2018 and spring/summer 2019 are quite different. Let's start with autumn/winter. There are a lot of collaborations that went on, so is this a process you enjoy a lot?
MARCELO BURLON: I think I'm one of the first brands that started the collaboration.
ESQ: What's the first one that you started?
MARCELO BURLON: I think the first real one was with G-Shock. I mean the basis of this collection is BMX. Cause I used to go out a lot on a BMX when I was a little boy. And then there are many collaborations like the NBA. We did the Lakers, the Chicago Bulls and you know, a lot of teams and Muhammad Ali.
ESQ: Is Ali a source of inspiration for you? Why did you decide to use Muhammad Ali?
MARCELO BURLON: Muhammad Ali is one of the biggest figures in America. He did a lot for the society, changed the minds of the people and he helped a lot actually. So I like these types of people who have something to say, people who fight against the system, against the white supremacy.
ESQ: Do you draw a lot of inspiration from Milan?
MARCELO BURLON: Not really. The bases are like Patagonia, Argentina, nature, South America. I kind of translate it in the contemporary world.
ESQ: Why don't you call it something that reminds them of Argentina? When I think of County of Milan, I think that this guy is from Milan and then I would think that if I had never seen your collections before, they would be inspired by Milan. Can I ask why you wouldn't name it something that would remind people more about Argentina? Or is that too obvious for you?
MARCELO BURLON: I don't know. I used the symbol of Patagonia, of Argentina, so you don't need to. Because it is also a contemporary brand. There is something about Argentina in the name of the brand.
ESQ: Let’s talk about the upcoming spring/summer 2019 collection. What can we expect from it?
MARCELO BURLON: There was a lot of neon of course. A collaboration with Eastpak as well and Linda Farrow-type glasses, yeah. But the main inspiration was Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of The Third Kind. What we did for this collection, we created a UFO that was looking for special people. They were choosing people so they cuffed him, brought him out in the summer and erased his memories. The floppy disks contain his memories. So there was this concept of the UFOs, kidnapping people and wiping their memories
ESQ: Why Close Encounters of The Third Kind?
MARCELO BURLON: I'm always inspired by aliens. I believe in aliens.
ESQ: Oh really?
MARCELO BURLON: You don't?
ESQ: I do believe there is life out there, but I'm not sure if they would want to come and visit us.
MARCELO BURLON: It's not about visiting. You know that we are not the only ones in the universe. Otherwise the world would be so boring. Just us, human beings, no. So that was the main thing, and also Close Encounters was the main thing as well.
ESQ: You talked about streetwear and that there shouldn't be a term streetwear because it doesn't exist anymore. How do you think that this movement of streetwear is going to evolve?
MARCELO BURLON: It's not going to evolve. It's not really there, you know. You can't really change it. Luxury, you know, it's like you can call it fashion, but not streetwear. Streetwear is like, from the streets. The ghetto. (Laughs)
ESQ: (Laughs) So can I ask what is your greatest fear.
MARCELO BURLON: Rats. I will run when I see rats. I will be running and climbing.
ESQ: Will you ever do a collection inspired by your fear?
MARCELO BURLON: No, because I'm pretty sure it won't sell.
ESQ: (Laughs) That's fair, that's fair. What would you want your legacy to be? How do you want people to remember you?
MARCELO BURLON: Someone who made his own story from nothing, from zero. I go to universities a lot to tell my stories, especially in universities that major in business and marketing, because it is a rare case of someone from parties who became a character and a brand.
ESQ: DJ’ing and fashion, any correlation?
MARCELO BURLON: Similar but relative. Music, fashion and art are in general related a lot actually. We all listen to music and we all want to wear something cute (laughs).
Photography, styling and words by Eugene Lim. Shot on iPhone XS.