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A Weekend in Milan

From Versace in church to Blazy in charge, emotions in motion drive Italian fashion as it goes through a generational shift, writes Tim Blanks.
Kate Moss walks the runway at Bottega Veneta
Kate Moss walks the runway at Bottega Veneta. (Getty Images)

MILAN — Italy’s far-far-right candidate Giorgia Meloni has been hammering away at the strength of her religious faith in her electoral campaign but her populist ploy to court the Catholic vote certainly seemed to get a rise out of Donatella Versace in her show on Friday night.

The venue was framed with digital stained glass windows. In the centre of the space was a glass chapel lined with clusters of tall black candles, their flickering flames, again, a trick of technology. The soundtrack played the devotional music of Prince finding his way to God via “Purple Rain.” So far, so faithful. But then the models began to walk in their serpentine black dresses and black biker leathers, and, as a voice intoned, “Church to God, God to the universe, the universe to art, art to drugs, drugs to sex, sex to the Devil,” the mass turned more black than Catholic. And that was Versace’s response to faith used as an electoral gimmick.

The rest of the show didn’t sustain that subversive fuck-you element. In fact, it mostly harked back to Donatella’s years as fashion’s rock chick supreme, with the slashed dresses, the handkerchief hems in fluttering chiffon, the corsets, the leather’n’lace, the sepulchral palette of black and purple. The Frankenstein platforms, on the other hand? Donatella herself likely wouldn’t have been caught dead in those. But then she offered a closing passage of young women with veiled heads and luridly shaded baby dolls, hellbent on confirming their faith, not to the Church, but to sex and the Devil. Bringing up the rear was Paris Hilton, looking like the ragged Mother Superior of those oh so willing sinners. Versace has always come down on the side of sin in Italy’s faceoff between body and soul. That’s helped shaped the brand’s signature over decades.

This season in Milan, there has been significant churn in the creative directorships of a handful of Italian fashion’s biggest names. After Missoni, Etro and Bally, you begin to wonder what a signature even means at this point.

In the case of Salvatore Ferragamo, it always meant exactly that. Signature as logo, maybe even in Salvatore’s own fair hand. But no more. To signpost the change embodied by young Brit designer Maximilian Davis, the graphic wizard Peter Savile designed a new logo. It reads simply “Ferragamo,” in classically capped letters. “People always call it that anyway,” Davis claimed after his debut show on Saturday. “It’s a lot more modern, a lot easier to say.”

Davis is one of fashion fairy godmother Lulu Kennedy’s babies. He launched his own line through her Fashion East initiative in London in September 2020. It was so distinctive, so accomplished that, at the time, I wrote he’d arrived fully formed. So here we are three years later and Davis has put his business on hold since being hired in March to attract a new audience for Ferragamo, a brand which is closing in on its centenary. The rise looks meteoric but you know that’s what they want from him – heat, sex, urgency – and he certainly has the rep, the clients (Rihanna, Dua Lipa, Kim K) and the community (stylist Ib Kamara, photographer Rafael Pavarotti) to justify their confidence.

Davis insisted he’d been given carte blanche to be as creative and risky as possible. You might have hoped for more of both from his Ferragamo debut, more of the nothing-to-lose quality which sparks the best young British fashion (especially because Davis has exuberantly proved what he’s capable of with his own brand) but this was luxury sportswear as neat and polished as Ferragamo’s past. Salvatore’s salad days in Hollywood were evoked in sunrise and sunset degradés, and starry Swarovski crystal embellishments. It was when New Hollywood made its presence felt in the fluid crossover between mens- and womenswear that you most felt Davis’ promise. All it’ll take is a little time.

I mean, look at Matthieu Blazy’s 17-year evolution from intern for Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga to currently steering Bottega Veneta into the future. Speaking of signatures, BV built its original identity on the catchphrase “When your own initials are enough.” That sense of the power of the individual was brought to the fore with Blazy’s latest collection, shaped with input from the legendary artist/architect Gaetano Pesce. He created the resin floor and the 400 chairs (each one different) on which the audience sat for the show. Blazy and Pesce thought of “the world in a small room,” all forms of human life — or more than 70 distinct characters, at least — travelling, moving through the space created by Pesce. The subtle dynamism of such an idea is at the heart of Blazy’s Bottega. After the show, he spoke of “motion and emotion” and “elegance and utility.” The union of ordinary form and function became something extraordinary in his hands.

“Perverse banality” Blazy called it, though it was alchemy more than banality that came to mind in its transformation of the casual, comfortable way most people dress. Here, those items of clothing — plaid shirt, polo, jeans, etcetera — were made from nubuck leather, using techniques that were “to the maximum of the making.” Same with the last three looks, rich with fringing woven into the fabric, another gorgeous new technique.

Blazy was keen to point out that, technicalities aside, his collection was very easy. Emotional, not technological. The most glorious section featured graphics inspired by drawings by Giacomo Balla, one of the artists who dominated Italy’s Futurist movement in the 1930s (where modernity was born, Blazy insisted). Textures of jacquard, embroidery and beading created looks that practically vibrated on the body. There was something distinctively cinematic in the effect. In fact, the whole collection left the impression of a kind of idiosyncratic, irresistible film noir take on luxury. Which was actually one of Bottega Veneta’s greatest strengths during the years of Tomas Maier’s tenure.



Further Reading

Can a piece of clothing carry the weight of an intensely personal vision? Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons would say a resounding yes, writes Tim Blanks.


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