Just two days in, Milan Fashion Week is shaping up to be a battle of the brands.
With increasing economic and cultural shifts creating all sorts of unexpected challenges for the world’s most famous luxury labels, designers in Italy—who exist in their own especially competitive environment—are responding with some powerful collections. Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, responsible for most of Milan’s excitement over the last two years with his decorative new look, is setting an unusual example in fashion by remaining consistent with his philosophy that more is more—unless there’s possibly more. Meanwhile, Miuccia Prada, whose ideas range freely and sometimes dramatically from season to season, reasserted her influence on Thursday night with an outstanding collection that was both commercially accessible and subtly provocative.
Prada, in this case, gave her audience far more to think about, beginning with her fantastic set decorated with slightly demented renderings of vintage movie posters and pin-up girls. And between Prada’s slightly coy backstage comments about not trying to be overtly political, and then the accompanying show notes that conversely demanded all artists take a liberal stance, all anyone could talk about after this show was that there was, in fact, more than meets the eye to these clothes.
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I’m a little worried that the clothes did not quite get their due here, so let’s take a moment to praise the softly glamorous dresses trimmed with bands of ostrich feathers and crystal beads, and full looks that combined multiple abstract notes of American sportswear: coats that paired western fringe with men’s tweeds and decorative beading, the tall leather boots with double buckles at the toes, and fluffy fur shoes that resembled mukluks and feathered bonnets that suggested Eskimo-wear. Prada blended so many notes from so many decades—corduroy flared pants from the 1970s and pin-up poster art from the 1960s (new works, actually, created by Robert E. McGinnis for her)—that it all became something enticingly new. From within all that, you were invited to pick out any message you liked—whether for feminism or inclusion or protest—or you could simply find appealing design.
Michele’s Gucci show was also presented in a format that challenged the viewer to separate the individual from the whole. And while he faced some criticism for his set—119 models walked briskly through a clear tube like laboratory rats—I rather admired the implications, whether intentional or not. For the jaded, seen-it-all fashion editor set, the big question that comes with Michele’s phenomenal success with his hyper-embellished, vintage-vibe collections is this: What comes next? We’ve all been seduced by the charm of his quirky romanticism, but there are only so many tiger sweatshirts and bee-embroidered sneakers one wardrobe can stand.
Well, maybe, and maybe not. Michele remains convinced that his “anti-modern” vision of exuberant creativity has legs, and with good reason if you look at Gucci’s financial numbers. And so his collection came with lavish decorations of, and I quote, “a garden of plants and animals.” Amid the dizzying passing looks, I saw a Gucci-logo union suit embroidered with the face of a bat, a snazzy blazer with a single butterfly added to one sleeve (along with the words “Biddenden Road”), an amazing camel coat, a moth-embroidered sweater (irony, much?), several more glittering rainbow dresses, a glittering green wrestling singlet with the stomach cut out, an AC/DC concert T, and a basket of eggs. Of course, there were many exceptional pieces to find throughout this fantasy wardrobe, which can be put together in many ways, for Gucci’s addicted extroverts and less showy types, alike.
But what struck me most about Michele’s presentation was how much the set seemed to acknowledge and embrace the notion of creativity less as a laboratory than as a factory, in which ideas are produced and consumed at an ever fastening clip. And that works for him.
At Fendi, the message seemed almost the opposite, as Karl Lagerfeld took a surprisingly restrained approach to the fall season, even with the furs. What stood out here were the simple cloth coats (if you can call velvety cashmere simple) in a palette of gray, beige, camel, and rusty red. Even the bags came with fewer tricks and furry doodads, replaced by a lovely sense of polish.
Finally, a word about Moschino, where Jeremy Scott’s collection was really trashy. And I mean that in the most literal way possible—it was an ode to girls like Scarlett O’Hara who would tear down the drapes in the name of a fabulous dress. The runway was covered in cardboard boxes, causing Gigi and Bella to make a terrifying ruckus as their stiletto boots made divots all along the march. The first third of Scott’s collection was, in fact, based on cardboard packaging, now interpreted as camel coats with printed with labels and warnings that the contents were fragile—but they were rendered rather exquisitely. Some of the outfits even looked suspiciously rich. And the final looks were a hoot, especially a dress that made to look like an overflowing garbage bag of recyclables, and a fur stole made of stuffed plush dolls in the shape of rats. Let me be clear, this was faux fur at its best.