From Extroverts to Fashion Nuns, Breaking Down the New Tribes of Milan Fashion Week

Versace Supermodels
Photo: Venturelli/Getty

There has been a lot of talk about the good old days of fashion tribes this week at the shows in Milan, where designers appear to be pushing back against the modern habit of consumers who like to mix luxury brands in their wardrobes. They seem to be yearning for a return to the sort of brand loyalty that was common during the rise of the mega-brands in the 1990's when people wore their favorite designers like uniforms that reflected their personal style. Back then, you could easily identify the power brokers who belonged to the Gucci camp when it was under the realm of Tom Ford, or the sophisticates who remained true to the more restrained though seasonally adjusted aesthetic of Giorgio Armani, or the extroverts whose tastes veered toward the Milanese tradition of owning (and brazenly broadcasting) one’s sexuality, as has been the hallmark of Versace for nearly 40 years.

Now we’re entering a period when it might suddenly be cool again to pledge allegiance to one designer, much as Gucci’s new fan club demonstrates by wearing head-to-toe ornamented and glittery statement pieces designed by Alessandro Michele that wouldn’t work with anything else. So it’s really very logical that many houses now are returning to their core looks, or proposing new collections that repeat many of their most successful ones. There’s a clear through-line in the work of Raf Simons at Calvin Klein and Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton, for example.

The good news for Milan, during a strong season made stronger by the benefit of exceptional weather and the good fortune that so many shows were held al fresco in the sunshine, is that so many designers created their own distinctive looks, rather than blending into a sea of similar trends. And there’s something for everyone here. Let’s break these down into tribes for you. Fashion nuns, rejoice – Jil Sander is back with a new creative team in Luke and Lucie Meier, whose well-received debut collection centered not only on the hallmarks of Sander herself (ooh, those amazingly detailed white cotton shirts, and slightly too large minimalist suits), but also I detected nods to the pillars of minimalism and conceptual design, from Rei Kawakubo to Junya Watanabe to the Martin Margiela years of Hermès. While it was tempting to think at times that the Meiers were a little too direct in their homage, there’s no one else making such sparklingly crisp and thoroughly thought-out designs right now, and a lot of people want it.

Donatella Versace’s utterly joyous ode to her late brother Gianni, 20 years after his murder, could not have been complete without such a literal reprisal of his greatest hits: The seashell scarf print dresses, the brightly colored power suits that celebrated smart, fashion-savvy women, the deliciously gaudy pop icon catsuits, and the instantly legendary finale featuring the epic supermodels Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Helena Christensen, Carla Bruni, and Claudia Schiffer in liquid gold gowns that they wore right out of the show and back to their hotels. It was a glorious moment of nostalgia and, given the impact of the moment on social media, perhaps a moment when lightning can strike twice for Donatella. To think, some of the other models in the show were just babies (or not even born) back in the days of Gianni, and they have a desire to learn.

Sophisticates will still (perhaps always) have their Giorgio Armani, who will outfit them in minty colors and patterns reflective of stained glass windows for spring, chic as ever. Rich Italians and anyone who loves them will find their summer wardrobes at Tod’s, which offered some terrific separates in lightweight leathers, particularly an ombré dress or a cow print suede skirt. The brave followers of Marni are in for a treat, too, in the sophomore collection of its new designer Francesco Risso. With a bold candy-colored palate applied to big plaid smocks, funny silk bathrobe coats with fur sashes that trailed behind them (one patterned à la Cruella de Vil), and pretty pink tank dresses affixed with gumball-sized embellishments, Risso provided all the elements of a sugar fun factory.

If I had choose a tribe, it would be Missoni, not only because the knits are still so enchanting in Angela Missoni’s 20th year as the designer of the women’s collection, but because the Missonis are just so seductive to be around. Her show on Saturday was wonderful, with slick tacks on rainbow stripes on slinky suits and floppy hats that matched the sailcloth tented runway covering. But so too was the party that followed, where Angela greeted each guest with poetic charm. From behind my ear, she plucked the tiny white bloom of a branch from an olive tree and inhaled its intense peachy scent. “It only blooms this time of year,” she said. “That’s how you know it’s the end of summer.” Sigh.

Tomas Maier has always stuck to an individualist’s view of his Bottega Veneta aesthetic. It’s a complete look for a devoted customer, one who is bound to be pleased by the newest additions to this sporty looking collection, notably with peppier colors and studded details that gave a fresh gloss of appeal to his classics. For the traditionalist who prefers to wear her clothes rather than the other way around, the house of Salvatore Ferragamo is the place to go. Subtle crystal embellishes and fluttering pastel orchid dresses looked charming without upstaging the bigger picture here, which was an incredible outdoor set design with a glass runway that snaked around a gorgeous piazza covered in grass (it was a special blowout to introduce a new fragrance called Amo Ferragamo).

And finally, for the finale of Milan Fashion Week, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, whose Dolce & Gabbana legions are many, showed an especially wild collection that had something for everyone. There was loosely a theme of exploring notions of beauty, channeled through the imagery of playing cards, or specifically the Queen of Hearts who figured on the invitation and in the runway’s backdrop, as well as in crystal designs that covered more than a few dresses, jewels, bags, what have you. At the same time appeared quite a few curious prints of produce, like dresses with shelled peas, heads of lettuce, and baby chicks with lemon shaped beads dangling from the sleeves. The main thought I had as the models paraded by was how fascinating it would be to spend a few hours watching these two come up with their ideas during a design meeting. Which one came up with another baby chick print dress that also featured slices of oranges – or was that a compromise?

It was all quite surreal, though not quite as unnerving as spending the 30 minutes prior to the show observing the shiny millennial superstars in the audience, like pouty-lipped Cameron Dallas, lip-synching to what seemed like an entire Shawn Mendes album. Now that I mention it, so were a few gay men in their 40s. Let us just say that Dolce and Gabbana absolutely know their tribe...

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