Searching for new femininity at Milan Fashion Week
Milanese designers never before seemed as divided as this season. While it is true that the time for sharply defined trends is over, fashion weeks nevertheless always allowed a glimpse of a basic underlying direction. Not any more. Though on one thing at least, everyone seems to agree: streetwear and sportswear are no longer on the agenda. Instead, womenswear is going back to its most classic wardrobe essentials, above all dresses, suits, jackets, overcoats, cardigans and skirts, midi ones if possible.
As with last January’s menswear collections, designers are rushing back to impeccably tailored dresses, fine classic fabrics, a painstaking attention to detail and authenticity expressed through an emphasis on couture skills. A certain kind of elegance, with a retro feel inspired by the looks of the 1950s, made a comeback on many catwalk shows, with dresses and skirts more often than not below the knee.
Outfits at once comfortable and sophisticated were ubiquitous, exemplified by long flowing dresses, generously cut trousers and cocooning overcoats. Once more, Dolce & Gabbana was the standard-bearer of this trend, with a collection entirely dedicated to “elegance.”
Ultra-feminine was the name of the game, as shown by the countless glam gloves and the omni-present knee-high and high-heeled boots, preferably in garishly coloured vinyl. Yet, this emphasis on femininity was expressed in an array of different nuances. From the romantic feel of long tunic-dresses in colourful floral motifs, to the childlike nod to Bambi by Marco de Vincenzo or to the world of fairytales by other designers, not to mention minimalism, Calcaterra’s luxury comfort, and even a smattering of ultra-sexy, aggressive looks in leather and latex.
Some collections were even split into two wholly contrasting moods, as was Miuccia Prada’s, part love and romance, part power and military looks. Or GCDS, whose princesses morphed into witches in the second part of the show. Bottega Veneta instead offered a combination of uber-biker, all-leather looks and more classic outfits.
A dark streak featured in many other collections. It surfaced in Gucci’s punkish mood, with its spiked metallic masks and collars, in Marni’s goth incursion, with stapled stitching and long padlocked chains draped around the models’ midriff and down the length of their bodies, in Versace’s hyper sexy looks, all S&M leather braces and garter-belt stockings. Women spoiling for a fight, keen to assert their power? Or instead, needing to defend themselves in an uncertain, increasingly violent world? The proliferation of ranger boots in many shows broadcast a clear message.
For Miuccia Prada, fashion cannot remain indifferent to the growing tide of hatred and tension, a sentiment that translated itself on the catwalk in disquieting young women with long blond braids wearing military boots.
“In a previous century, we would have found ourselves already at war, given the racism and violence that is spreading across Europe. I’m truly scared,” said the designer at the end of her show. “On the other hand, we work for rich people, creating rich clothes. Yet fashion has an important role to play, and there is some expectation it should tackle other issues too. The question is how to do it in a way that is smart, and not too shallow."
With other labels, this concern could only be guessed at. For example, in the highly sophisticated collection by Marco De Vincenzo, whose outfits seemed darkened by sombre thoughts. “I’m not used to sending out a message, for me fashion is above all glamour and joy. Perhaps my collection has absorbed the tensions we feel around us. Yet fashion is like a game, it’s also a way of escaping from everyday life,” said De Vincenzo.
This insight undoubtedly sheds light on the ambivalence on show at the Milan Fashion Week. Other, more pragmatic industry operators saw ambivalence as a transitional phase in these crisis-hit times.
“After the trend for genderless fashion and the influence of streetwear, labels are now trying to understand what the next stage will be. They are clearly scouting various routes, sometimes heading in directions that are far from their usual,” said Stefano Martinetto and Giancarlo Simiri, founders of Tomorrow London Holdings.
“This rather disorderly search is also influenced by declining sales in the womenswear market, 20% of whose revenue has been absorbed by menswear. Womenswear labels are therefore trying to differentiate themselves as much as possible,” they added.
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