Due to travel bans, there were no Chinese guests at Milan Fashion Week. So on Friday Prada brought their show to them by hosting simultaneous shows in Milan and Shanghai.
It was a reminder of the sweeping changes that have taken place in luxury since Milan last hosted a full-fledged fashion week 19 months ago, when Prada announced that Raf Simons would join founder Miuccia Prada. as co-creative director (this week marked his first in-person show since arriving) and Italy reported its first death from Covid-19, prompting Giorgio Armani to cancel his physical show hours before.
During this period, the share of Chinese consumers in global luxury goods purchases rose to 46%, according to Jefferies. (Prada now allocates half of its revenue to the Asia region, up from a third before the pandemic.) Big brands got bigger, collections got smaller, and designers had to learn how to present their collections digitally – lessons who now wear that in-person shows have mostly returned, albeit with face masks and door-to-door vaccination checks.
To succeed in the double shows, Prada had to produce and ship two identical collections; assemble two sets of show; and throw two sets of models. As a model moved around the shaded basement of Fondazione Prada in Milan, narrow screens showed her identically dressed counterpart taking the same steps at Bund 1 in Shanghai (they were also streamed live side by side. in line). In the show’s notes, Prada and Simons described the simultaneous shows as “dialogue” and a mixture of “physical and virtual realities”.
It was also about sex, which became the predominant theme in Milan (it was also brewing in New York and London). After a decade of everything oversized, and over a year of swaddling around the house, the skirts are suddenly short, the dresses hang on, the tops show off and look like lingerie.
At Prada – where Miuccia Prada spent three decades rejecting conventional sex appeal – there were thigh-low miniskirts and distressed leather motorcycle jackets slung over bare breasts; cocktail dresses in thick orange and black silk stamped with the Prada triangle, left unbuttoned at the back to reveal knotted leather belts; and creamy corset jackets with half-undone laces. Neon ribbed knit sweaters have been sewn to highlight the undersides of the breasts. The creators called it “seduction by reduction”.
It was a sophisticated approach to sensuality, but not very inclusive. No model who walked the Prada catwalks in Milan and Shanghai was larger than sample size. This, after witnessing such a diversity of body types on the tracks in New York and London, made what was otherwise an avant-garde show feel backward-looking.
(Prada wasn’t alone in her cast – no more models were fitted in Armani’s sparkling mermaid princess dresses. They also didn’t appear in Dolce & ‘s black lace bra tops. Gabbana or in jeweled double denim, and they were conspicuously absent from dozens of shows.)
But Prada is on the right track overall. Confidence in the label has been renewed since Simons, 53, was appointed co-creative director, answering the question of who could possibly succeed Miuccia, 72; the company’s shares are trading about a third higher than they were before the pandemic.
Succession has been a thornier issue for other family labels. Angela Missoni has stepped down as artistic director after 24 years at the head of the Women’s House founded by her parents in May. His acting successor Alberto Caliri, tasked by new CEO Livio Prioli with making Missoni “more stylish and cool,” sent models in dizzying stiletto heels, their baggy trench coats and shirts left open to reveal string-in-weave bikinis Missoni signature; another wore a monogrammed miniskirt with the name Missoni and a narrow strip of fabric that barely covered her breasts.
It was a sad departure from the refined image built by one of Italy’s last family-owned luxury homes – and once run by women. It is also a warning for other independent labels which are considering outside investments (the Missonis sold a 41% stake to the Italian fund FSI in 2018).
This made Versace, the brand that has carried the banner of manifest Italian sensuality for much of the past four decades, to look positively modest in comparison, with its cheerfully shiny pantsuits in hot pink and lime and dresses. black rubbery split on the thigh.
Ferragamo is also between creative directors, and the house spring collection is full of breathtaking decisions: dresses draped between the legs, thus resembling layers; clogs with turned up toes reminiscent of the shoes of Christmas elves. New CEO Marco Gobbetti, who will soon join Ferragamo from Burberry, certainly has his work cut out for him.
A creative refreshment that is slowly starting to bear fruit is that of Walter Chiapponi at Tod’s. Although the brand’s sales are down 17% from pre-pandemic levels, the shoes have started to gain traction with retailers – a very good thing, given that four-fifths of Tod’s revenue comes from shoes. For spring, he showed off square toe ankle boots and gold buckle loafers set on solid wood platforms, low-heeled thongs and sporty sandals with pebble insoles. Up close, the quality is excellent.
Not all Milanese brands have opted for the mini-skirt. Colville, designed by former Marni designer Molly Molloy and Vogue UK fashion director Lucinda Chambers, showed off easy, structured patchwork dresses of old T-shirts and curtain fabrics found on eBay. At Jil Sander, where new owner and OTB president Renzo Rosso made public his ambitions to quadruple revenue, husband-and-wife team Luke and Lucie Meier presented oversized blazers stripped of buttons and lapels to highlight their soft, square shapes, and simple shirt dresses gathered and topstitched on one hip. It was smart, beautiful and eclectic; every fabric and every detail has been carefully considered.
The most memorable show of the week came from the OTB Marni brand, where creative director Francesco Risso outfitted not only models of different body shapes in a bohemian array of daisy-print dresses and striped flared pants, but also around 150 members of the public in shirts, dresses and blouses recycled from past collections, then hand painted, numbered and tailored to this guest’s favorite figure (Anna Wintour of Vogue received a green floral dress with a bodice fitted and a full skirt).
Dissolving the line between performance and audience – Risso himself was seated among the other guests – it was one of those rare shared experiences that make in-person shows special. And an optimistic end to Milan Fashion Week.
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