Fashion / Style

Puppets, Real Life Celebs and an Underwater Fantasy Bring the Thrill Back to Milan Fashion Week

A New World With All Your Fashion Favorites

BY // 09.29.20

Milan Fashion Week achieved something that New York and London couldn’t: A celebrity was spotted on the front row of a live runway show. Will (tiny) miracles never cease?

Fendi kicked off the seven-day showcase of premier Italian designers. Singer Rita Ora and Normal People star Paul Mescal were among the guests who watched Silvia Fendi’s final womenswear collection before she turns over design duties to Kim Jones.

And Valentino brought the week to a close at a historic Milan foundry with a collection of frothy gowns and chic daywear as the British singer Labrinth performed before an appreciative audience, coming close to approximating the flashy pre-COVID fashion shows of the past.

It signaled a small return to normalcy in a country that suffered some of the biggest early effects of the coronavirus. Nearly a third of  the 64 runway shows — including Dolce & Gabbana, Etro, Max Mara, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Alberta Ferretti — were live although under strict health conditions with reduced number of guests. A Fendi show normally attracts 1,300, but this season’s show was limited to 130. Valentino also had a much smaller crowd, with each guest perched on a cushy stool a few feet apart.

Forty-one shows, including Prada, Giorgio Armani, and Moschino, were presented in digital form, while heavyweight fashion label Gucci skipped MFW altogether. Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele announced the brand is reducing its number of yearly shows in an effort to reduce waste.

While it wasn’t exactly business as usual, there was a lot to get excited about as the Italians proved they still can generate excitement on the runway.

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Underwater World

Donatella Versace conjured up a world of pure underwater fantasy with a riotously colorful sea-themed collection she labeled “Versaceopolis.” Set amid tumbled ruins meant to signify the underwater lost city of Atlantis, the Versace collection featured swirly minidresses and ruffled skirts in starfish, seahorse and fish prints, push-up rhinestone clamshell bras, rainbow-striped crop tops, long mermaid skirts with thigh-high slits, and form-fitting scuba-gear separates for women. The men were included, too, with loud neon-colored suits and tropical board shorts, shirts, and bucket hats.

She also debuted a new handbag collection incorporating the famous Versace Medusa symbol.

The show, which featured models Joan Smalls and Irina Shayk, took place before a socially distanced live audience of Versace employees, who had all been COVID-19 tested beforehand.  It evoked memories of the Versace 1992 show, created by her late brother Gianni, which featured Trésor de la Mer prints and bejeweled clamshell bodices.

Houston Style

Houston model Sherry Shi also appeared in the Versace show in a black minidress with green ruffled hem. Shi, who was originally discovered by Ally Shell van Koolwijk at Neal Hamil Agency, also walked the runway at the Valentino, Ports 1961, and No. 21 runway shows in Milan.

Mindful of the move toward sustainability and the shutdown of Italian fabric mills for much of this year, Dolce & Gabbana designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana recycled remnants with new fabrics to create a colorful patchwork collection of nearly 100 different styles in a colorful runway show.

Clashing florals and leopard prints were stitched together with polka dots, stripes, denim, brocades and jacquards to create sharply tailored jackets with wide lapels, flowing kaftans, body-hugging hourglass dresses and bustiers, short shorts, patched jeans, and long coats.

The most innovative runway show of the week came from Moschino creative director Jeremy Scott, who whipped up a miniature haute couture collection worn by 30-inch puppets created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. The models “walked” before a crowd of fashion influentials, including a tiny replica of Vogue‘s Anna Wintour, in looks from the collection that will be made in human sizes.

Jeremy Scott always pushes the envelope with Moschino.

Valentino usually premieres its new collections in Paris, but creative director Pierpaolo Piccoli moved the show to Milan in response to the global pandemic and to reinforce the brand’s Italian roots. He presented an expansive collection that ranged from frothy chiffon gowns to Levi’s 517 boot-cut jeans manufactured in a collaboration with the American denim maker.

In highlights from other shows, Alberta Ferretti slipped in some slinky slip dresses in her sunny collection while MaxMara emphasized coats with slashed cape sleeves and some nifty nylon trenches.

While many designers focused on flash, others chose a more subdued aesthetic. Fendi featured wood-print tunics, shirts, and pants for men and women; loose linen dresses in pastel shades; and trenchcoat dresses in brown leather and lightweight white wool.

Baby Power

Model Ashley Graham returned to the runway for the first time since having a baby in January for the Fendi show, wearing a sheer floral wrap dress over a black slip.

“It has been a difficult year for everyone and I’m so impressed by the fashion industry’s resilience and quick adapting. Thank you to everyone who helped me (safely) get back to the runway. I missed it so much!” Graham wrote on Instagram.

Prada had the most eagerly anticipated show at Milan Fashion Week as Miuccia Prada debuted her first collaboration with Raf Simons, the former creative director at Dior and Calvin Klein who has joined Prada as the brand’s co-creative director.

In their first outing together, the duo eschewed a live audience and instead streamed the runway show from an empty room with overhead TV cameras and monitors, followed by a live Q&A. The chic and understated collection included oversized cocoon coats, which each model clutched at the front with one hand, full skirts nipped at the waist, sweaters with cutout circles, and satin-silk screen shift dresses.

They also debuted the new signature Prada “uniform”: narrow trousers with a sleeveless tunic or top,  in polka dots or monochromatic colors. Many of the tops were emblazoned with the Prada triangle logo situated front and center just below the neckline, perfectly positioned for someone who wants to make a fashion impression during a Zoom call.

The Giorgio Armani runway show also didn’t have a live audience, but it had a big presence on the Internet and on Italian TV, where it was preceded by a 20-minute retrospective of the 86-year-old designer’s long career and followed by a screening of American Gigolo, the 1980 blockbuster that featured Richard Gere in tailored Armani and is credited for boosting the designer’s career.

Armani combined women’s and men’s collections in a show for the first time, citing the coronavirus crisis, and labeled it “Timeless Thoughts.” Amid the 99 looks — 60 for women and 39 for men — were timeless Armani favorites,including silver jumpsuits, silk trousers, classic jackets, and beaded evening dresses for her and, for him, dark business suits, casual three-piece suits, and shirtless vests with three-quarter pants.

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