Eric Wilson is InStyle's fashion news director. For more real-time insights during Fashion Month, follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

By Eric Wilson
Updated Feb 25, 2016 @ 12:30 pm
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Giorgio Armani, Donatella Versace, Alberta Ferretti, Giambattista Valli, and Brunello Cucinelli, despite the pressures of presenting their fall collections in a matter of days (or in some cases, hours), marched into a ballroom in Milan’s Palazzo Reale for a little lunch on Wednesday.

It was a particularly rare occasion in Italian fashion – so rare that the last time so many famous Milanese had gathered in one room at the same time was for a performance at La Scala in 2013. Yet here, the notoriously competitive designers put aside their differences, and their needles, for a moment, drawn by the invitation of Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi (pictured below, with Giorgio Armani). Heads of state don’t often come to Fashion Week events, so there was that as a lure. Also, the young prime minister, while performing to mixed reviews politically, remains unquestionably adorable.

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“I’m just a little stressed,” said the designer Tommaso Aquilano, who was fidgeting next to his table as guests arrived. One half of the design duo Aquilano Rimondi, he noted his collection for the youthful sportswear label Fay was due to be shown on the runway in a little under three hours. Other designers continued to arrive. Stella Jean, Alessandra Facchinetti, Marco de Vincenzo, Massimiliano Giornetti, and Massimo Giorgetti. At each seat, three glasses of Prosecco were poured with no explanation, although Arthur Arbesser helpfully suggested the third, poured last, might be the best.

  • Renzi, for his part, spoke passionately of Italy, making a point to stress his intention was not to announce a new program of financial or marketing support for the city’s fashion industry, but rather remind it to look to the future. Of all the major style capitals, Milan is generally regarded as the most traditional or set in its ways, an image the city has been slowly trying to shed.
  • “Either innovation is the name of the game,” Renzi said, “or fashion doesn’t make sense.”
  • Fittingly enough, the first big show of Milan Fashion Week that followed the luncheon belonged to its buzziest designer, that of Alessandro Michele of Gucci, who has turned the label into a hot commodity over the course of a few seasons. His safari suits with girl-scout proportions, floral-print or pussy-bow blouses, and deliciously gaudy, glittering heels can be found on editors everywhere, and there will be plenty of more options for them to wear in the fall.

Michele’s Gucci remix plays to an infectious beat, pumping desire into the audience in a way that few designers can achieve even over decades. His clothes are like fashion earworms, and his show on Wednesday included catchy, semi-ironic pieces made in collaboration with Gucci Ghost, a street artist who uses the Gucci logo playfully, even disrespectfully, in his work. (While hardly the first luxury handbag to undergo the graffiti treatment, Gucci’s new versions cleverly spoofed the knockoff market by tagging them with the word “Real.”)

As for the clothes, Michele continues to turn out an incredible number of bedazzled sweatshirts, neon furs, gowns of pastel clouds tinged with tiger and snake embroideries (top, left), so much merch that the most common refrain this sparked in editors post-show Instagram commentary was this: There’s something for everyone.

Let’s clarify that is something for everyone who has lots of money and a desire to embrace the opulence of Michele’s easily identifiable aesthetic. Step into a Gucci store these days and you’ll know what I mean – the pieces are individually delectable, but collectively make for a very rich buffet – and it can be hard to walk out without feeling like you’ve got too much on your plate.

Michele’s immediate success has also spawned a lot of competition for attention-grabbing clothes, this being Milan after all.

The opening day of shows, all of which seemed to be running an hour late or more, included a fun Fausto Puglisi collection set to Madonna songs (the designer must have had an epiphany when called on stage for that banana routine during her last tour through Italy). He smartly returned to the look that brought him a lot of buzz in the first place, a sort of extravagant cocktail dress festooned with palm trees, and added combat or cowboy boots as accessories (below, left). Looked right for a party. Alessandro Dell’Acqua’s No. 21 show also was overflowing with cute takes on current sportswear crazes, from grungy plaids to neon sunset scenes on oversize sweatshirts and jackets (below, right), and his most original addition was a giant satin backpack that looked strangely chic.

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After a quiet debut as the new designer of Roberto Cavalli last season, Peter Dundas came out swinging for fall, and wow, what a difference. His energetic collection seemed to riff on the soundtrack of “Freedom Rock,” with skinny rich hippies in flared corduroys and slim snakeskin jackets. Dundas’s evening dresses also picked up on the embroideries-on-tulle look, using the Cavalli house symbol of snakes, also seen on a rather sharp motif on the braided shoulders of a military jacket (top, right).

As you’ll remember, Gucci’s Michele has been using snakes liberally in his collections, which sets us up for something of a turf war. Who’s got the bigger bite?