The Milan Fashion Week collections ended on Sunday with a guest appearance by American designer Tommy Hilfiger, whose race car runway set a new speed-to-market record for fast fashion. There was a pop-up shop constructed right in the middle of the track. But even before that, there were several examples in Milan of designers who are cleverly adapting to a world where turmoil has become commonplace, and consumers need new reasons to buy.
Francesco Risso’s Marni collection on Sunday morning was one of the highlights of the week (some were calling it the best show of Milan), with its combination of weird sweeping-bell silhouettes and quirky cat prints on voluminous coats. I’m quite sure a lot of street style stars are currently trying to get their paws on the pink one, and I’d place a bet on seeing someone wearing it in Paris. Laminated raincoats in bright blue and green brought lively pops of color throughout the show, and many dresses were spliced together with crude stitches, suggesting they had been recycled from the scraps of discarded garments.
The setting played with the theme of production, and the environmental problems associated with over-production, which are especially visible in fashion. Guests found themselves sitting on benches made of piles of old clothes, bags of blazers, bales of dress shirts, undergarments bagged in plastic, or stacks of old newspapers, which could easily be read as Risso’s acknowledgement that all of this—while great today—will soon be yesterday’s news.
Lucie and Luke Meier, the excellent new designers at Jil Sander, were more explicit in their intent to create clothes for modern times. Their padded coats incorporated attachable blankets, and nomadic models carried pillows and duvets, accessories that were both comforting and a little frightening. If we get to the point where we literally have to survive with the clothes off our backs, I doubt anyone is going to be worried about doing so stylishly or in a multi-thousand dollar coat. But they were fabulous, nevertheless, and will make wonderful conversation pieces for the most discerning of socially conscious customers.
More practical for the rest of us, presuming the world goes on, were the gorgeous white gowns in frosty fabrics, the oddly shaped and oddly compelling knits, and a flash of red that appeared on a ribbed knit sweater and rounded trousers.
Even when they were not addressing the future so pointedly, designers throughout Milan did seem to be looking forward with a sharper sense of their place in fashion, with several strong collections that reinforced brand identities. At Missoni, for example, Angela Missoni’s delightful knit emphasized their less inhibited side with a bit of a hippie or reggae flare to both the models and the clothes. Some pieces were trimmed with ribbons with the colors of the Jamaican flag, and others were made of patchworks of knits that were pulled from Missoni’s 65-year-old archives.
Lorenzo Serafini has created a strong image for Philosphy in just a few years, which is a rare achievement in fashion. His light dresses of tiered lace, super denim pieces, and rock treatments of leather (gold fringed blazer, anyone?) are among the most youthful looking designs coming out of Italy at the moment. For fall, I especially loved a black jumpsuit that looked like leather, but was in fact lacquered silk so light it might actually be comfortable to wear.
Dolce & Gabbana was also a treat, starting with wonderful sight gag in which a series of handbags coasted down the runway ferried by drones. It must have been a lot of work to pull off (and, in fact, it took ages for the producers to convince everyone in the audience to deactivate their phone's Wi-Fi features in order for the technology to work). But it gave us a glimpse of what fashion might look like in the near future, once retailers begin making deliveries by drones.
The designers also included a lot of ridiculously funny/silly pieces in their collection – a coat patterned to look like a zebra, cherub-topped sunglasses, a hat with a sequined cat perched on top, a backpack shaped like a panda. The concept, printed on one dress, was “fashion devotion,” and it takes exactly that sort of commitment to have a good time, no matter what, to pull these looks off, which, of course, only Dolce & Gabbana customers really know how to do.
To end the night, walking into Tommy Hilfiger’s massive production, staged in a convention center that had been decorated to look like a race car track, or the inside of a race car video game, was like being transported to another planet. Like Mr. Dolce and Mr. Gabbana, Mr. Hilfiger has made a shrewd decision to prioritize his customers’s interests over those of the industry. And that’s made all the difference in his business, which is thriving. With his four-season partnership with Gigi Hadid wrapping up with this collection (now available online and in stores), the designer has regained currency with young consumers, both at home and in Europe.
It makes a lot of sense for Hilfiger to stage big spectacles here because they promote instant shopping, even an urgency to buy whatever siblings Gigi, Bella, and Anwar wore in the show. Despite the runway's racing car theme, the clothes never veered far from the red-white-and-blue flag motif that has always been Hilfiger’s bread and butter. Here, there were racing shorts, track jackets, and some light translucent printed dresses that hit the right trends, as well as some throwbacks to Hilfiger’s origins. There was even a T-shirt that recreated his famously boastful George Lois-designed billboard that introduced his brand more than three decades ago.
It all went by awfully fast, but as anyone here can tell you, so does fashion. It was hardly surprising to see audience members storming the runway to get their hands on the goods before they were gone.