The tastemakers have spoken
As the third stop on the fashion-month trail, Milan Fashion Week gets the unofficial task of sustaining the momentum of each season. With such legendary fashion houses in its lineup, though, it does so, without a hitch, and in the most Italian way possible: commanding, marked by craftsmanship, and filled with a kind of fervor expected of the provocateur of the four fashion capitals (if these were to be given personalities).
Between the Froot Loop hues on various prints and textures at Angel Chen and the ode to cod fishermen at Alexandra Moura were the institutions. The likes of Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo, Fendi and Gucci that keep the entire industry on its toes and, to borrow from Vanessa Friedman, reinforce the understanding that Milan is “the fashion-month city most closely associated with the notion of setting off retail trends.”
And trend reports following the Spring 2020 shows certainly went haywire. The first Bermuda shorts sighting in Milan after appearing in New York and London confirmed its resurgence. A definitive “Bermuda shorts are back!” there for you, signaling that it won’t be long before there’s a pair in every other contemporary clothing store. Colorful leather at Bottega Veneta, Sportmax and Marni implied the same. (Leather? For spring? The heavy-duty material made easier on the eyes may just count as groundbreaking.) Just as well, the innerwear-as-outerwear trend by way of corseting earned the Milan nod of approval. Runways showed elaborate see-through corsets with balconette tops down to the more straightforward references to lingerie. Just the illusion of a corset did the trick, too. (Go on and consult the Versace or Moschino runway for ways to wear if you dare.)
While it’s always exciting to look in the direction that these arbiters of taste point to next, Milan Fashion Week Spring 2020 acted as a crossroads for them. Given the current state of global, political and environmental affairs, fashion spectators and followers––no, the rest of the world––got to do a bit of the steering now. And reactions by designers to this trickling-up of influence were varied. Needless to say: in this day and age, fashion for fashion’s sake or art “just because” reflects being out of touch. Even so, it’s a little strange to have an industry veteran such as Miuccia Prada talk about things relating to the idea (like timelessness and the return to the fundamental). Especially since she has carried on the legacy of creating maximalist, distinctly thematic designs, season after season, for the fashion house. Over 50 looks a collection, five collections a year.
“The person should be more important than the clothes,” said Prada, nonetheless. “Personal style is more important than clothes.” Understandably, you gotta start somewhere. And perhaps an awkward, near-ironic start to this perspective change is unavoidable in Prada’s case.
Another influential figure whose fashion-for-the-sake-of card was revoked is Gucci’s Alessandro Michele. Itching to try something different, his Spring 2020 collection not only ushered in a new era; it paid tribute to Tom Ford’s slinky, sultry brand of Gucci from the late ‘90s. “I’m not bored by the energy that pushes me to be creative. But I’m bored in a way from the idea that I don’t want to fall into [excessive repetition],” Michele told WWD. “I’m not obliged to go ahead exactly with the same aesthetic. I mean, for sure it’s me, so there is always a clear sign of my presence in the company. But at this point, I’m pretty energized, because I feel that I have to move on in other [directions].”
A lace-loving dominatrix character with a penchant for the slip dress, a light-handed approach (by Michele’s standard, anyway) to prints––these were palate cleansers befitting the creative director’s fifth year at the helm. This new direction alone could have been effective. But the buzz surrounding Gucci’s clean slate wound up focusing instead on the faux pas that preceded the collection: an artistic statement the brand made about uniforms, utilitarian clothes and normative dress as models came down the Gucci Hub conveyor belt in ensembles inspired by mental institute straitjackets. Ayesha Tan Jones, who got to walk in this part of the show, used her moment on the runway to stage a protest, holding up her hands to reveal the message: “Mental health is not fashion.”
In another Instagram post, Jones went on to question, in a proactive manner, the creative team’s decision to romanticize mental health struggles. “I chose to protest the Gucci S/S 2020 runway show as I believe, as many of my fellow models do, that the stigma around mental health must end,” she said. “[The straitjacket] is a symbol of a cruel time in medicine when mental illness was not understood, and people’s rights and liberties were taken away from them while they were abused and tortured in the institution.”
The silver lining is that the all-white looks were designed solely to make a statement and will not be sold in stores. If anything, this only brings to light a lesson for modern-day labels: not even the fashion elites get the luxury of pulling stunts like this. Not anymore. A brand’s ability to have an ear on the ground has everything to do with whether its reputation flourishes or flounders in 2019 and beyond.
Current audiences are also appreciative of the fact that fashion can be a gateway to artistic expression, but on the same accord, are grounded. Case in point: Jeremy Scott’s Moschino may have been a wild, awe-inspiring adventure, but spectators were sure to hold any applause to exercise due diligence. “Ok so before I hype this up which one of you fashion students sent Jeremy Scott their portfolio and he stole it for this collection?” one Twitter user said in jest, taking into account Scott’s history of ripping off young and emerging designers. It was only a matter of time before others chimed in, ultimately identifying one Dorothy Williams, a fresh graduate from the University of Brighton, whose key graduation piece appeared to be the inspiration for the most talked-about look at Moschino Spring 2020. Another glaring caveat that fashion for the sake of fashion is dead––with plagiarism, no less, to thicken the plot.
On to what was alive and well and back on a more lighthearted note, at Milan Fashion Week, nostalgia was a sweet spot. The ‘70s still reigned supreme at Gucci though it did make that aforementioned jump to ‘90s. MSGM, meanwhile, positioned itself in the middle of the two and picked up where the ‘80s left off: Bursts of color, crêpe-fantastique ruffles, power shoulders and pumps worn with socks tied the brand’s 10-year anniversary collection together.
Of course, no Milan Fashion Week wrap-up would be complete without the mention of Jennifer Lopez’s thrilling appearance at Versace. This is where tributes to the past got specific: the iconic silk chiffon number and the history-making fashion moment that came of it. This finale was an excellent chance to get people reacquainted with a cool piece of trivia, too: the dress launched the Google image search function itself. With three iterations of the dress in the last couple of years, Lopez and Versace were evidently more than happy to jog the memory of those who may have forgotten that fun fact.
With fashion’s desire to find an antidote to its excesses, celebrating the past served as an enjoyable detour at Milan Fashion Week: a break from all the seriousness that is seemingly just as necessary as the capital’s calling to respond to the sign of the times.
Art Alexandra Lara