At the beginning of the week, another designer had weighed in on an industry trapped in the hamster wheel of business. “Last season was about my love of fashion. This time, I asked myself, why am I repeating this ritual time and again? I’m exhausted after a fashion show. It’s really tiring,” Alessandro Michele said after a Gucci show that saw the backstage brought to the runway, spinning around on a big carousel for all to see. “Being in the fashion world is like being an isolated nun. We travel around the world, always saying, ‘One day we’ll give up and do something else.’ But that day never comes. Fashion is very powerful.” Fuelled by Michele’s earnest comments, the Gucci show got creativity levels in Milan off to an intense start that could only have delighted Simons’s desire for creative amplification.
On the first anniversary of Karl Lagerfeld’s death, Silvia Venturini Fendi is acclimatising to going it alone at the LVMH-owned house that carries her name. “I was asking myself, now that I am in charge of this collection, who is the woman I want to dress? She is independent, free and strong,” she said. “In a moment where we talk more about feminism than femininity, it made me want to analyse the concept of the feminine wardrobe through the decades. My wish for the new generations is to be perceived as strong while keeping the codes of femininity.” Venturini turned to the clichés of the feminine stereotypes: the colour pink, lingerie elements and delicate lace, along with the clichés of female power-dressing, from sharp tailoring to the idea of the dominatrix. “It’s a little perverse,” she smiled mischievously.
Her Fendi collection hit Milan like a revelation, demonstrating in womenswear what we already knew from Venturini’s men’s collections: her ability to encapsulate the zeitgeist as a social commentator, and her knack for a super strong show. Miuccia Prada joined in on the same dialogue. “I want to define femininity not through frivolity, but through what is considered ‘delicate feminine’. The discussion of having to give up femininity in order to be strong women always worried me,” she said, evaluating a Prada collection that dressed up fashion’s current affinity for masculine tailoring in beaded fringing, languid chiffon dresses, ruffled bibs and power sequins. To underline that point, Prada puffed up the gentleman’s blazer, coloured it and cinched it in to mould a supersized sculpture of the female form.
“Hyper masculine is okay for menswear, as hyper feminine is okay for womenswear,” Donatella Versace weighed in. Her first co-ed show wasn’t short on unisex and his-and-hers moments, right from the looks that opened it: two platinum blondes in Versace’s women’s and men’s versions of loosely the same black suit, hers worn sans trousers with a mini dress with a cut-out décolleté that echoed his top. Checked coats, knitwear and sportswear from the gentleman’s heritage and prep wardrobes were magnified and shrunk according to physiques. “What I’m trying to show with this collection is that sensuality comes from the brain, from the way one thinks,” Versace argued. “Clothes accentuate that.”
You need only look outside of the show venues to see why the codes of the feminine wardrobe were occupying the minds of designers in Milan. The most serious stars of the current street style scene are almost consistently clad in oversized suits, magnified shirts, and coats from the military and heritage sectors; grey, beige, camel, navy, black and white. You can imagine how it could trigger Versace, Prada and their fellow female designers, so sensitive to the nerve impulses between our collective wardrobe and mentality, to change that scenario. But this wasn’t just a female point of view. Daniel Lee opened his third Bottega Veneta show with a series of slenderised and clarified black tailoring looks for men and women, before launching into a kind of hyper-glamour for the ladies.
“We were thinking about how we could make structured tailoring occupy the space between the super formal and the street that’s been so prevalent in fashion,” he explained. “It’s about things that allow you to feel very elegant and done-up but at the same time very comfortable.” Things soon took that turn for the more feminine in looks founded in movement. Here, Lee interpreted the fringing that ruled the runways everywhere in Milan, letting it creep up from hemlines that looked like DIY T-shirt fringing from the 1980s before they materialised a thousandfold as dancing embellishment on skirts and a bag, and as macro shearling fringes on coats.
Along with sequined maxi dresses, the Bottega Veneta fringe fest made for a collection that resolved and refined the sparkly glamour segments of Lee’s two previous seasons. He also listened to last season’s encouragement to break away from lavish plexiglass sets and wasteful plastic invitations. Instead, he sent out email invitations and welcomed guests in an optical white space. When the lights came on, they projected the walls with images of Palladian gardens. “I wanted to build a set that was completely recyclable and doesn’t leave any kind of physical trace,” he said. It was an on-point statement in a Milan season that resounded with the industry’s call for sustainability. At Marni, for instance, Francesco Risso patchworked his garments from scraps, hand-spun things and artisanally sculpted metal pieces.
Dolce & Gabbana devoted their collection to Italian craftsmanship, knitting up a storm through suiting, outerwear, skirting, shoes, and bags. “Everything is handmade. We worked with artisans’ unions from the north to the south of Italy,” Stefano Gabbana explained, nothing that he and Domenico Dolce are making the necessary preparations for putting their handmade pieces into production for the stores. From reflections on sustainability to the sensibility of womenswear today, the shows in Milan dealt with the fashion industry’s ever-increasing impact on our collective mentality. As showgoers rushed to Paris amid increasing coronavirus alerts, this week fashion rarely felt closer to the eye of the hurricane that shapes the news landscape and our everyday lives.