“I’m sorry, would you mind if I did a sound check first for the party tonight?” Marcelo Burlon politely requests. It’s half past two in the afternoon and I’m standing outside his new — and very first — Marcelo Burlon County of Milan store at 268 Orchard Road, due for our chat before the celebratory festivities for his new digs roll around in the evening. “Sure,” I say, and he makes it a point to wrap it up quick.
The affable Burlon is the founder and creative director of the aforementioned streetwear label, distinctive in its graphic tees and hoodies. But he’s not a designer, and he goes on to affirm this multiple times while we speak. He’ll respond to DJ, stylist, PR or creative director, depending which phase of his life you’re enquiring about. This non-designer’s clothing though, are pieces you could turn up to a club in or throw on to catch a red-eye — they’ll offer up enough of the style quotient on both ends of the spectrum. They’re a la mode and easy-breezy, just like Burlon himself.
A few minutes into our interview (one that’s being recorded on my phone) and the music in the store comes on. He begins to sway with a smile on his face, then requests for the store assistant to turn the volume down. He says he might not be able to stop dancing otherwise, but really, he’s concerned that the noise might disrupt my recording. I have an inkling that Burlon, widely successful in his string of County of Milan store openings in the recent — two in Hong Kong, one in Macau and Singapore, with Manila coming up next — is on the up and up in part due to the fact that he’s just so damn nice and unassuming. But of course, it’s not just that.
“It’s more about the people rather than being on a podium and looking down from above,” he says, explaining why he thinks it’s important to personally respond to fan questions on his own Instagram handle. “I’m a part of the scene — that’s who I am.” And it sounds about right, as Burlon rose from the core of Milan’s party scene after moving to Italy from Patagonia at the age of 13. He went from DJ’ing at lit parties attended by the likes of Raf Simons to doing events, PR, styling work, and now County of Milan.
With regards to hyphenates like himself, he brings Virgil Abloh and Heron Preston into the mix (Burlon is also a co-founder of the New Guards Group, the company that distributes Abloh’s and Preston’s brands). It’s a “new wave” he says, that this category of non-designers — they’re creative directors — don’t just do fashion. They have ties with music, art and of course parties too, ultimately the parts of the sum that is luxury streetwear as we know it today. They’re “proud of [their] communities,” the ones who look at their Instagram handles religiously for a glimpse of what cool new project they could be turning out next. He emphasises once more: “We’re not designers, [our brands are] a lifestyle.”
We also talk UFOs, his incredible new home, and Raf on the dance floor.
You grew up in Patagonia and this influence is obvious in the graphics on your clothing. What was it like?
“I was born in a hippie village and it was a very special place because nature there is so powerful — the lakes, the mountains… It was a place with no danger then. Today things have changed but at that time, we used to play in the streets till midnight. It was kind of like a bubble; beautiful, and very far from the city.”
What does the Patagonian cross that’s the County of Milan logo stand for?
“It’s the key of the universe.”
Your SS19 collection features graphics from Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind inspired by your own sighting of UFOs. What was the incident really like?
“A few years ago I was in the mountains with a friend and I saw this huge light [in the sky] and we were shocked. We called our friend in the village and they were looking at the same thing. It was late in the afternoon and the sky was still clear. I believe it was UFOs. It was very fast and big and I do believe that there are other things in the universe.”
You’ve credited social media as having helped grow — and till now, power — the global popularity of County of Milan. What does it mean to you to be authentic on social media?
“To tell the truth. To show yourself as you are, without any filter or bullshit. When customers or fans message me, I respond. These things are important; to kind of properly answer their questions directly and not through someone else. [I want them] to hear from me. Some do start chatting after though, and that gets quite crazy. Many of them ask me about starting their own label, being a DJ, and how they can be like me. [Of the latter], I tell them to be themselves. But more than just questions, it’s their reactions to my projects that makes me emotional as they really love what I do. I feel so much love on there. It keeps me going.”
With stores in Hong Kong and now Singapore, why Asia first before Milan?
“I have two stores in Hong Kong, one in Macau, now one in Singapore and Manila will be opening up in a few weeks. We did a pop-up for 8 months in Milan but we already have many retailers selling our brand there and if we open up our own stores, we will be competitors.”
Would you think of expanding in Argentina, and what’s the streetwear scene like there?
“No, the salary there is too low; it’s expensive for the locals. I can imagine that there is a streetwear scene, I don’t really go out there though. I visit five times a year and I head straight into Patagonia. I have this incredible house there that’s very special to me and it’s located on top of the mountain. Look at the view. I have other houses made out of containers around it for my guests and [we are surrounded] by lakes. I did all the rugs, and this one with the moons is the same as the tattoo on my back.”
The only time I’ve had a view like that was when I trekked in Ladakh. Five days without the Internet made me very happy.
“Same here, I did a reality show that’s like the Italian version of the Amazing Race. It was a month with no phone or money and we travelled around the world. Philippines, Taiwan, Japan… I wanted to leave the “fancy life” for awhile. We slept in the slums of Manila and in Taoist temples and hiked everyday. We lived the life of the locals and it was a beautiful experience.”
You turn out quite a few collaborations each season and have done stuff with Kappa, Eastpak and the National Basketball Association (NBA). How do they come about and what do you hope to achieve from that?
“Many of them come about because I’m a fan. I like NBA, Lamborghini, Eastpak and also Major League Baseball (MLB). I’m a fan of Steven Spielberg, hence the movie collaboration earlier. Every one that I do is related to what I like.”
A little bit of your personality in each of these collections.
“Yes, absolutely. It’s a part of myself in these collaborations and my brand. It’s all my experiences.”
Which also lines up with the fact that you’re very connected to your fans. That’s not always the case for creative directors or designers.
“I think [the latter] is an old school thing. With myself, Virgil [Abloh], Heron [Preston] and Astrid Andersen, I think we represent the new wave. It’s more about the people rather than being on a podium and looking down from above. We feel proud of our communities. That’s what we do and who we are. I’m a part of the scene — that’s who I am.”
It reminds me of the time I saw Raf Simons handing out some drinks on the dance floor at his party instead of staying cooped up in the VIP area. I thought that was really nice.
“I met Raf during his time at Jil Sander and I used to work with him a lot. I ran wicked parties and he’d come and be on the dance floor going like, ‘yeah!’ He’s one of those very special guys. He’s not mainstream but yet he’s not mass, and he’s one of the few designers that can become underground. He did Dior and now Calvin Klein, and he’s used those brands to talk to a bigger audience, but for his own label, he’s kept the essence of who he is.”
On the topic of Virgil Abloh, Heron Preston and the like, you co-founded the New Guards Group that distributes these brands. What was the thinking behind it?
“These are new brands that were related to each other in things like music, art and parties. We’re not designers, [our brands are] a lifestyle.”
Do you think it’s the way to go for fashion now?
“It’s one way, but doesn’t have to be the only one or that will be boring.”
What did you grow up wearing when you were doing parties?
“Those high platform shoes. Buffalos. I’ll show you — look at this (laughs). I also used to wear a lot of Walter Van Beirendonck… A lot of Walter’s stuff. I used to love him. He was my hero and I’ve met him once.”
And how was it? They say to never meet your heroes.
“I met him and I was like, ‘Oh my god, when I was a teenager I was a big, big fan of yours,’ and he said I made him feel old. He’s really funny.”
You know you’ve done so many different things like music, PR, a clothing label, events, and styling — did you kind of fall into these things as you go along?
“I did PR for many, many years and worked with all the designers — promoting everyone. Then I decided to promote myself and launched my own brand. I came up with the social media era and DJ’ed around the world. I saw that [there were] people that wanted to belong to my world, so I decided to launch County of Milan and tell my story through the graphics.”
What do you think it is about your personality that allows you to wear so many different hats?
“I don’t like to just do one thing. I think it was very difficult for people to understand my role in the Milan fashion scene because I used to do so many things. They said I have to do just one, but I said no.”
What fulfils you the most?
“Music. I have a big passion for music so DJ’ing is something I love, love, love.”
And what do you dream for County of Milan and yourself next?
“I’d like to open more stores — conquer the US. We are already in the best stores there but I’d love to have my own. One day perhaps, [I’d like to] do a collab with private jets and have our graphics on the exterior. Imagine County of Milan’s wings up there on the plane’s wings! For myself, I hope to have kids.”
The Marcelo Burlon County of Milan store is now open. Located at 268 Orchard Road.