MILAN, Italy — Industry insiders have long debated the vitality of Milan’s fashion week. For years, the city lacked the kind of young design talent that flourished in New York and London. Meanwhile the large Italian luxury houses showing in Milan came across as creatively conservative — some would say stagnant — compared to their counterparts in other fashion capitals, relying on the commercial heft of their brands to draw showgoers each season.
But with Alessandro Michele’s reinvigoration of Gucci, the rise of young designers like Massimo Giorgetti and Stella Jean, and the coming of Carlo Capasa — the dynamic new head of the Camera Nazionale della Moda — Italy’s main fashion week seems to have newfound momentum.
What’s more, the arrival of the Milan Expo, which opened here earlier this year, has unleashed a wave of new cultural energy and confidence across the city, attracting investment, tourism and the attention of the global media, coming on the heels of the recent unveiling of major privately-backed cultural centres like the Fondazione Prada and Armani/Silos.
Is Milan Fashion Week back? BoF spoke to a series of global fashion insiders to get their verdict:
Carlo Capasa, chairman and president, Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana
"When we are able to put together heritage and innovation, we have a very good chance to be unique and to succeed. And Gucci, when you look at the collection, the style of Alessandro Michele, it is very much about that. He is using all the heritage possible of Gucci, but it is in a completely innovative way. And this is a very, very good vision of the future and represents a strong point of Italy for everything."
Franca Sozzani, editor-in-chief, Vogue Italia
"I think that Milan is kind of living a new renaissance. I mean, it’s always had this kind of waves, up and down. Now, I think that the people are taking a risk — as they did with Alessandro Michele, because it’s a risk to appoint an unknown designer in a moment in which everybody wants to have a famous name. It’s quite courageous, because I was not sure that this could be successful. And so having him has given the sense to a lot of other people that we have to move on. We cannot be stuck to the past — stuck to the fact that our brand is doing very well. And this is what makes the difference here now."
Jim Gold, president and chief merchandising officer, Neiman Marcus
"The newfound momentum surrounding Milan Fashion Week has been fuelled by the excitement surrounding Alessandro Michele's recent revitalisation of Gucci, enthusiasm for collections such as Marco de Vincenzo and Gianvito Rossi, coupled with the continued fashion relevance of powerful brands such as Prada, Fendi, Brunello Cucinelli and Moncler. Additionally, the recent opening of the Fondazione Prada has invigorated the art scene in Milan adding a new level of inspiration."
Angelica Cheung, editor-in-chief, Vogue China
"Everybody is talking about Gucci. It’s not, for me, about the design per se. It’s more about how he [Alessandro Michele] sees the world and how he sees people’s lifestyle. He’s interesting and he’s not bound by trends or bound by references, in a way that the fashion circle has always been operating — referencing certain eras, referencing certain things. I thought that was quite refreshing, that for example he still used shoes from last season because he thought they looked perfectly good with the new collection. We need to start asking, all these rules and boundaries and methodologies that we've used for long time, whether they still apply to today’s world and how people are living."
Vanessa Friedman, fashion director and chief fashion critic, The New York Times
"Actually it’s a relatively good week for clothes, but it’s been a quiet week for scene, which is kind of striking. I think there have been a noticeable lack of personalities at shows compared to New York and compared to Milan in previous seasons. But I think it has had the net effect of making the clothes more important, which is not a bad thing, and reminding us that that is actually what this is supposed to be about, as opposed to what celebrities you can get in your front row. And I do think there seems to be a new creative energy here, you know, even amongst old names. Donatella’s show is probably one of the best shows she has done in seasons."
Karchun Leung, editor-in-chief, Numéro China
"There’s definitely something changing, because there is a hub. Everyone was talking about Gucci of course, so you feel the energy and the collection is getting more young than before."
Daria Shapovalova, creative director, Mercedes-Benz Kiev Fashion Days
"There are not so many young designers in Milan, but we all know that and it’s interesting to see at least new appointments at the big fashion houses. Massimo Giorgetti at Pucci, Peter Dundas at Roberto Cavalli — it gave Milan the new vibe. Previously, we were coming to Milan and we knew that we would see Pucci and Dolce and Gabbana and Prada and all those big shows, and no news. I think this season will be afterwards considered as a stand out and game changing because of that — because it pushed the new direction."
Simone Marchetti, fashion editor, La Repubblica
"Milano, in my opinion, never been went out. The problem here is not creativity, it is the system — now the system is working. Some say that Italy is not a country for young people and that’s unfortunately very true, historically and politically speaking. In the very high positions, we have old people and it was the same — now it’s not any more. With Carlo Capasa, he was able to also to put the financial system into the system, so that means that now they are giving money and credit to young designers. Things are finally changing. We saw a lot of debuts — Pucci, Roberto Cavalli. They were so-and-so, I know, but they were debuts, so it means that everyone now is looking at here. I hope that in the future, in the upcoming month, the season is getting stronger and stronger — that is the most important thing. But at the end, never forget that we have only one Saint Laurent and one Coco Chanel in one century. You can’t wait for a big designer each season — it’s impossible."
Jessica Michault, editor-in-chief, NOWFASHION.com
"I think what you have to look at is that we’re seeing a lot of Italian designers running Italian houses — there’s the revival of Pucci, there’s Gucci of course, Fausto Puglisi has got his own line — so we’re seeing all of these Italian designers really taking back the Italian houses and we’re seeing people like Marco De Vincenzo, who did magnificent collection, and Gabriele Colangelo, who was an LVMH Prize finalist. In the past it felt really dusty — very commercial, very safe — and now we’re seeing some designers that are really trying to push things, that are trying to use the Italian craftsmanship and come up with new ways to use fabrics and use new technology to show fashion in a new light and to show that made in Italy really has a resonance in the world still. So yes, I would say that Italian fashion is coming back."
Penny Martin, editor-in-chief, The Gentlewoman
"Coming to Milan fashion week — it’s surprisingly energetic and buoyant. It feels as if everything has been turned upside down in a really good way. The brands that I came expecting to see the development of an aesthetic or an idea that you always expect, actually haven’t delivered in the same way. So I feel really keyed up in a way that sometimes I don’t feel when I’ve been in Milan. It feels like there’s a new economic optimism, even if the models aren’t in place — it’s as if the Milanese can imagine digging their way out of the problem. Previously for the last two seasons it was as if somebody had died."
Kelly Wong, general merchandising manager womenswear, Lane Crawford
"Among New York, London and Milan, what I have seen in Milan has been the most exciting. There’s a new kind of energy here, able to wow the audience and really create inspirational power. Most of the designers who show in New York and London are young — emerging or contemporary designers — and product is commercial and new, but Milan is where artisanal heritage can even eclipse younger talent. The venue set up and collection of Gucci was beautiful, not in a commercial way, but in showing the intricacy of detail, Italian expertise of art and luxury. The mixture of fabrics, embellishments, colours and making the old new and desirable again was really inspiring."
Angelo Flaccavento, writer
"Milano Fashion Week is definitely back — if it ever was out. And it is back mainly for the strong fashion offer — the World Expo being just a lateral boost. We saw great collections from Marni, Prada, Marco De Vincenzo, MSGM, Damir Doma. Italy is generally averse to generational turnover. But, truth be told, you cannot stop it, and this lively edition proved it. There is a new establishment, made of very individual voices, and the whole system is benefiting from it. It is an entirely Italian behavioural pattern to rise again when everything seems to be lost. There is a lot of ferment in town in general: new magazines, new creatives, new authors are shaking up the status quo."