In Depth

Social media takes centre stage at Milan Fashion Week

Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter were all the rage in Italy as designers staged fun, photo-friendly shows, reports Charlie Boyd

While each fashion week has its own traits – London's rebellious creativity, for example, or New York's understated, commercially astute collections – when it comes to matters of style, Milan is the most changeable city. Show to show and season to season, fashion week swings wildly from vivacious events verging on theatre by the likes of Dolce & Gabbana and Moschino to those of the trendsetting, money-making powerhouses of Gucci and Prada. This season, it added a new element to its kaleidoscope: it was cemented as the home of social media-driven shows.

It started with the models. We saw Lauren Hutton walk the Bottega Veneta runway, swiftly becoming "the most talked-about woman in Milan", according to the Daily Telegraph. It didn't hurt that she was arm in arm with Gigi Hadid – a woman for whom the term "model" just doesn't cut the mustard. Hadid is part of the "tiny elite" The Guardian calls a new breed of supermodel – with 23 million Instagram followers, she is a modern phenomenon: a social media superstar with influence the original "supers" couldn't imagine.

They were there too, of course, with Naomi Campbell striding as fiercely down the Versace runway as she had 20 years ago. Donatella Versace had pulled out the big-gun bods for her athleisure-inspired collection, enlisting the help of the women who have become the fashion equivalent of The Avengers: Doutzen Kroes, Irina Shayk, Edie Campbell, Naomi and, naturally, Gigi.

Versace's front row was working just as hard for those Instagram likes, with tennis champion Serena Williams sitting in pride of place for what the Telegraph describes as a "barnstormingly good show". Dolce & Gabbana's "frow", meanwhile, was a who's who of celebrity millennials: a troop of 21 social media sensations expertly deciphered by Fashionista for those of us who don't regularly Insta-stalk.

Then there were the collections themselves, perfectly poised to create striking pictures for social media feeds. Jeremy Scott turned his models into life-sized paper dolls for his Moschino show, using trompe l'oeil prints and adding paper tabs to shoulders. Miuccia Prada designed a collection that, says the Financial Times, was "about going back to basics". And yet, any basic silhouette, whether a trouser suit or a trench coat, was given a wild trim of wafting pastel marabou feathers – you can see the Boomerang, Snapchat and Instagram Stories potential right there.

Accessories were naturally a focus on the Italian catwalks, but this season it was about creating finishing touches that would command hashtags. The New York Times says it was a season where "escapism proved the engine of the eye", as designers turned to tropical motifs and fantastical embellishment to hike up their following, creating photo-friendly, bordering-on-gimmicky accessories. Gucci chose oversized, crystal-encrusted glasses, while Dolce & Gabbana went all out, creating light-up bags, tiaras and shoes, their LEDs twinkling under the lights of a thousand iPhone flashes. A collection that was "gilded enough to make a cathedral look underdressed," according to Vogue, it was proof that "Domenico and Stefano, in this era of Instagram and Snapchat, know that making fashion visibly fun is a big part of successful brand management".

There was some disappointment at the Daily Telegraph, however, over the visibility of the Gucci show, where the runway was obscured by a swirling pink mist. Guests mused it was there to thwart the social media madness, providing a buffer between the clothes and the camera lenses. This was Alessandro Michele's fourth season as creative director and with sales up 66 per cent in the past year and every high street retailer trying to copy his designs as closely as legally possible, somehow that pink fog doesn't seem all that social media-insensitive – after all, it was all everyone was talking about on Twitter.

Charlie Boyd is the executive fashion and jewellery editor for Harper's Bazaar UK and Town & Country

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