The Milan Report
Established designers re-writing the rules are behind Milan Fashion Week's renaissance period
As Milan Fashion Week draws to a close and the fashion week tour makes its final pit stop in Paris this week, the general mood from Milan was positive. The week's schedule coincided with the tail end of Expo Milano 2015, an exhibition of more than 140 countries showcasing shared ideas around the theme of food and technology, along with key exhibitions and the ushering in of new designers.
From Arthur Arbesser's jaunty debut at Iceberg to the debut collection by Peter Dundas (formerly at Pucci) at Roberto Cavalli, the week showed why Italian fashion is moving into a new era of creativity and commerce.
A reassertion of brand values was seen from doyennes of Milan fashion, Donatella Versace and Miuccia Prada, who both showcased collections that looked at reworking pieces from their archives and creating collections that celebrate the diversity and eclectic global women of today.
The appointment of Dundas at Cavalli came after its namesake sold his 90 per cent stake to the Italian private equity group Clessidra in April. It followed on the back of other notable fashion deals such as the Carlyle Group's investment in ski-jacket maker Moncler, the 20 per cent of Versace acquired by money-management firm Blackstone, and the buyout of Valentino from a private royal investor in Qatar.
A strong interest in private equity firms in Italian fashion and the benefits made from long-term returns has reignited an interest in the business of selling Italian fashion to the world, and with that a piqued interest in a Milan Fashion Week that can move with the times, or at least with its counterparts — the commercially savvy New York Fashion Week or perhaps the creativity and modernity of Paris and London.
In an effort to reignite interest in the week, former English marketing executive Jane Reeve took the reigns in 2013 as chief executive of the governing body of Italian style, the National Chamber for Italian Fashion (CNMI), with Carlo Capasa taking over earlier this year, along with a new board of directors, including Prada's outspoken chief executive, Patrizio Bertelli, and designer Giorgio Armani, who has been a driving force in encouraging designers to showcase and commit to the Milan fashion week schedule over the years.
Armani's own commitment to fostering creativity and backing fashion week has culminated this year with the celebration of the designer's 40th anniversary in business, along with the opening of the new Armani/Silos museum, curated by Armani himself. The museum, launched the same time as Expo Milano, includes 600 outfits and 200 accessories from Giorgio Armani's collections from 1980 to the present.
Along with providing a show space for emerging Israeli designer Daizy Shely, who won the Vogue Italia’s Who is on Next? talent search contest in 2014, Armani's support for emerging talent has been crucial to pulling interest back into a fashion week that's been plodding along. Armani's own Emporio Armani and Giorgio Armani collections, showcased during the week at the Armani Teatro, reflected why his very Italian take on languid, easy separates is still the blueprint for relaxed dressing that so many other designers have tried to distill over the years.
For Miuccia Prada, a proud patron of the arts, the opening this year of the Fondazione Prada is an extension of the brand's values and reinforces the importance of creating spaces to encourage ideas and thinking. The contemporary art museum is designed by architecture firm OMA, led by Rem Koolhaas and has a bar designed by director Wes Anderson inspired by old Milanese cafes.
Her show, a highlight on the global fashion calendar let alone Milan, focused on what the designer loves to do in terms of twisting tradition through re-working past pieces anew. Prada staples, from boxy skirt suits, car coats and drop-waist dresses were thrust into the future courtesy of metallic python skins, oversized paillettes and unexpected layering. A silk organza slip dress layered over a tweed skirt played on that idiosyncratic formula, and lace overlay scarves over outfits provided an interesting play on texture that pushed the envelope even further.
Fellow queen of Milan, Donatella Versace, exhibited another example of an established Italian fashion brand that's moving forward with the times through its support of designer Anthony Vaccarello's Versus collection, showcased in London a week before the brand's own confident display last week. The show featured a coterie of supermodels including Mariacarla Boscono, Raquel Zimmerman and Caroline Trentini and was set to a thumping all-female cover of Transition produced by Violet with vocals in English, Portuguese, Spanish and Maori by A.M.O.R, Mamacita, Nancy Whang and Aucklander Coco Solid, with Versace donating 100 per cent of the performance rights fees to Equality Now.
The track's message of empowered women enhanced what the brand has done well for so long, creating clothes with reference to sportswear and glamour and the collection's utilitarian jackets, sharp suiting and sexy silk chiffon print dresses was a defiantly confidant display of Italian fashion that's bringing in stable revenue. Versace chief executive Gian Giacomo Ferraris explained that the company was looking to apply for an IPO in the next year with a firm plan to work with new talent and build on the company's €640 million turnover from the last year. "Donatella Versace is fostering new talent such as Christopher Kane and Anthony Vaccarello. This kind of work under the umbrella of Donatella is under her vision for Versace for the future."
But the toast of the town has to be Gucci's remarkable turnaround courtesy of its new creative director Alessandro Michele. Now in his fifth season for the house, the designer has managed to revive the brand's fashion message with his magpie approach to design, a contrast to the high octane sex appeal and product focus favoured by his predecessor, Frida Giannini.
Multi-coloured lace dresses, embroidered blazers, leather jackets, beaded trinket jewellery, glitter spectacles, and the Gucci monogram re-worked through a 70s lens has instigated a new found appreciation of the quintessential Italian brand for a new generation. Only time will tell whether or not Michele's romantic point of view is just a breath of fresh air after season's of stark minimalism or if it has the staying power to continue in this direction, but for now it's the perfect anchor for Italian fashion's collective move forward.
Whether it's the technical and artisanal aspects at Marni, the tradition of Trussardi, the sex appeal of Pucci and Versace or the Italo kitsch of Dolce & Gabbana (love it or hate it, it’s an aesthetic that's helped the brand generate over €1 billion in revenue in the latest fiscal year) — there's no denying that this confident era into the future is why Italians are doing it better.