Italy has stagnation on the mind – and not just because of the economy. The fashion industry, long dominated by the same names and brands, has been grumbling for seasons about the lack of fresh blood, talent, ideas: the stuff that gets consumers excited about discoveries and sends them into stores to buy.
After all, the youngest designers to have broken through since the start of the millennium are design duo Aquilano Rimondi, who show on Saturday, and they are in their forties.
On day two of the Milanese collections, however, fashion began to take things into its own hands.
There was Vogue’s equivalent of quantitative easing, Who’s On Next and Vogue Talents. This is a “talent show” of numerous young designers from around the world, not left to fight their way through on their own, but discovered by Italian Vogue and presented to retailers and editors alike. The Vogue-anointed designers will be forcefully injected into the fashion world by sponsors such as Value Retail (which will stock the work of 10 participants) and Yoox.com (which will stock one).
And there was Prada, where Miuccia Prada proved once again that you don’t need to be new to have new ideas.
For spring/summer she said she was thinking about “women, and what is forbidden them, and the two sides of them – the poetic part and the toughness – and how they have to behave”.
This does not sound particularly radical (it even sounds a bit clichéd) but its expression was a
volte face from the geometric print pantsuit riot of last season, not least in its combination of extreme simplicity and intense stylisation. Plus, of course, its wedding of the apparently conceptual to the essentially commercial. The latter has long been Prada’s big idea; what’s new each season is how she makes the same
thing look – let’s use a new word – fresh.
Almost entirely in black and white with touches of red (and the very occasional shot of navy, forest green and palest pink or mint), the collection featured a highly accessible, slightly frumpy, silhouette – round-necked, straight skirt to the thigh or knee, three-quarter length sleeves – with a kind of square folded “canvas” at the torso on which was appliquéd a white outline of a flower, like a chalk drawing.
These later appeared on slick city shorts and car coats and neat jackets, came in chrysanthemum-floral digital prints and embroidered decoration, and finally bloomed tone-on-tone on satin tunics and miniskirts.
Although the pieces referenced many things Japanese, from origami to kimonos, Prada said it wasn’t calculated; she liked the symbolism of the flower and the structure of the folds.
She also liked – ahem – the idea of summer fur. To be specific, astrakhan and mink, which came in jackets and coats with intarsia Warhol-like flowers. “We [women] are not supposed to be decadent,” she said by way of explanation. “We’re not supposed to splurge.”
So she wanted to. You can read that as rebellious – she’s not going to submit to austerity measures – or a canny way to extend the life of this collection. It does, after all, get delivered to stores in the cold winds of February and March, when a consumer might, actually, want to buy a coat instead of a slip dress.
It was certainly a more multi-dimensional solution, aesthetically and economically, to the current situation than that offered by Moschino, where designer Rossella Jardini returned, yet again, to the 1960s. (When did this decade of risk and revolution become a style safety net?) She did this via graphic black and white minidresses and coats, and nifty little trouser suits, all also popping up sprinkled with hearts, disco mirrors, and – what a surprise – flower power.
The soundtrack said it all: “let’s just have a good time”, as though dressing happy could make it so. But does anyone really believe such a simplistic approach works any more? Doubtful. Not even in the superficial land of clothes.
At least at Etro, things were slightly more complex, graphically if not structurally. Hand-painted silks and cottons moved from garden florals through sequined stripes until a chrysalis became a butterfly, all of it layered on Japanese-inspired shapes.
If it was overly literal, it was also almost entirely ye-olde-paisley-and-hippie free, and at least trying to make sense of two different imperatives; the need to be “strong” and the desire to be “decorative”, in the words of designer Veronica Etro.
“The point is: keep on dreaming but keep your feet on the ground,” she said. As if there were any other choice.