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Where Are the Fashion Auteurs?

Simplicity was everywhere in Milan this season. More rare was a sense of personal fashion authorship, writes Angelo Flaccavento.
Tom Ford Spring/Summer 2024.
Tom Ford Spring/Summer 2024. (Getty Images)

MILAN — Fashion has become big business. Increasingly this means aesthetic decisions are made, not in the design studio, not even in the atelier, but in the merchandising and marketing departments. Designers are no longer free to take risks and the result is collections whose authorship is diluted or else heavy handed in order to be heard.

Does Sabato De Sarno, whose debut at the creative helm of Gucci was the most highly anticipated moment of Milan Fashion Week, aim to be a fashion auteur? He clearly does, but he seems intent on taking a bottom up approach: working on the product before the vision. The choice left this critic disappointed. De Sarno delivered a collection that was perfectly fine with a fresh energy and a young vibe. However, there were few clues as to the direction in which he aims to take the brand. If normality was the goal, let it be radical normality. The fact is, much of what De Sarno delivered is already out there… but let’s give the guy some time.

Curiously, everybody was expecting De Sarno go Gucci à la Tom Ford and there were quite a few nods in this direction. But it was Peter Hawkings’ debut the day before at the helm of the Tom Ford brand that teleported us straight to the late 90s, complete with velvet tuxedos, slinky dresses, Elsa Peretti-esque buckles and satin shirts. With the world gravitating back to that moment in fashion, it was a wise move on Hawkings’ part, but for more seasoned viewers it looked a little déjà vu. Next time around I’d love to see some more personal, novel tweaks to the template.

More than anything, simplicity was in the air in Milan this season. Simplicity in its many shades: both a reaction to extravagant design meant for social media and a drive towards commerciality. The thing is, simplicity conceived as complexity resolved can be exciting, even timeless. Otherwise, simplicity risks being elementary and forgettable. Milan had plenty of both.

In his last show at Tod’s, Walter Chiapponi delivered an exceptionally emotional, agitated take on severity: one that took 90s references and a love for the classics in a very personal direction. Simone Bellotti delivered the goods with his Bally debut in what was one of the pleasant surprises of the season. The show was a gem of severity and grace, reassessing Bally’s Swissness with an intelligent touch. There were probably way too many traces of Alessandro Michele’s Gucci, where Bellotti previously worked, but nothing that further polishing can’t trim away.

At Ferragamo, in what looked like his best outing so far, Maximilian Davies softened the irrepressible precision with a healthy dose of flou and injections of colour. His usually dry take on simplicity warmed up a bit, finally, but it’s still hard to see exactly where the brand is going. So far, it looks like Italian lightness infused with old Celine. But if there’s still a sense of momentum missing, the accessories were certainly on point.

There were still echoes of Phoebe Philo and quite some Loewe at Jil Sander, but it was refreshing to see Lucie and Luke Meier finally let go and inject some pomp and some grandness into the Jil Sander codes, breaking the mould. It makes sense. Minimalism today is owned by the high street, while a merging of severity and frivolity, as the Meiers delivered, is more attuned with the times in which we are living.

Straightforwardness and function coalesced in an elongated line at MM6. Daniel Del Core delivered a more focused message. But despite the lively touches of orange and the painterly colour blocking, the newly sombre ladies at Fendi looked more like chic beguines than the free Roman ladies they were heralded as. At Ferrari, Rocco Iannone keeps trying to build a luxury fashion imagery around the automotive brand. It’s not an easy task. The battle between Iannone’s fashionable intentions — this season everything was deliciously clean — and the rather obvious racing references was on full display. But this outing looked more fashion than merch: a step forward.

In the reductionist climate, the 90s are still an obsession. At Sportmax, the vibe was whitewashed deconstruction/reconstruction with a clinical sense of seduction. Despite the rather odd, cybersex toy bags, this was a strong outing. At N.21, the pointy flats and the sparkly sheath dresses gave Prada-esque vibes, but not in a bad way, as Alessandro Dell’Acqua managed to bring a hefty dose of his very own Neapolitan sense of sensuality to the proceedings and the result felt personal.

At Versace, it was 1995 all over again: checkerboard opticals and demure 60s prettiness with a sexy bent. Paying homage to the archives is perfectly legitimate, but what Donatella Versace has been doing of late feels too much like a carbon copy. Dolce & Gabbaba redid sharp seduction much in their very own, black-cloacked 90s way, complete with garters and pencil skirts. It was a masterful exercise in dressmaking, but the iconography seemed in a way quite dated.

Elsewhere in Milano, simplicity was not even an option. On the contrary it was bolts of more, more and even more. At MSGM, the accumulation bordered on the chaotic: the intent was commendable, the execution a little less. In his third outing at Missoni, Fillppo Grazioli keeps channelling the house’s founding idea of put together into body-con, sheer, seductive layering. It’s a fresh, youthful way to interpret the heritage: one that, however, could use some energising. Missoni cannot be so tame.

Glenn Martens is happily wild and untamed, and Diesel is the temple where he lets himself go in a feat of distressed denim, glamour and in your face sensuality, and we are all very happy about that. Fausto Puglisi is equally wild. The more he delves into the Roberto Cavalli world, the more he turns into Roberto. The flaming creatures that populated this season’s tropical fantasy, with their caftans, floaty blouses and tailoring all bore a striking resemblance to forever muse Eva Cavalli.

Etro was in equal parts bonkers and rational, in a way that is entirely Marco De Vincenzo. After two rather uncertain seasons, De Vincenzo finally found a personal take on the historic house, accelerating on both the multi-culti psychedelia and the twisted strictness. It felt like Etro, but also not so Etro, and it, finally, had the mark of authorship.

Ah, authorship: an unfiltered, individual point of view — personal, if not always original — is increasingly rare in fashion. Independence certainly helps, as Mr Armani, who keeps doing purified things over and over again, testifies. So does having a small operation. Sunnei keeps pushing the boundaries of playfulness with shows that are amusing in the most immediate of ways, and fashions that are graphic, upbeat, easy. This time attendees were allowed to score the looks and it felt like a perfect commentary on our collective need for instant judgements.

Karoline Vitto staged a show on the last day of Milan with the help of Dolce & Gabbana, and it was such an assured proposition: a way to deal with different bodies in a truly empowering way. Sexy has never looked so open and political. There was plenty of sexiness, mixed with a debauched tomboyishness and the idea of glamour coming undone the morning after at the debut show of The Attico, the brainchild of Gilda Ambrosio and Giorgia Tordini. Everybody who is somebody attended the outing, which took place on the street in the tony arco della pace neighbourhood. The crowd gathered to cheer for the girls, glitzy denizens of the most fabulous demimonde. And yet, The Attico is not another attempt at turning influencers into designers. Gilda and Giorgia are auteurs in the sense that they cater to their peers: beautiful girls with lavish bank accounts who enjoy life. This collection, although a bit heavy handed, was a celebration of the joys of life and sex, offering a bolt of vitality.

Matthieu Blazy certainly aspires to the role of auteur and Bottega Veneta offers him ample room to manoeuvre in terms of craft and technique. This is commendable, but his hand is way too heavy, so much so that the beauty one sees on the catwalk is almost impossible to translate in life. The volumes, the details, the surfaces are a veritable feast of creation but also abstract exercises detached from the moving body.