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In Milan, Fashion to Die For (And From)

‘If we see the same thing each day, then we die,’ said Gaetano Pesce, who did the set at Bottega Veneta. It was an unwitting commentary on too much of the latest Milan fashion week, writes Angelo Flaccavento.
‘If we see the same thing each day, then we die,’ said Gaetano Pesce, who did the set at Bottega Veneta. It was an unwitting commentary on too much of the latest Milan fashion week, writes Angelo Flaccavento.
The finale at Bottega Veneta at Milan Fashion Week. (Bottega Veneta)

MILAN — “People who say we are all the same — fuck them! We are all different. This is our defining quality. Otherwise, we are just a copy,” said Gaetano Pesce, discussing the colourful set — a tribute to diversity — he designed for Matthieu Blazy’s sophomore outing at Bottega Veneta. “We are all originals, and this is one of the themes of my design,” added Pesce.

These words, coming from a radical, relentlessly original 82-year-old at the tail end of the Milan shows, was a sort of unwitting commentary on the wider state of fashion. “If we see the same thing each day, then we die,” continued Pesce. But with a few exceptions, Blazy’s collection being one of them, there wasn’t much newness in Milan. It was mostly fashion to die from — not for.

Fashion’s growing focus on marketing has made the product bland, fast and easy. Just look at what Remo Ruffini has built from a down jacket, the most utilitarian of garments. Moncler’s colossal take over of Piazza Duomo for the company’s 70th anniversary — as entertaining and emotional as it was frightening with its totalitarian undertones — was much ado about nothing in fashion terms. There was one jacket, multiplied to the nth degree, a kind of aesthetic alarm bell.

The lack of new ideas was particularly disappointing because this season was filled with designer debuts at the creative helms of four houses in need of change: Missoni, Etro, Bally and Ferragamo. What is wrong with the new guard of creative directors? They all came with stellar CVs and points of view. But they seemed to ultimately lack the guts to disrupt. Part of the blame lies with the CEOs who run the show. They are the real decision-makers nowadays and the plans they devise are highly predictable: cater to younger consumers; create hit items.

At Ferragamo, a new start came with a kind of patricide: Salvatore was severed from the label’s name. The storied Florentine house has been forever needed modernising, and the young but focused Maximilian Davis largely delivered on his mission. He has an assured point of view, but he charted too many waters, from sharp tailoring to luxurious utility to beautiful flou. The idea of minimising design to amplify sensuality stood out, and yet the accessories needed a sharper eye and a softer touch. Most convincing was the energy.

At Missoni, Filippo Grazioli went for the kind of bodycon stripping down that maximises sex appeal: a powerful intuition, which unfortunately translated into a repetitive collection of skimpy miniskirts and long dresses in the usual fiammato and zig zags. Of course, the challenge here was balancing freshness with continuity, but it didn’t quite hang together.

Things were tepid at Etro, too, where Marco De Vincenzo thankfully ejected the boho chic of the past, but did not convincingly take things in a new direction. There were hints of things to come: the denim-like jacquards, the club-kid platforms and the trippy make-up were a start, but one would have hoped for the creative director to dive more boldly into the hypnotic psychedelia he is so good at. Best of the lot, despite whiffs of Tom Ford, was Rhuigi Villaseñor at Bally: at least, the Californian raised the slightly chilly Swiss temperature of the brand.

At Trussardi, a reinvention began last season with the instalment of GmbH creative directors Benjamin Huseby and Serhat Išik, but it is not yet clear where it is heading. This time, the contrast between slinky jerseys and armour-like leathers looked right but needed fine-tuning.

The only place where a bold reinvention is really working is Diesel. Perhaps this is no surprise: Glenn Martens is one of the most accomplished fashion authors of his generation, and a true original. By playing with vulgarity, pop and denim, twisting it all around in his warped imagination while adding a hefty dose of fabric experimentation, Martens has brought freshness to the brand that is both familiar and distorted. Elsewhere, Fausto Puglisi’s take on Roberto Cavalli’s glitz might not be the most modern of things, but at least it has substance.

Things did not look good at Fendi, and it wasn’t just a matter of utilitarian inspiration translated predictably into aprons and fatigues in leather and satin. The revered Roman house is going flat and losing the extraordinary material richness and three-dimensionality that were once a signature. Meanwhile, at Boss, a grand presentation seemed a cover up for the sombreness of broad-shouldered tailoring that, albeit well-made, did not look particularly original.

At Gucci, the theatre was intensely emotional. Based around the idea of twin-ness and otherness, the show was quite a moment, the sight of twins holding hands and then separating full of meaning that moved some to tears. Yet, the moment was not a fashion moment. Filled with 80s and ethnic references, and a zing of sexy sharpness, this was another Gucci jumble. More and more, Alessandro Michele seems to be designing a collection that never changes.

At Prada the focus was decidedly on clothes, which were crude, flattened, rag-like almost like doll’s clothes long forgotten in the attic. A few items like the shirt jumpsuits were deeply unflattering, and certainly the broken couture theme is a staid Prada trope. But there was something strangely energising about the outing. The crudeness was timely; the sense of pauperism, too. Mrs Prada, now in the company of Raf Simons, has the rare ability, every now and then, to reset everything and regain, so to speak, fashion’s virginity. After the logo craze of the recent past, all this nothingness oozed power.

When it comes to a straightforward focus on clothes, Giorgio Armani remains the king. He is also the king of consistency, exploring themes of elongation, purity and deconstruction season after season, year after year. This new outing was particularly glimmering, and not just for the abundance of gold. It oozed a much welcomed sense of serenity. At Tod’s, Walter Chiapponi worked around the idea of normality and fluidity, delivering desirable pieces made in the most luxurious materials. Here, it was not about screaming, but about quietness, and it felt great.

Elsewhere, it was all about sex and seduction, in every possible shade, from womanly at Alessandro Dell’Acqua’s No.21 to a gothic but rather cheap at Versace, from dark and wild at Blumarine to colourful and clubby at GCDS. Andrea Adamo confirmed his status as Milan’s prince of all things slinky, toning down his unnecessary Alaïa references. There was seduction of another kind at MSGM: a deconstruction of the bride and her power. This meant lots of tulle and lots of stretch. Interesting, but the experiment felt unresolved.

It’s telling that two of the most convincing collections of the season bore heavy references to the work of Phoebe Philo. Her ghost has always hovered over Jil Sander, and yet this was one of Lucie and Luke Meier’s best outings, at once streamlined and glamorous, glitzy and rigorous, touched by the shimmer of sequins, crystals and embellishment as well as beautiful sunset colours.

The Old Céline whiffs were a given at Bottega Veneta: after all, creative director Matthieu Blazy worked there during a key moment, and that left an imprint, which was evident in his windswept tailoring and in the beautiful jacquard dresses inspired by Giacomo Balla. But despite these roots, Blazy has forged a signature of his own: what he can do with leather, transfiguring seemingly normal pieces like a pair of jeans or a check shirt is outstanding. And he cuts a mean dancing dress. Under his tenure, Bottega is getting back to the sophistication with edge of the Tomas Maier era. Daniel Lee was certainly bolder. But Blazy owns class.

At Sunnei, it was twins again, used as a springboard to question fashion’s ability to change appearances: one twin was in Sunnei, the other in normal clothing. It was a simple, but oh so effective device, which highlighted Simone Rizzo and Loris Messina’s sense of playfulness.

Vitelli was pure chaos, of a vital kind, and a declaration of independence. Mauro Simionato, the wunderkind behind the label said in the show notes: “The orthodoxy of trends defines popularity and it is not my means of participation.” Amen.

Further Reading

From Versace in church to Blazy in charge, emotions in motion drive Italian fashion as it goes through a generational shift, writes Tim Blanks.



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