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Milan Fashion Week Trades Gen-Z for Grown-Up

The week of shows that ended on Sunday was an exercise in multiplicity, strictness and seduction, writes Angelo Flaccavento.
A model walks the runway during the Bottega Veneta Autumn/Winter 2023 fashion show.
Looks from the Bottega Veneta Autumn/Winter 2023 fashion show. (Getty Images)

MILAN — There is a sense of directionlessness that dominates the fashion system at the moment — and not just in Italy. Merchandisers, once hidden away in the retail divisions of fashion houses, are now front and centre, resulting in collections that cater to a wide church of consumers, at the expense of a clear point of view.

Nowhere was this more clear this week than at transitional Gucci, where the idea of putting the headless studio team that signed the collection into the spotlight only to push them back into the shadows when new creative director, Sabato De Sarno, takes the reins in a few months felt a little cringeworthy. A creative director is there not only to define the aesthetic direction of a label. A creative director must also defend that direction from merchandisers. Safe to say this didn’t happen at Gucci, where the collection looked like the offspring from a love affair between Tom Ford and Demna. In trying to distance itself from Alessandro Michele’s over-the-top eccentricism, Gucci swung back to sex and the archive, but it all felt more Gucci Outlet than Gucci Garden.

Multiplicity was a key theme in Milan: we can be whatever we want to be, at any given moment. On the catwalk, this took many forms, from Fendi’s tepid riff on the intermingling of masculine and feminine, with needlessly intricate tailoring and some brilliant knitwear, to MSGM’s collage of this and that, where only the black looked in focus. At Jil Sander, where designers Lucie and Luke Meier celebrated their fifth year, clarity was trumped by conceptual play, much in the vein of Jonathan Anderson’s Loewe, which is both a benchmark and a competitor. It was a much more lively and varied outing than usual, but an overt sense of effort blunted the beauty of the pieces.

There was variety too at Ferrari, where creative director Rocco Iannone keeps pushing fashion with a capital F — an admirable effort, but one that clashes with the automotive roots of the brand. Seeing the Ferrari lettering, even just the prancing horse, on ladylike pieces, or on experimental volumes like the Bolidist trousers is a bit awkward. The collection was more interesting when it was rigorous and strict, while the experimentations with texture and shape felt a little much.

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It was Bottega Veneta’s Matthieu Blazy who managed to turn out a take on multiplicity that felt warm and wonderful to look at. Starting off with the idea of the street, where all walks of life meet, and stretching it towards the concept of an Italian parade, Blazy delivered a line up of looks all different one from the other. His hand felt a little heavy and the resulting offering lacked focus, but one had to admire the level of craftsmanship and attention given to every little detail, from the jacquard textures to the curvaceous cuts of the tailoring. The collection really hit its stride with its loungewear and sleepwear-inspired pieces, as well as the simpler, stripped down items.

The other main theme this season was the mix of strictness and seduction: a shift away from Gen-Z towards a more grown up kind of allure in iterations ranging from Helmut Newton-esque glamour, as seen at Dolce & Gabbana with much sparkle and focus or in the lab mutation fantasy of Del Core, a label that is finally finding its identity, to wise riffs of old Armani, which were everywhere.

The collarless tailoring and broad shouldered crewneck tops at Tod’s were very King Giorgio, circa 1984, magnificently updated without losing the classicism. Marching to his own drum, with focus, sensitivity and consistency, Walter Chiapponi has turned the temple of Italian classicism into a quiet fashion force that whispers instead of shouting. Tod’s boss Diego Della Valle’s love for upper class pomp got twisted with a refined fashion sensibility, be it in the play of volumes or the keen use of neutral shades.

There were faint Armani echoes, mixed with quite a dose of streamlined eroticism leading for the first time to an animalier print at Calcaterra, a designer who’d really deserve more attention for both sense of volume and accomplishment. Mr Armani himself was very Armani at Giorgio, in a charming and intimate iteration of fluidity, elongation and tons of velvet. At N.21, Alessandro Dell’Acqua keeps pushing forward voluptuous femininity in place of edginess, and it works. This time around, it made for a classy, strict yet erotic outing drenched with Dell’Acqua’s admiration for Mrs Prada while exploring an idea of undressing that is all his own — and captivating.

For Mrs Prada and her co-creative director Raf Simons, strictness and the slight or not so slight perversities that can arise from it, are a given, as is the sense of toying with the uniforms of those who work around the upper classes: maids, butlers, tutors. This time round, it was nurses, more in the classic soft-porn vein, devoid of the Richard Prince overlayer, in a collection that explored uniform dressing, voluptuous femininity and archetypes rethought. It was perfect and perfectly Prada: a sharper, more pointy take on the familiar codes. In reassessing the power of an unmistakable identity, however, it left one craving for the frisson that, at the moment, Mrs Prada only delivers at Miu Miu. That energy, here at Prada, was missing.

Speaking of strictness and seduction, who would have ever thought that Loewe’s pannier from last season would become a trend? They did, and nowhere was this more on point than Max Mara, in an outing that twisted the ease and classicism the brand stands for in seductive new directions that did not feel forced. A waist cincher, or a small train were enough and on point to make the beiges and the blacks feel fresh.

Elsewhere, it was not about restraint, but abandon and excess, much with a late ‘90s/ early ‘00s vibe. In the span of a few seasons, Glenn Martens has brought back Diesel to Wilbert Das’ heyday, when David Lachapelle was in charge of the campaigns. The raciness of the whole endeavor is contagious, challenging notions of good taste with a welcome “fuck you” that’s perfect for the moment. As for the future, Martens has plenty of talent to evolve. Nicola Brognano has revitalised Blumarine with an injection of Y2K sass, but the approach has already turned into a formula: it is, in other words, predictable, easy on the references. This season’s Joan of Arc fantasy started with a bang that soon turned into a yawn. Rhuigi Villaseñor keeps moulding the Bally identity with a sultry Halston-by-way-of-Tom-Ford fantasy; the outdoorsy and mountaineering roots of the brand pushed away; but hey, sex sells and the new image has impact.

In Italy, it’s hard to turn family businesses around with new creative directions. Somehow, the past always wins, even when brands are sold or come under new management. At Roberto Cavalli, it was the early ‘00s all over again, complete with flares, tiger stripes, denim and lace. Designer Fausto Puglisi went back to the roots, with much gusto. The result was timely and bombastic, but it would also be interesting to see a more personal point of view, an unexpected take on the familiar.

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At Etro, so far, it’s been a matter of plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. After joining the brand last year, Marco de Vincenzo immediately replaced its boho attitude with a more rigorous stance, which was a good move, but he still has to deliver the goods. This season’s alternation of tailoring and flou had charm, but one was left craving a bit more theatre. Knitwear, so far, is where Etro is making strides.

Speaking of knitwear, over at Missoni, Filippo Grazioli made progress: this outing felt more personal and round, all bodycon raciness and tactile textures. Grazioli is clearly not feeling the mix and match, which can make sense. His way with layering needs to be perfected, but it is a hint of a fresh new direction that could soon bloom.

The stakes were high at Ferragamo: so high the show setting got needlessly big, even totalitarian in the way it made the audience feel small in front of the brand. In his second outing at the brand, Maximilian Davis felt way more consistent and focused: tailoring was the main thing, with curvaceous shapes on women and straight lines for men. It was all very taut and elegant, but also a bit cold and at times rigid. Davis is very young, and the pressure on him must be high: learning to let go won’t be easy, but it would bring Ferragamo exactly the energy that it lacks.

What about the new guard? Mauro Simionato keeps moulding Vitelli into a laboratory for bonkers and beautiful experimentation, with a joy and a verve that recalls Missoni in its heyday but has a radical psychedelic spin all his own. At GCDS, Giuliano Calza ventured away from the pop and logo craze to test more grown up waters: gowns, suiting, ladylike bags. It was a bold step forward: one that asks for attentive fine-tuning.

Marco Rambaldi is evolving out of crochet and rags: the identity of the brand seems in a state of flux, but there is a spark. Andrea Adamo has been part of the bodycon wave since he debuted during Covid. With both naivety and determination, he is adamant in growing: this season he added tailoring and the aesthetic evolved in more structured directions. It was bold, at times heavy, yet hopeful.

But it’s really Sunnei that offered bright hope for the Milanese future. With admirable stubbornness and a juvenile will not to mingle with the rest of the system, designers Loris Messina and Simone Rizzo keep doing their thing. Their show this season was the best in Milan and was proof that you can amaze even on a shoestring budget. The stage diving extravaganza was emotional and served perfectly well their modular, playful clothing. In an age dominated by excess and sensory overload, small and focused is beautiful.

Further Reading

How to Remake/Remodel a Fashion Icon

On the first day of Milan Fashion Week, Kim Jones, Glenn Martens and Fausto Puglisi offer different strategies for future-proofing, writes Tim Blanks.

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