In Depth

More is not always more at Milan Fashion Week

The beating heart of high-glamour saw a week of complicated excess in Italy, but it was a little too much for some critics

After the soaring sales his creative directorship has inspired, Alessandro Michele's Gucci is only growing in confidence. No more so than with this spectacular of 120 looks for the brand's inaugural co-ed runway show, held in its new 377,000sq-ft global headquarters.

However, it was a little over-confident for some. "Fancy dress fandango," was Vanessa Friedman of the New York Times's assessment. "There's no escaping the fact it still looks like costume".

The journalist felt the wildly diverse collection was most interesting when it engaged with reality, through slogan T-shirts produced with artist Coco Capitan and featuring statements such as: "What are we going to do with all this future?" But Sarah Mower at Vogue said that for all the complex references, Michele's work, "ultimately ends up as straightforward, commercially attractive clothes and accessories, intelligible Italian luxury desirable the world over". And at a time when Gucci is an exception to consumers' loss of interest in luxury, it's hard to argue with that.

The word "feminism" was also bandied about during the shows. "Miuccia Prada returns to feminist form," said Jess Cartner-Morley at The Guardian. The collection was a journey through 50 years of female experience, with nods to the 1950s, 60s and 70s. "This was a collection looking at why it is that gender politics finds itself, in 2017, wondering if it has made any progress in the last half-century. Prada left slogan T-shirts to others, and instead of addressing the direct political issue, had her say about gender politics through the lens of examining the dynamic between men and women in sex and romance."

Rather more direct were Missoni's models capped with pink "pussy" hats, which were also given out as freebies to attendees at its multicoloured knitwear extravaganza. However, Victoria Moss at the Daily Telegraph says the brand was only doffing its cap to feminist politics, as "whilst noble in sentiment, the employment of a more diverse cast of models, might have made a stronger point". 

A significant debut came in the form of Francesco Risso at Marni, after founder and creative director Consuelo Castiglioni stood down last October, although Suzy Menkes at Vogue thought Risso, who spent his formative years at Prada, needed to work harder to pay homage to Marni's design history. "A visible bra in deck-chair red stripes over a slim silvered dress said nothing about Marni," she said. Friedman at the New York Times gave Risso the credit of trying "his game best", but concluded he had tried too hard, exhausting viewers with "padded utilitarian suits and dresses in uniform grey, the backs puffed out into bulbous cocoons, an S-shaped seam tracing a curve down the front and back, necks funnel-shaped. And then it segued into fuzzy, felted wool separates, which segued into big, hairy coats and furry skirt suits in pastel shades, which turned into lace turtlenecks layered under Prada-like jacquard bralets with matching pencil skirts." Save some "for next time", she added.

Another try-hard was Dolce & Gabbana – but to gain more Instagram followers, rather than critical acclaim. Their focus was firmly on those wearing the collection, a who's who of millennial digital influencers. "In a show that was more about entertainment than selling clothes, included were also dogs, babies and small children," said Lauren Cochrane at The Guardian, describing how even Anna Wintour cracked a smile.

The diverse spectacle served as an effective distraction from Stefano Gabbana's praise for Melania Trump in January, which drew widespread criticism. Many designers have refused to dress the First Lady, but not Dolce & Gabbana. Perhaps it's a shame that the clothes drew little praise – bar a few space helmets, Menkes at Vogue said, "most of the clothes were reruns on familiar territory" – but with many new followers likely racked up, it may be that they don't care.

There was a rumoured closing curtain for Donatella Versace as creative chief at the label she took over after her brother Gianni's tragic death in 1997. However, while her collection certainly drew on Versace trademarks – chainmail dresses, body-con, degrade sequins, thigh-high splits – Donatella was powerfully engaged in the present moment and emblazoned her clothes with messages of solidarity such as "courage", "strength" and "unity", a message commended by Friedman in the New York Times. Lauren Cochrane at The Guardian read between the lines after the hooded tops and sporty shapes in Versace’s collection gave a nod to Ricardo Tisci (who recently departed Givenchy) – "Tisci was one of the first designers to put the hoodie on the catwalk – did Donatella's collection herald the shape of things to come?"

Milan concluded on a rather sad note with a funeral for the much-loved Franca Sozzani, the visionary editor-in-chief of Italian Vogue, who passed away suddenly at the end of last year. Her funeral at Milan's most famous landmark, the Duomo, which was packed to the rafters.

REBECCA MAY JOHNSON writes for publications including Vogue, AnOther, the Daily Telegraph and the Business of Fashion

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