Wham! Bam! Thank you, Milan!
THANK YOU, MILAN!
Who reigned supreme in this stellar Milan Fashion Week? The old guard or the new? For designers – and supermodels – the fight was on
‘This is a celebration of an icon! A genius! My brother, Gianni, this is for you!’ boomed the voiceover at the epic Versace show as the original ’90s supermodels – Naomi, Cindy, Claudia, Helena and Carla – were unveiled as the surprise finale in golden chainmail, then stalked down the runway arm-in-arm with the diminutive Donatella. The standing ovation was as poignant as it was euphoric, providing a moment of pure, unfiltered (as in: no time to mess with filters) social media delirium. This was the tribute show to end all tribute shows! And it was a long time coming. It has been 20 years since Gianni Versace was shot and killed on the steps of his Miami mansion, and the fashion world has been mining his archive ever since. But this, finally, was his younger feminist sister Donatella’s time to reclaim everything that was fashion-fabulous about Gianni, by diving into the back catalogue and bringing this museumworthy homage bang-up-to-date. (Perhaps FX’S
American Crime Story, based on the Versace story, starring Penélope Cruz as Donatella and Edgar Ramírez as Gianni, due out early next year, forced her hand). From the rampage of in-your-face prints ( leopard spots and Warhol’s Marilyns, to butterflies and Baroque), alongside the precise black tailored
jackets adorned with golden Medusa-head buttons, it all looked so surprisingly right-for-now as it pranced out on the new wave of supers. Consider buying a piece of it – no, really, these are future heirlooms – because, like an exhibition, every garment will be tagged with a label noting the year and collection in which the original was first conceived. Come to think of it, surely Versace – past and present – should be the next big blockbuster show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York? Bring it on.
The Versace show set the tone for one of the most celebratory Milan Fashion Weeks on record. Maybe because other designers knew what Donatella was up to, they also dug deep into their archives and stamped every garment with self-referencing messages. Like Missoni, another great Italian family business, celebrating its 20th year with an abundance of its inimitable squiggle-print knits. Or Dolce & Gabbana, aka Stefano and Domenico, who took love as their catch-all theme with the Queen of Hearts and issued a 52-card-deck finale of their black, corseted wiggle dresses. And of course, Giorgio Armani, never one to step away from his mind-blowingly successful multibillion euro DNA, who anchored his joyfully coloured lady dresses with his heritage inky black tailoring. When you look at an Armani collection coming down the runway, you have to switch gear and imagine it on its real-life customers and decide whether you would look twice at the woman ( in a sparkly striped sweater, black tulip-hemmed skirt and elegant heels) walking into a cocktail party – and the answer is, yes!
Now take the same visual test with today’s Gucci – the intensely eccentric cornucopia mash-up of spangly ’80s, Savile Row tweeds, Elton John’s on-stage Glam Rock ensembles, bejewelled anoraks, logo’d sportswear, etc, etc – and your gut reaction will most likely be something along the lines of, ‘Nobody in real life is ever going to wear that!’!’ And you’d be wrong. Every other person at the show was wearing Gucci – be it a full-on costume of python and studs, complete with Gucci logo tennis headband on the young woman (a social media ‘influencer’) sitting next to me, or the simple black gold-snaffle loafers on my own two feet. Gucci’s Alessandro Michele is to fashion now what Armani was in the ’80s; the influential visionary behind one of the most commercially successful fashion businesses in the world which, according to the brand’s PR, now sells 50% of its merchandise to those born after 1980, making it the ultimate fashion house for Millennials. And, just like Armani’s formula for success, Michele’s outfit proposals only change incrementally every season.
‘ To thine own self be true,’ as Shakespeare put it – which, when applied to fashion, simply means ‘show what you do best’ – and that sentiment became the arching theme from designers all week. At Fendi, it was Karl Lagerfeld’s ode to the fabulous cut-out shoulder dress. At Max Mara, it was all about seriously desirable minimalist tailoring with a nod to the ’80s.
At Tod’s, the Italian leather specialist brand made us all want to grab Kendall Jenner’s chocolate suede jumpsuit and gold loafers and head for cocktails in Positano. And at Moschino, Jeremy Scott made everything as gloriously bonkers as it should be, including Gigi dressed as a bouquet of flowers.
But ‘doing what you do best’ was never so forcefully demonstrated than by Miuccia Prada, whose job it is to sartorially stamp her feet for womankind. ‘ We should start being combative. There’s so much against us, still,’ she told journalists in the usual scrum backstage. The walls and even the ceiling at Prada HQ, the hangar-sized show venue, had been painted with the work of seven of the most feted female cartoonists, including a bubble-gum chewing Manga girl, an Afro-haired activist (‘Sister: You are welcome in this house,’ read the speech bubble) and Trina Robbins’ first Wonder Woman. And their feminist message was writ loud all over feisty fit ’n’ flare dresses, scout master shorts, starched shirts and swing coats pinned with protest badges. But while it was easy to imagine those cartoon-emblazoned clothes going down a storm with the street-style sorority, after close inspection at the Prada re-see (when fashion teams go back to see all the detail they missed on the runway) it was gratifying to note the wider sisterhood so beautifully catered for too, with cotton-drill coats and jackets. Can’t afford the big-ticket items? No matter – suddenly nothing says usefulness and desirability like a simple ’90s-style
Prada black nylon bumbag. (In store now! Having personally investigated at the Prada shop in Milan.)
Finally, what of the new in Milan? Unlike London, this fashion capital is not known as a hotbed breeding ground of breakout designer stars. But, to round out an already blazing week, we were treated to not one, but two complete house renovations, with new creative heads at Jil Sander and Cavalli. At the latter, Brit Paul Surridge, a menswear designer (a backroom talent with a huge CV, including Calvin Klein and Burberry) stunned everyone by stripping back the more-is-more Cavalli aesthetic. In its place, he presented a totally bold facelift for the brand and a new era-defining sexiness, which took the form of sleek body-defining, racer-back dresses, sparing flashes of graphic zebra print and flats – flats! Mr Cavalli – he of the vineyards, yachts, Ferraris, mansions and the odd pet leopard or two – was in the audience, flanked by a couple of youthful beauties, and what did he make of this restoration? Astonishingly, he whooped and clapped, then grabbed Surridge as he ran down the catwalk and bowed at his feet.
Would Jil Sander, the famous German fashion minimalist, feel the same way about the new designers at her namesake brand, which she left in 2013? Husband and wife team Lucie and Luke Meier (formerly of Dior and Supreme, respectively) served up their equally excellent debut, ram full of Jil-isms. That is to say, the kind of beautiful and serviceable clothes that form the chicest of working women’s wardrobes, such as a perfectly quiet black trouser suit, navy coat or white smocked shirtdress – in other words, right up the founder, Jil Sander’s, strasse. It was monastic in its simplicity and full of rigorous tailoring, but the designers had also captured the softness and serenity that had been missing from the brand under its previous designer. Not only were fashion professionals overheard whispering that it could be the new alternative to their beloved Céline, this – and every other collection seen on the runways – demonstrated how diverse Italian fashion has now become, not just in the casting of its models ( yes, Italy is finally getting the ‘wokeness’ message), but also of the fashions you can now expect to see from its designers. Bravo Milano!
M DU AL IJN W ININN SM SMMI Y YAASYA EH MM JA E MI OU
D DI HA A LL BE
Main golden photo: originals Carla, Claudia, Naomi, Cindy and Helena with Donatella (centre)