Between all the entertainment acts in Milan this season, the Italian fashion capital certainly lived up to its reputation for showmanship. Robbie Williams took to Emporio Armani’s runway at Linate Airport and played a full concert, while Rita Ora did her thing at Philipp Plein. Michael Nyman delivered a live score at Missoni, and Michael Clarke directed a performance for Gucci.
Fashion is in a funny place where the contrast between pure creation and commerce is so tense that you can practically put the shows into either box. But it has created a pretty interesting season so far, where a newfound appetite for bourgeois dressing is finding a way of justifying the kind of fashion we refer to as commercial, wearable, or accessible; whatever sounds chicer. Milan is the place for it.
If Burberry owns one of the two most famous coats in the world, Max Mara owns the other. Ian Griffiths confidently sent out a collection of the beige and camel stuff that makes a bourgeois heart grow fonder, and for anyone who grew up surrounded by women in these coats there was a familiar charm to it. “It has a comforting sophistication,” Salvatore Ferragamo‘s menswear designer Guillaume Meilland offered after he and Paul Andrew presented a co-ed collection that riffed on those same ideals.
Stella Tennant, who’s having a major moment this season, opened the show in a grey chromatic A-line leather skirt, a sand-colored T-shirt, and big meshy 1980s boot, seemingly worlds away from the waves of alternative lifestyles and young generations revolting against conformism that fill the fashion media landscape these days. Fendi joined in on the beige, proposing a wardrobe Silvia Venturini Fendi called “functional clothing. Not just for occasion. We wanted something for everyday life: the normal woman, the active woman. A real wardrobe,” she explained.
Etro and Missoni both showed collections of a similar non-confrontational nature. Accessibility is not a bad thing, but it makes you wonder why some corners of fashion are putting the brakes on avant-garde. “The whole thing for me was to discuss what’s happening in the world now,” Miuccia Prada said of her collection.
“We wish for freedom, for liberation, for fantasy. And on the other side an extreme conservatism is coming. I wanted to represent the clash between these two opposites. That’s what’s happening in the reality out there.” She detected the cliché codes of the left and the right: tie dye vs. crystal embellishment, swimsuit tops vs. chiffon blouses, miniskirts vs. tennis skirts, T-shirts vs. duchess silk skirts. “I tried to break the rules,” she said, and she wasn’t simply referring to formal codes. “When it’s too much no one will embrace it: too much fantasy, too much craziness…” Perhaps that answers the question; designers are looking for a golden middle between the poles of creativity to which we can all relate.
Dolce & Gabbana and Versace approached relatability through sprightly and diverse casts of supermodels of the ages, new golden girls, and – in the former’s case – women of all sizes. That was echoed at Marni, but you couldn’t accuse Francesco Risso of assimilating into the season’s climate for bourgeois dressing. Between his sea blue bustier and skirt scattered with hand-painted white polka dots, interwoven with scarf-like printed silks of Greek statues, and vivid red brush strokes, and Frankenstein’s monster bustiers in fleshy leather, Marni was creation all the way.
“I imagine this remote future with all these disheveled nymphs or three-D Amazons,” Risso reflected. “Creatures of a genetically modified Olympus.” Fashion might be in a functional place fit for commerce right now, but there’ll always be a mad hatter in the crowd.