MILAN A/W ’21 DIGITAL
Exactly a year ago, on a Sunday morning in Milan, my colleagues and I were lining up to congratulate Raf Simons on his new job at Prada. That day, amid news of the pandemic, Giorgio Armani would be the first designer to cancel attendance for his show. After Dolce & Gabbana – where I can first recall hesitating before hugging – I rushed through the streets and back to the lobby of the Grand, which soon turned into the Fashion Situation Room. Phones were going off, flights were rebooked, and not long after, some of us boarded a plane to Paris, in a hurry, as if we were on the run. Two weeks later, as the global lockdowns set in, we’d realise the magnitude of it all. And that Prada press conference – Simons’s new tenure – would come to represent something we never saw coming: a fashion reset; an emotionally ambivalent approach to dressing fuelled by a year in confinement and a fashion mindset suspended between a wardrobe apathy and a longing for glamour.
“What’s building up is the desire for movement and action, and new energy and fashion. The desire to release again,” Simons said this week, a year on, after his and Miuccia Prada’s second digital women’s show since the pandemic. Like every designer this season, their collection will go into stores at the same time we’re due to re-emerge from lockdown. Their take on the reset wardrobe – so psychologically charged – was found in introvert-extrovert pieces: garments like bodysuits and enveloping coats constructed to be isolative and shielding, but rendered in gaudy, colourful patterns that could be seen from space. ‘Look at me, don’t look at me’ was the message – a post-confinement approach to dressing. It also reflected a fashion lockdown mentality where marketing words like “comfort-wear”, “#WFH” and “Zoom dressing” quickly became part of our vocabulary. For their digital shows, designers were tasked with creating comfy fashion that also had to “jump through a screen”.
“People came to me saying, ‘It has to be digital-savvy, it has to be digital-friendly, it has to go through the screen’,” Francesco Risso recalled. “Fuck that.” Realising that the virtual humdrum of lockdown had him hankering for romanticism, he developed his Marni collection almost entirely by hand. “Life! Life is romantic. A life that allows for laughs, for positive thinking, and definitely not for abandoning the feeling of the hand that makes things,” as he told me. It materialised in a tongue-in-cheek transformation of the sports and loungewear codes of lockdown into real dressmaking, expressed in jaunty shapes clearly informed by the classic silhouettes of haute couture. A chic wrap abstracted into a puffer cape but retained its little neat plume trim, a mermaid skirt morphed with a sweat pant, and tennis trainers sharpened into evening shoes.
Across the digital Milan-scape, the ambivalence of the emergent wardrobe had designers divided between the pragmatic and the exuberant. “When you go to a show, you get the look of the season. But I didn’t want to have that, because this moment in time makes us understand that we are over that,” Angela Missoni. Since the pandemic prevented her from putting on a real fashion show, she thought she’d do something even realer than that: take the “real clothes” label inherent to Missoni’s genetics and give it the airtime it rarely receives in runway fashion. The outcome was a no-frills, easily approachable look for an everyday wardrobe. Having spent most of the lockdown period in his country home in Suffolk, Ian Griffiths found in the universal timelessness of the British country wardrobe his idea of the transitional look. “I really was wearing my wax jacket and my hiking boots and my flat cap every day,” he said, “so that’s what triggered me… along with watching The Crown on Netflix like everyone else.”
As far as transitional clothes go – as in our impending shift from sofa to sidewalk – in his first ready-to-wear proposal for Fendi, Kim Jones looked to the Roman spirit of the house and its founding family for tone. The powdery and earthy tonal looks he called “palate cleansing” followed a straightforward and easy silhouette in dresses and tailoring occasionally tempered with a soft magnified shoulder, or a dropped armhole. Where the Fendi of Jones’s predecessor Karl Lagerfeld was always quite “dressed” – although religiously light in materiality – Jones’s Fendi emerged as a more low-key, perhaps practical wardrobe. “Daywear, tailoring, dresses… things that have a certain ease to them, but which you can dress up if you want to,” as he told me. Giorgio Armani settled on a similar balance, in a casual-sporty silhouette that felt sensible – bar some spiral ruffles, glitter and crystal moments clearly tailored to a party mood.
“The dressing-down trend will have done nothing to dent our desire to look good and our craving for beauty and elegance,” Armani wrote in our seasonal email exchange. “Do not forget, you can still be elegant even if you are dressing in a more casual and relaxed way. However, I do predict that when we are allowed to pursue our lives in a more normal way, there will be a resurgence of dressing-up as people socialise again. And in this context, elegance never goes out of style.”
“People came to me saying, ‘It has to be digital-savvy, it has to be digital-friendly, it has to go through the screen’,” Francesco Risso recalled. “Fuck that.” Realising that the virtual humdrum of lockdown had him hankering for romanticism, he developed his Marni collection almost entirely by hand. “Life! Life is romantic. A life that allows for laughs, for positive thinking, and definitely not for abandoning the feeling of the hand that makes things.” – Anders Christian Madsen
At Moschino, he was preaching to the choir. Jeremy Scott carried the banner for the collision of designers who believe an exuberant and escapist attitude is fashion’s way forward. His brilliant Old Hollywood-style short film starred 36 top models, It-girls and pin-ups in a portrayal of a lady’s everyday life: outfits for business, leisure, upkeep, travels and balls; all activities we haven’t had a reason to dress for over the past year.
Even for a wardrobe designed for coming out of lockdown, the Technicolor glamour of Scott’s collection was decidedly extravagant. “I guess I live in such a fantasy land I didn’t really think of it that way. I mean, you have to get dressed anyway, don’t you?” he quipped, rolling his eyes at fashion forecasts for comfort-wear. “Comfort schmomfort! What we need now more than ever is fantasy and glamour and things that make you feel wonderful, and I don’t think sweatpants do that.” Call it a surreal wardrobe for surreal times: for lunch, little tweed dresses with purses dotted around them as adornment. For work, bankers’ pinstripe suits reconstructed into bustier dresses. For the countryside, Franco Moschino’s cloud and cow motifs unified on gowns alongside burlap potato sack peplum dresses, and Kirsty Hume with a windmill on her head.
“I wanted to do things in film that you can’t do live,” Scott told me. Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana took that sentiment one step further, looking to the future – to put the past behind us – in a collection that brought virtual reality into the real wardrobe. In a radical change of direction for the designers, they took inspiration from the e-girls of TikTok in exaggerated silhouettes forged in kaleidoscopic hi-tech materials, which mimicked the anatomic amplification exercised on social media. Employing technology, the designers developed real, tactile fabrics that brought the virtual look into the material world, morphing wools with plastics, and vegan things, too. “The most important thing about technology is humans. Humans make technology,” Gabbana said. “It’s handmade.” In these pandemic times, he and Dolce weren’t alone in seeing futurism and technological possibility as a form of escapism.
“For me this a standpoint of the future that could be. Ferragamo has never been this forward in a collection before,” Paul Andrew said, tag-lining a collection that answered fashion’s reset through the genre of sci-fi. He orchestrated a digital spectacular using elaborate stage effects and CGI to build an alternate sci-fi universe in the name of Salvatore Ferragamo, filling it with the skin-tight, sculptural, streamlined, shiny clinical-ness of futuristic fashion. Leather silhouettes took sculptural form with rubberised surface treatments, and bodysuits ideal for spaceship dressing made their second appearance since Prada. The collection was underpinned by a study of everyday uniforms through which Andrew sought to develop new, more casual dress codes. “After this crisis, I don’t see guys going back to three-piece tailored suits, at least from a fashion standpoint. So, this is more casual; more ease,” he said.
“When I was young, everything about the future was about cyberspace and technology,” Pierpaolo Piccioli recalled. “But I really feel that now, the future is about humanity. It’s about the courage to fight for what you believe in.” Staged breathtakingly (and at times heart-wrenchingly) in a theatre in Milan left empty by the pandemic, with Cosima singing Nothing Compares 2 U – a song about loss and longing – his austere black and white Valentino silhouettes signified that wardrobe reset: an opportunity to collectively redefine dress codes and the garments of the traditional wardrobe after our collective year-long experience. If, stepping out into a changed world, we’ll be facing a new normal, Piccioli’s collection illustrated its transformed dress codes.
Underpinned by his constrained romanticism, he quietly twisted and turned each icon of the classic wardrobe. The unassuming white shirt lengthened in detail and took centre stage, a humble cable knit was serenely painted in gold, and jackets morphed into capes. Through figurative cutting, he illustrated the purity and authenticity of a fashion mind reset. Quite literally, he cut through clothes and revealed the layers beneath, decorticating argyle jumpers, turning dresses and tops into netted structures, and revealing the body under evening dresses in lace and plume that oscillated over the skin. “Metaphorically, I wanted to open new spaces to give hope for a future made up of these people,” Piccioli told me. “They’re people who share a wardrobe, who share ideas, who share values. To me, it was a way to get to the essence: a generation of people with a personal identity and personal choices.”
Article: Milan Fashion Week
Media: Milan Fashion Week