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Armani, Bally, Ferragamo: The Last Days in Milan

The intimacy of a maestro, the grand gestures of the new kids on the block…they’re all making movies in their minds, writes Tim Blanks.
Ferragamo Autumn/Winter 2023
Ferragamo Autumn/Winter 2023 (Indigital)

MILAN — If Tomo Koizumi’s clouds (and caterpillar) of fizzing colour were the exclamation point at the end of Milan’s Fashion Week for next autumn, Giorgio Armani’s collection was the bronzed afterglow. He called it “Cipria”, which translates as “face powder” and explains why the models were made up with a clear emphasis on cheekbones and temples. The effect was a subtle diffusion of the heightened maquillage favoured by the fashion photographer Guy Bourdin, whose radical, provocative work from the 1970s and ‘80s is currently (thrillingly) on display in Armani’s exhibition space in Milan.

Those were, of course, the years when Armani was blazing his own revolutionary trail across fashion. In the wall text at the exhibition, Armani observes that, although they seemingly had very little in common, “Bourdin did not follow the crowd and he did not compromise and I identify with that.” Then he tellingly adds, “I don’t believe that there is any other way to make a mark on the collective imagination.”

You could look at the collection Armani showed on Sunday and see the lack of compromise, however subtly it may have been couched in the fluid tunic tops over delicately frilled trousers, or the black velvet drape of a piano shawl trailing metallic fringes, or, indeed, the general saturating languor of the clothes, like an opiated dream conjured from a silent movie. The models had kiss curls. As the show progressed, their heads were covered with fringes of beading, like flapper hats. Armani has always made movies in his head but now, they are more seductively idiosyncratic than ever. Like the late period of a great artist, where he is looking inside, not outside, and drawing succour from intimacy, rather than grand gestures.

Actually, almost any fashion designer is making movies in their heads. And it’s the prerogative of youth to be engaged by the grand gesture. Hence, Maximilian Davis and Rhuigi Villaseñor, the two young turks hired to transfigure Ferragamo and Bally, respectively. Both of them opted for the same guiding principle: Desire. I mean, if a designer doesn’t understand that desire is fashion’s mean motivator, then they’re in the wrong business. Desire can wear many faces in fashion: I want to be brighter, I want to be real-er, I want to be funnier, I want to be sexier. Davis and Villaseñor opt for the path of least resistance — sex. In that, they can look to the expert tutelage of forefathers like Versace and Ford. Villaseñor, in particular, did a great job channeling Ford in his first season for Bally. This time round, he expanded his repertoire, infusing his collection with a louche opulence that possibly erred on the side of excess. Like the most fetishized, riding-booted patrician dressing. You could fairly say that was the fantasy root of Ralph Lauren’s empire-building, and, like Ralph, Rhuigi is the consummate outsider, the Filipino boy who lived in the US for 20 years without a passport, with his nose pressed to Town and Country’s window. One lesson he will acquire with experience from his patron saint Tom Ford is the power of the cocked eyebrow. You can’t take yourself too seriously with that particular vision. His show would have benefited from the effervescence of a disco beat, rather than the stentorian electronica which sank it in self-importance. But Rhuigi is 31. He practically has a lifetime to learn.


Maximilian Davis is four years younger. Speaking of grand gestures, his second presentation for Ferragamo was staged against a towering navy wall that felt like a Richard Serra commission (though Villaseñor could claim Leonard de Vinci’s house as his venue…wait, I digress). And I wouldn’t have been surprised, given the way that the art world now seems to genuflect to the fashion world. More than his debut, Davis tapped his own body-conscious leanings with this new collection. It was stark and cool, and it also had a little slyness in its celebration of the good ol’ red, white and blue (and yellow). Ferragamo traditionally has deep roots in the US, at least in its Old Hollywood incarnation.

If modernising that kind of glamour is one of the challenges Davis faces, it’s not yet clear how he can do that in a way that convinces a new audience. A ruched silver lamé micro dress was a glaringly obvious flourish. Still, if Ferragamo has traditionally been an accessories house, there was certainly an abundance of impressive bags. Maybe that’s the platform from which Davis can spread his wings.

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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