There are common misconceptions about all four fashion weeks: New York is the pragmatic commercial zone; London is the breeding ground for eclectic talents; Milan is the business-minded mega-label city; and Paris is the boundary-breaking, creatively invigorating capital of fashion. In actuality, all four possess each of those characteristics—they’re just famed for industry-issued moulds that they somewhat conform to. London Fashion Week’s rise in greatness over the past number of years has seen Milan fall a little to the wayside. It’s obviously still very important for publications as advertisers present here (Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Giorgio Armani, Gucci). As a creative stronghold, Milan has weakened over the years, and sadly so. But then, out from the studio team, Kering appointed associate to Frida Giannini as creative director of Gucci, following Giannini’s early departure. Whether this was a knee-jerk reaction to Giannini’s unforeseen early exit or tactical move remains unknown.
Michele’s first Gucci collection - men’s fall 2015 - is a now fabled happening. In five days, the collection was revamped and remade by the design team under the creative direction of a relatively unknown 43-year-old man. The result was the most talked about collection of men’s fashion week. By February, when women’s Milan Fashion Week rolled around, the industry was abuzz with the big question: what would Michele do for women? The answer was a complete rethinking of the Gucci brand and what it stood for in 2015. There were notions of gender fluidity, agelessness within the clothing, intelligent fashion. It was dubbed as a revolutionary moment by many critics, not only for the stagnating house of Gucci, but for Milan Fashion Week. Michele’s Gucci is to credit for the catalysing of Milan as a new source of inspiration and creativity between London and Paris. A jolt to the system and to the senses, this man shifted the viewpoint of many other Milan-based labels who had to entirely readjust their way of being to attempt to stay relevant and compete for press against the decade-defining moment of a virtuoso being born.
In the time since Michele conquered Milan with his aesthetic, the effect of his work on other designers has been indelible. From New York to Paris, his work has permeated a sense of itself into myriad collections, and unsurprisingly. In Milan, this past season, it was hard not to notice the subtle tinges of nu-Gucci (and Valentino) at Alberta Ferretti. It was in the way the looks were presented, their undeniable sensuality and heavy accessorising and plain and simply, the similar look to what has come before it. Romantic it was, beautiful it was, forged? Slightly.
Tampering with others signatures isn’t that uncommon nowadays, especially with social media reaction to certain designs. Just looking at Fausto Puglisi’s collection, it’s hard not to see Versace resemblances. In cuts and shaping particularly, Donatella Versace’s catalogue of work, and her late brother Gianni’s before that. Puglisis has always been respectful in his reference to the late great, but his approach to inspiration of Donatella’s work is less deft. It’s slightly blatant. A shame given his talent—exemplified elsewhere at Emanuel Ungaro. Constant second guessing of oneself and restraining themselves seems ever-present in Milan. Designers are afraid to step too far outside the box. It is trite to say, but fashion is a business at the end of the day, however that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice creativity at its expense.
Conversely, a designer can step too far outside the box into dangerous territory like Peter Dundas did in his first, critically-slated, collection for Roberto Cavalli. The 80s western meets rocker meets 21st century party princess look for the jet set shopper was ghastly. It felt un-Cavalli, which is unfortunate as it was his debut as creative director. The vision was unsteady but he sure had the Cavalli confidence. His sophomore outing felt much more like something his predecessor would present and the unforgiving fashion press warmed nicely to its luxurious poeticism. 70s rock chic served with a dollop of complexity. Over at Pucci, where Dundas once served as artistic director, Massimo Giorgetti is imprinting his creative sensibilities on the storied house and bringing it back to its roots: the slopes. The jet set crowd (that Cavalli also caters to) like to spend time off-piste in the snowy resorts of Gstaad, Verbier, Aspen and Courchevel. There were outfits to bundle up in to tackle the chilly temperatures and inventively printed on garments in a typical Pucci print were mountains—the ski slopes. Dundas’ Pucci was all about the sex appeal and Giorgetti’s new direction for the label is exciting to watch unfold; there’s something more inviting about it. The standoffishness associated with Dundas’ glamazonians has noticeably shed within three or four seasons, but the Pucci customer can still be satisfied by the modernisation of the brand.
Modernity is a topical word for Milanese designers. Looking at the upcoming crop of names such as the aforementioned Massimo Giorgetti and his label MSGM, Arthur Arbesser and more, Milan, like other cities, has a new wave designers on the rise. Giorgetti’s MSGM is about self-expression and freedom told through a kaleidoscopic lens of colour, shape and lines. The big idea: capture the attention of the general public. Another eye-catching designer is Stella Jean. A textile- and print-master, her ethical designs connect people from Switzerland to Ghana to Haiti. She’s on a mission to challenge preconceptions of each country that the general public have. To rid of stigma, Jean travels far and wide to meet with locals, understand their traditions and tell their stories. She incorporates local traditions and local talents; hand looming from local weavers in Burkina Faso and handcrafted bogolan from Mali. Her inspiring, enfranchising sojourns result in hearty collections bursting with colour and flavour. Marco de Vincenzo is an emerging designer with a colourist core. The Fendi-trained designer launched couture back in 2009 before developing a successful ready-to-wear line. His dexterous, tactile collection was an amalgamation of rich colours and textiles lesser used. Imbued with a gothic sensibility by way of 80s psychedelics, de Vincenzo’s fall collection was one of his strongest to date. Similarly, Arthur Arbesser captivated audiences with his third runway presentation of his career (the first being at Pitti Immagine Fair last June). Classic lines are subverted with attention-grabbing floral prints; gilded skirts, jackets, shirts and accents add richness; hues of dusty rose, cornflour blue and canary yellow depicted the sombre mood of the world. These four names are the future of Italian fashion. They’ll possibly become the heavyweight conglomerates that we witness nowadays.
On the topic of large corporations like Prada, Giorgio Armani and Versace, is there much of a place for them with the relevancy of younger, emerging brands? In short: yes, and kind of. Giorgio Armani is favoured by woman across the globe for his generously cut, nicely tailored, wearable clothing. While he is one of the most relevant designers, commercially, his contribution to the fashion conversation is limited, meagre even. Donatella Versace whose recent presentation wasn’t very impactful, couldn’t be denied of its instant appeal and estimable consistency. Gianni’s vision is no longer Donatella’s vision; she’s working off her own initiative and it does work. There was a slight misstep here, but everything was saleable and desirable. Miuccia Prada has forever been in a league of her own. She’s a leader, not a follower; she pushes boundaries to the extreme and explores challenging, complex ideas and notions with her collection. Her fall collection centred on a vagabond, powerful woman and the world around us. With reference to the Spanish Inquisition and the current migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, which dislocated Syrians attempt cross in search of better living standards. Her fearlessness hasn’t ebbed in her four decades at the house. It’s conveyed in the clothes which were at an all time high.
With Italian fashion designers on the rise, government officials are beginning to take notice. In London, Prime Minister David Cameron’s wife, Samantha Cameron is an ambassadress for the British Fashion Council. The businesswoman—she formerly worked at Smythson—is at the fore of government involvement in fashion. After all, it generates billions of income for national economies. Italian PM Matteo Renzi was on hand to open Milan Fashion Week. With news outlets he discussed how he admires the “passion” of the people in the industry. Renzi is also surprised by the apathy of his predecessors and their negative attitudes towards fashion. Simply pondering on the disregard for fashion would make you laugh given the clothes we wear on our backs daily. Milanese designers especially cater to a local audience and a global one.
When Milan Fashion Week concluded on the final Monday of February, torrential downpours in the rearview mirror, the fashion pack descended upon the French capital for another week of endless days, concise scheduling and ideas. By the end of it, reflecting upon the fashion month—a week or so after the season ended; everyone was jaded and fashioned-out—and the highlights (and some lowlights—Dolce & Gabbana), Milan took pride of place in top 10 lists. There was an utterly unforgettable Marni collection which oozed complex sublimity from start to finish. Miuccia Prada continued to excel at the game she knows so well. The mark, and lion’s roar, of Alessandro Michele’s sincere, beautiful melange of philosophical, filmic, cultural reference points is hard to forget. The knock on effect of his presence resulted in the young creatives and existing brands to up the ante. In the end it boils down to relevancy. This season has proved it: Milan is still relevant.
Photo Credit: voguerunway.com