MILAN – Italy’s fashion capital is again alive with the sound of shoppers swarming boutiques and editors filling socially distanced fashion week venues, a sign of a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.
Milan Fashion Week opened Wednesday with 42 live runway shows and 56 in-person presentations, the biggest presence yet since the pandemic struck Italy 19 months ago, smack dab during fashion week. Adding digital presences, 146 brands are participating in six days of mostly womenswear previews.
Signs of recovery are also evident in Milan’s largest department store, the recently renovated Rinascente, where foreigners are spending six times what they spent in 2020 when receipts plunged some 70%.
In a clear signal that Italy remains dear to the hearts of Chinese consumers, exports to that country have nearly doubled during the pandemic, to nearly 6 billion euros from a pre-pandemic 3.2 billion euros, according to the Italian National Fashion Chamber, spending at home at least part of what they once would have spent during trips abroad to Italy.
Highlights from the first day of fashion week:
FENDI’S 1970S ECHOES
The 1970s echoed down the Fendi runway, with prints, motifs and colors carried by modern silhouettes, during the second collection by womenswear creative director Kim Jones.
The looks were pop-star glamorous, with big intarsia fur coats and knee-topping boots worn with mini-skirts and sheepskin lined short shorts. For daytime glam, a cotton candy pink satin cropped pink jacket was paired with wide-legged trousers.
More modestly, silky pantsuits dramatically trailed a diaphanous cape. Kaftans were decorated with chocolaty swirls that were actually a hand-sketched Fendi logo that Jones found in the archives. A satiny, strapless evening gown in diagonal stripes flowed with flower-child angel wings. Structured architectural jackets revealed a sensuality. Trousers, by contrast, were flowing.
Jones said that he was going for an updated Studio e54 vibe from the height of the disco era, as he considered both the legacy of his storied predecessor, the late Karl Lagerfeld, and the era when he first made it big.
“Our woman has let loose a bit -- she is going out, dressing up. We’ve all been locked away for so long that I think that’s what we all need right now,’’ Kim said, calling his Fendi “multi-generational ... for all different kinds of women.”
A white monochrome gave way to pastels, bright pinks and purples, toned-down gold and finally black, accented by sheers and sequins. Hair was wound into a tight bun or frizzed-out, perhaps accented by golden heart barrette, lightly folded like butterfly wings.
The bag of the season encircled the shoulder or wrist, with Fendi emblazoned in gold raised lettering on the underside. Larger shoppers featured images of two women, one Black, one white, like a 1970s album cover.
DANIEL DEL CORE’S CLOUDS
German designer Daniel Del Core brought his flair for the dramatic to a couture-inspired collection inspired by a trip to the Costa Rican rainforest.
The collection projected an otherworldly aura, with models making their entrance through a cloudy mist against an azure backdrop, then continuing along a mirrored runway that the designer said was meant to suggest a reclining skyscraper.
“It speaks of the explosion of the nature, of color, very exotic,’’ Del Core said of the second collection of his eponymous brand. For him, the models are nymphs emerging from water with dampened skin. They projected serenity.
Diaphanous, shoulder-baring mini-cocktail dresses had dainty pleated details that gave subtle movement, worn with thigh-high pale pink boots. A longer version featured layers of diagonal ruffles, some left unfinished and trailing behind, worn with chunky flesh-colored booties with sculptural heels. Satiny trousers were worn with a modernist bustier.
The drama amped up with more couture pieces that included large structural headpieces, dresses with large origami orchids bursting out of the neckline and sleeves that dragged on the ground. Some of the pieces were so intricate they took hundreds of hours to complete, Del Core said.
Del Core, a former Gucci events coordinator, launched his own line last February after a productive and imaginative pandemic lockdown.
No. 21's COZY KNITS
Alessandro Dell'Acqua is giving men and women just what they need to transition out of their homebody pandemic existence: chunky knitwear with matching booties from his No. 21 label.
“I put all of the codes of No. 21, it is my obsession. There is a lot of knitwear, embroidery and sheers. Men and women wear the same clothes, it is not about getting into costumes,” he said.
A one-shoulder knit mini dress was accented by fringe detailing and finished with knit shoes, or more provocatively, knit dresses with cutouts were worn over rhinestone encrusted bodysuits. For him, a white knit trousers featured an open-weave diamond pattern. The same pattern appears in U-shaped sweaters and miniskirts.
For both men and women, sheer trousers finished feather trim worn with slip-on with cellophane fringe.
The color palate was very precise: white, nude along with some bordeaux and black. "I wanted to use little color to give more attention to the materials and the models,'' he said.
No. 21 returned to the runway after showing digitally last winter. It's not fashion week unless Pat Benatar belts out “Love is a Battlefield” for No. 21's finale.
"We are returning to semi-normality. That is already something,'' Dell'Acqua said.
JIL SANDER'S GRAPHIC DEPARTURE
Luke and Lucie Meier led fashionistas into a soothing lavender-lit space for their Jil Sander runway show.
Their collection was a study in discipline, with a wide-shouldered structured jacket and trouser combos accented by stiff, color-contrasting scarves.
There were also soft moments, like a cotton candy soft knit skirt and top, and hand crocheted tops and dresses that, ironically, seemed to recreate a computer graphic.
The label known for minimalism is slowly embracing print and embellishments under the direction of the husband-and-wife team. Striped dresses wrapped at the waist, and tunics, including beautiful embroidered blousy numbers, over trousers projected modesty.
Gold disc earrings accented the collection.
GHALI FOR BENETTON
Italian rapper Ghali has signed off on a capsule collection for Benetton that mashes up his Tunisian heritage and his Italian roots.
The 28-year-old Ghali said he lacked role models growing up in Milan. Later, when he used Arab refrains in his music, young second-generation Arab-speaking Italians were wildly enthusiastic, telling him, “Thanks to my music, the atmosphere in school hallways had changed.”
Now he hopes to help those same second-generation kids and their Italian counterparts alike find common ground in his new capsule collection for Benetton. Ghali has taken over the classic Benetton octopus logo, emblazoning it with a G on baseball caps and oversized hoodies. His name in Arabic and a crescent “Arab” moon become motifs on the front of sweatshirts or on track pants legs.
For dressier days, there is a Varsity sweater and trousers that can be worn with a pearl necklace also for him in this era that challenges gender codes. A nylon hijab as a stand-alone piece can be incorporated into any look.
“We wanted to create clothes for my generation and for the street,’’ Ghali said. “I am not a designer, but I have clear ideas on how I want to dress myself, my crew and my fans. This is an honest collections of every-day clothes.”