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Milan Day Four: Thinking of a Master Plan

Bottega Veneta, Jil Sander and Versace make radically different journeys through space and time for Spring 2024, writes Tim Blanks.
Versace Spring/Summer 2024
Versace Spring/Summer 2024 (Indigital)

MILAN — All over Milan this week, the digital screens at tram stops were playing promos for the Bottega Veneta show on Saturday night. It featured faces of all races and genders dissolving into each other in a kind of pixillated “family of man” effect, which made it an effective prelude to the magical collection Matthieu Blazy showed, because he embraced the world with his clothes. “South America, Southeast Asia, Russia, Brittany, Sicily, everywhere was a possibility,” a visibly moved Blazy said after the show. “We tried to blend them to create a new culture, always connected to the idea of Italian style.”

The venue was painted as a giant abstracted map, with continents and oceans and migrating species (birds and fish) to underscore the couldn’t-be-timelier theme (on Saturday, the UK’s monstrous home secretary Suella Braverman launched yet another broadside against migrants’ rights). Blazy acknowledged that timeliness when he said, “every journey is a tribulation, everyone dreams of places they have to get to.” But he insisted his own focus had been on the idea of travel as an ideal, a transformation of body and mind. He set his course by hope.

Transformations are built into the codes of Blazy’s Bottega, given the trompe l’oeil effects the atelier has achieved with leather. “This time we looked a lot at natural wonders, a seashell, something you cherish even as a kid. We made freeform shapes. The idea was to erase the codes.” It was practically a collection of souvenirs. Black leather wrapped a model’s waist like a sarong. The thick fringing around the neck of a jacket echoed a lei around the neck of a woman arriving at Honolulu Airport in an old photo Blazy found. One dress was delicately suspended from straps made of shells. Another, in red leather, said Havana (to me, anyway). Others made of netting snared huge raffia balls, like sea sponges. A chunky leather peacoat and cropped pant combination suggested a sailor on shore leave, kit bag slung across his shoulder. (The bags throughout were notable, especially the huge “straw” intrecciato carryalls.) Then there were the Bottega signatures, the extraordinary work with bias-cut skins, the indefinable textures of coats and dresses.

The show had a cinematic arc. The model who opened the show in a stark one-piece (AKA an old-fashioned bathing suit), with one of those straw beach bags carrying her previous life, also closed it in an expanded, full-length, long-sleeved version of the same thing, only now it had sprouted little white knots of fabric like peashoots, or germinating seeds of self-awareness. It made me wonder about the chance encounters such a traveller may have had with all the characters between Look 1 and Look 72. Travel broadens the mind, after all.

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Lucie and Luke Meier’s journey with Jil Sander has been about a similar expansion of sensibility. This season, they physically shrank their show space by lowering the ceiling with a dense forest of white ribbons (altogether, 40 kilometers of them) but the emotional effect was paradoxically airy and expansive, which is how the collection felt too, even with the volumes that the Meiers have turned into a signature.

They said they were looking for impressive shapes this season. Square-shouldered jackets and coats were forceful, but there was also a sporty elegance in pocketed skirts and the culotte-like shorts. A capsule of grey wool suiting had a uniform feel, “but it’s so light, it floats,” Lucie pointed out. She and Luke have been softening the edges of the rigour that was Jil’s calling card. There was a flow to the clothes, and also a twist of surreal humour in the prints of a cat and a dog. “Totally random,” said Luke. “It’s a wink at the fruit from last season.” Because randomness unhinges the quest for perfection, and, once unhinged, the quest must find its way back to the purity, the serenity that the Meiers love.

Or do they? The Meiers say they want beauty and calm but they feel the anxiety in the world. There was an intriguingly unsettled undertow to their new collection. Python-printed leather and oil-slick eelskin added a new dynamism. Some of the models sported Fifties greaser hairdos. Jonas Glöer, for instance, looked like a right young rebel without a cause. And the soundtrack, a glorious collage of jazz and soul legends Alice Coltrane and Terry Callier, summoned worlds away from Sander country.

In times like these, fashion can find a security in the past. Donatella Versace opened her show with Kendell Jenner in a duchesse satin shift and silver Mary Janes, with her hair bouffily swept back and clasped by a Medusa-head hairgrip. She was the spitting image of Barbara Parkins in Valley of the Dolls (1967). The subsequent parade of Versace boys and girls had a similarly retro feel, the Ken-like men in silky shirts and shorts, the women in chic little Sixties suits, and everyone in pastel twinsets with embossed Barocco detailing, like Wedgewood china dolls.

Donatella’s extravagantly-praised LA reboot in March fired up her respect for the work of the Versace atelier, and when she settled on the hyper-tailoring of Gianni’s Spring 1995 couture show as an inspiration, she gave her craftsfolk another opportunity to flex their sartorial muscle. Unsurprisingly, they produced the strongest pieces in the show, like Anok Yai in tailored leather and Adut Akech in an hourglass black suit. But their sharp edge made a pointedly stark contrast to the Barbie sugariness of model groupings in palest pink, lime and lemon.

If Donatella hadn’t already recreated Versace’s supermodel heyday for the Spring 2018 show that marked the 20th anniversary of her brother’s death, this would have been the ideal year to do it, given the current surge of interest in that time, those women. Instead, she brought back Claudia Schiffer in an appearance rare enough that she probably qualifies as the supermodel catch of the season. Unfortunately, Claudia arrived too late to add some juice to the show.


Further Reading
About the author
Tim Blanks
Tim Blanks

Tim Blanks is Editor-at-Large at The Business of Fashion. He is based in London and covers designers, fashion weeks and fashion’s creative class.

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