MILAN, Italy — One image stuck out from the Milan Fashion Week that closed on Monday. On the very first day of the week, upon arriving at the new Gucci headquarters, a giant red brick building on the outskirts of town, guests were greeted by a wall emblazoned with enormous graffiti spelling: "What are we going to do with all this future?"
It was written by up-and-coming artist and photographer Coco Capitán, whose trademark shaky handwriting also featured on the show invitation — a vinyl album no less. But scattered along ten or so meters of a wall it took on a wholly different meaning, at once ominous and sarcastic. Was it Dadaist provocation, a poignant question or mere verification? Probably all of the above, or none of the above. But to my eyes, it felt like a perfect commentary on the current state of fashion.
After all, industry professionals gather periodically in the world’s fashion capitals precisely to get a tiny glimpse of the future. Yet, with fashion images spreading faster and faster, and the widening gap between the fashion bubble and the real world (nouveau realism and peculiar casting notwithstanding) it really seems like we are at odds with what to do with all of the future we constantly witness.
It is, quite simply, too much: a bombardment that leaves you with almost nothing: eyes swollen, brain devoid of content and yet hungry for more — like junkies. Creation — and I do not mean the outlandish or the crazy, but that which truly contains the seeds of progress — is missing. That is the only certainty.
Today, fashion is a cauldron of everything and nothing. As fashion editor turned social media celebrity Anna Dello Russo stated in one of her gawky yet amusing Instagram videos, the latest trend is Noah's Ark, which means this and that, haphazardly put together. There was chaos — controlled chaos — spawning across everything from Prada to Giorgio Armani and back to Francesco Risso's head-scratching debut at Marni. Looking for meaning — and sometimes even for the frailest fil rouge — was pointless. Too much, in fact, means nothing.
Milan Fashion Week, all considered, offered stimulation, but no real satisfaction. Don't get me wrong: on a general level most of the collections were impeccably designed and produced, but delivered clothes, not visions. Which is perfectly fine: a focus on product is Milan's forte and it has always been. Just look at how wonderful Max Mara can get when it sticks to the staples of the feminine wardrobe.
But it’s one thing to deliver products that thrill and another to reiterate existing trends. And in Milan, the only thing that's being reiterated ad nauseam is decoration on one side and big, protective Vetements-inflected volumes on the other. The latter even landed, brilliantly twisted, at Versace.
Alessandro Michele of Gucci gave embellishment an unexpected boost a couple of years ago and now almost everybody is after him. That's fashion's old debate around convention and rebellion. Spot a winning trend and jump on it. Even a label as classic as Trussardi went mildly decorative this season — to mention just one example of the persistent streaks of Gucci-fication. This is also what, sadly, gave even the wonderfully wrought-out Prada show a sense of déjà vu in its aftertaste: it looked like Miuccia's own take on what everybody else is doing already.
Sure Mrs Prada is the actual originator of the whole mash-up school of thinking — with Michele being her most skilled son — but what we really like about her, and what she's not giving us at the moment, is contrary thinking. Mrs Prada is at her best when she goes counter current, but this season she did not.
Milan is in desperate need of fresh creative blood, that's for sure. Yet, just like the whole city is currently being turned into one big construction site — new subway line, new buildings — so the Milanese system is a work-in-progress. The scene is changing but it is still difficult to find new players who have the same weight and the same assertiveness of their predecessors.
There are new things happening and a sense of generational turnover is well underway, but still we must find visionaries able to lead things forward. Alessandro Michele is one, but he works within the Gucci framework, so in a way it's easier for him to be heard. But what about his peers or younger names?
It’s one thing to deliver products that thrill and another to reiterate existing trends.
Will Fulvio Rigoni and Francesco Risso succeed at the creative helm of Ferragamo and Marni respectively? Will Lorenzo Serafini be able to leave a mark with Philosophy? Only time will tell, hoping that the respective managements will allow them seasons and instruments to grow. Expecting success right away is inhuman, because now, more than ever before, talent needs the support of management to grow.
As for independents, Marco de Vincenzo is probably the most assured of the crop. Slowly but steadily, he is taking over the scene with his charmingly bonkers take on ladylike. As for the rest, will Fausto Puglisi, Massimo Giorgetti, Lucio Vanotti, Arthur Arbesser and so on be the new purveyors of the “Made in Italy” flag?
Of these new players, some have decided, wisely, to stay niche, like poetic purist Vanotti or abstractist Gabriele Colangelo; others to focus on product, like Giorgetti. None of them are bold or radically brave in expressing themselves. And this is having an effect on the overall perception of Italian fashion.
Why things have gone this way is hard to tell. It is not a matter of schooling. Its probably because most of these creatives grew up in the professional ranks — so even when they go solo, they do not act like leaders.
Francesco Risso, for instance, has obvious talent and quite an eye for colours and materials, but he needs to symbolically do away with former boss Miuccia Prada in order to shine as an original. He also needs help from OTB in order to focus on defining Marni’s values. On top of that, he needs time.
The brilliant Fausto Puglisi should steer away from overt theatricality, or at lease embrace it in ways that truly matter. With the pompousness of his latest show he was in danger of alienating his public, which would be a pity because he is progressing well.
But enough with interpretation. What about the future? It was Dolce & Gabbana's theatrical acknowledgement of digital celebrity culture that said it all. The duo's show was all about entertainment and personality — not clothes. Indeed, that’s what matters most in the era of me.