So how did it conclude, the alternative Italian narrative that was Milan Fashion Week? Did it have a) a happy ending or b) a complicated denouement? Was it more a) Calvino, b) Eco, c) Pirandello – or d) none of the above? Or, this being fashion, which likes to jam its themes willy nilly atop one another (new designer Fausto Puglisi cited as his inspirations “American Couture meets Guns & Roses … Bondage vs Tropical”), is it perhaps e) all of the above?
The answer is simple: while the spring/summer collections may be over in this city, the story isn’t. Certainly, there was real creativity on show, from both the mature and new generation. There was a specific sense of history, and heritage, and efforts to move it forward. But the question of “What next?” is still in the air.
At Dolce & Gabbana, for example, designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana combined both their usual paean to the culture of Sicily and an additional layer of cinematic nostalgia with their increasing exploration of artisanship to create a collection that nodded to nature (via three-dimensional cherry fronds) and history (silk screens of temples and ancient amphitheatres inspired by Fellini’s Satyricon) and then took off into Roman coins and columns, which led to lace and gold crystals and other sorts of lavishness, all appliquéd or otherwise interpreted on their signature silhouettes: trapeze coats and Sophia Loren sheaths; mini dresses with fluted sleeves and flyaway skirts.
It was undeniably lovely, the workmanship was eye-popping, and it drew a direct line between product and place that marks out Dolce & Gabbana territory. But is it also very much in the current brand tradition, and thus felt familiar: same silhouettes, different signage. As such, it seemed less like a new chapter than a simple turning of the page.
As for Giorgio Armani, he, too, took a cue from the Roman past, and focused on a subtle sartorial “metamorphosis” (only tangentially connected to Ovid, granted – think of it as fashion’s version of poetic licence), moving from tailored trousers to tailored shorts, equally elegant paired with his panoply of jackets; from one print – a watercolour floral – to an aquatic stripe, often layered on suiting and cocktail frocks, or interspersed with sheer crystalline inserts; and from long (there was not one ankle-grazing dress in the show) to short via airy layers of organza and silk in strapless dresses, a delicate cape draped over the front and left to billow out like a cloud at the back. The palette was cool and candy sweet, the whole melding seamlessly into the Armani canon.
The story was much the same at Ferragamo, where designer Massimiliano Giornetti has, in his three years at the house, honed his own take on its character: centring on fabric, focused on construction, and always highly controlled.
This season was no different, with sand-toned butter-soft leather cropped trenchcoats and wide trousers, satin skirts buckled on the hip, and “suits” where the narrow trousers came with a double breasted peplum at the waist, topped by truncated versions of the matching jacket, as though it had been sliced and a sliver was still missing. There were pinstripes and pleats and python, and nothing more radical than a belly-baring thin knit.
If it wasn’t particularly new, it is also what helped propel the brand to a highly successful listing on the Milan stock exchange – not surprisingly, a tale everyone likes to tell. Why risk a rewrite?
At Missoni, by contrast, designer Angela Missoni is clearly trying to change the plot: witness her “contemporary interpretation” of the brand’s trademark zigzag knits into giant black stripes on orange and blue, the addition of a Japanese-inspired seascape print, complete with seagulls, on silk, and a new knitting technique centred on a graphic, geometric rendering (inspired by an archive print) of the brand’s name/logo on everything from pencil skirts to tunic tops to bags.
Knits in bronze topography were meant to suggest the earth from above, and cloudlike prints to suggest (presumably) air, and there was some orange too, for fire, all of it based on the idea of “the four elements” and travel – though some iterations were easier to read than others.
Still, there was one twist late in the Fashion Week tale that left everyone hanging, courtesy of young designer Marco de Vincenzo (he won the Italian Vogue talent competition, Who’s on Next, in 2009, and launched his own brand thereafter).
In the audience, watching Mr de Vincenzo’s genuinely modern parade of alternative suits – tunics and skirts spotted by tiny fringelike appliqués like so many tiny birds; stretch knits with matching peplum tops; sleeveless hoodies over swingy micro-pleated skirts in optical prints – and cool new “wrap” dresses in two-tone metallic macramé, one side crossed over the other to leave a small diamond-shaped window of skin at the side, was the chief executive of Fendi, a brand owned by luxury group LVMH. Readers of the luxury tea leaves couldn’t help but take note.
Did the conglomerate, which bought young British name Nicholas Kirkwood last week, have its eyes on yet another new label? Would the next generation of Milanese designers be given the cash infusion and infrastructure support necessary to vault to blockbuster level?
No spoiler has been revealed. In the meantime, it’s on to Paris, and the nouvel roman.