After years of spectacular fashion shows with a certain showmanship originally reserved for haute couture, this season's Milan Fashion Week offered a now rare insight into what ready-to-wear collections used to be all about: fashion that could move from the catwalk to the store.
A low-key debut puts the ‘product’ in focus
A sense of anticipation and marketing drowned out Sabato De Sarno's debut show for Gucci, which ended up making a name for itself primarily through a wearability that was unusual for the Italian luxury brand. While De Sarno's predecessor Alessandro Michele enchanted the fashion world with elaborate stagings and a dose of magic, De Sarno's ‘Ancora’ collection, designed to make people want Gucci again, focused more on the product than on a visionary idea and a spectacular catwalk show.
The planned show on the streets of Milan fell through due to the weather, leaving the Florentine luxury fashion house with no choice but to bring the show to the dry ‘Gucci Hub’, the brand's Milan headquarters. Still, the question remains whether the mix of everyday looks, rhinestone-studded tops and bras and platform loafers presented in front of a star-studded Front Row would have brought a little more coherence in its original location.
Gucci seemed to allude not only to its own brand archive, but also to the archives of the biggest brands of previous seasons, which not only received rave reviews, but also achieved corresponding sales figures. To what extent De Sarno's highly commercial performance is actually crowned with success will only become clear when the collection hits the shops next year. What cannot be denied, however, is that it is not difficult to imagine the Gucci sweatshirts, mini-skirts and coats on hangers in the stores and on numerous customers.
Gucci, however, was by no means the only brand at Milan Fashion Week to look to the past for the upcoming spring/summer season. Donatella Versace went back to 1995 and returned with a ‘60s collection inspired by her late brother Gianni Versace and ‘90s supermodel Claudia Schiffer, while designer Peter Hawkings paid homage to his time at Gucci in his Tom Ford debut.
Despite the seemingly shared penchant for nostalgia and commercialism, however, Milan's designers continued to take radically different paths.
Raves and eccentricity for Gen Z clients
Diesel - seemingly a perennial outlier headed by designer Glenn Martens - invited some 6,000 guests to a techno rave in the pouring rain. With all the excitement, the fashion show that opened the party almost became a minor matter, at least on social media. Nevertheless, behind the spectacle was a collection that - at least within the ‘Dieselverse’ - is thoroughly wearable.
Models braved the storm in T-shirts paired with grey trousers that revealed a hint of skin. Discoloured anoraks and knitted tank tops were reminiscent of well-worn garments, while V-neck dresses and oversized cardigans were deconstructed. Martens brought Gen Z friendly ensembles paired with gritty realism and party-ready style that resembled the outfits worn by guests at the venue, simultaneously offering a glimpse of future potential clientele. Graphic print shirts were reminiscent of film posters, and the models painted in silver spray paint nodded to their extraterrestrial protagonists. The ‘D’ logo still abounded, as did the illusion that torn clothes could fall off the models' bodies at any moment and, of course, lots of denim.
Few brands remain as unbridled as Diesel, unless their own history allows it, as is the case with Roberto Cavalli. Fausto Puglisi, who has been creative director for the Italian label since 2020, seemed to delve deeper into Cavalli's archives and jungle with each season, with this one being a more literal take as the designer transformed the Milan Stock Exchange into a green oasis.
It is hard to imagine that Puglisi, like Cavalli himself, has ever heard of minimalism or "quiet luxury", and if he has, he categorically rejects them. His performance was loud, sometimes garish, full of ‘70s hippies and the excess that goes with them, but above all, the collection was 100 percent Cavalli - the only question is whether the customers for such a collection have not remained in the time of the flower children.
At Etro, another storied brand with a loud and eclectic history, creative director Marco De Vincenzo seemed to be finding his feet after two seasons and establishing his own vision, even if the collection was officially set in "nowhere".
Minimalist, commercial and yet surprising?
Even if fashion is an industry, the word ‘commercial’ is not necessarily always welcome – especially when it is used to describe a collection. But Bottega Veneta, Ferragamo and Jil Sander proved that commercialism can also be fashionable and, above all, surprising.
Matthieu Blazy started his Bottega Veneta show with his now customary simplicity, which gave way to increasingly extreme silhouettes and experimentation over the course of the 73 looks in total. The Belgian designer seemed to have turned over a new leaf with a collection that was, as he stated in the show notes, “free” and “without codes”.
Despite bold new proportions, the designer stayed true to himself and his previously established aesthetic, as well as his penchant for leather, that had been combined his signature with a range of new textures reminiscent of fishnets and pom-poms, without appearing exaggerated or even childish. If anything, Blazy proved that minimalism doesn't have to be boring or predictable, and fashion can be incredibly wearable on the runway.
Maximilian Davis also seemed to have taken a new path in his third show for Salvatore Ferragamo. Gone is the red so present in his first two collections, giving way to a minimalist, precision-cut performance that mixed officewear with elegant eveningwear. Like Blazy's collection, the 64-piece line consisted of lots of leather dipped in deep green, while the figure-hugging dresses contoured the models' bodies. Jackets were replaced by decorative evening wear and elegant capes revealed sophisticated constructions, all of which appeared both casual and sophisticated - a balance and art usually attributed mostly to Prada.
Fashion is in the eye of the beholder
This season, the Italian brand Sunnei came up with something to expose their collection to the immediate feedback and criticism of the audience present. The idea went far beyond the usual well-behaved and polite applause for fashion shows, as those present were given a series of paddles with which they were instructed to rate the looks from one to ten, as is later done anyway in the comments on social media.
While the idea of the designer duo Simone Rizzo and Loris Messina was probably more a kind of socially critical mirror for the constant criticism and expression of opinions on Instagram and the like, it is also an extremely fitting symbol for a season in which fashion brands seem to have been particularly concerned with the favour of their customers and the commercial success that goes with it. While most brands will not experience the commercial appeal of their collections until February next year at the earliest, Sunnei may already have had a taste.
This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.DE. Translation and edit by: Rachel Douglass.