Reviews of Fendi, Nº21, Dolce & Gabbana, Blumarine, A-Cold-Wall, & Missoni Spring 2021 Fashion Shows
Heritage & Beyond
BY LONG NGUYEN
Milano fashion week this season is all about just one show, perhaps it’s apt to call it the fashion show of the 21st century – Prada.
Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons will debut their first collection together on the second afternoon of this five days long week. It will be a moment of fashion history.
But the question of the purpose of the fashion remains a central issue for the Italians many of who are presenting for the second time after the men’s digital week in July.
Then these designers tackled the new format with gusto offering ideas, films, and a couple of live shows in that first phase of reopening for the global fashion weeks.
Months later, the Milano calendar features more live shows albeit within new circumstances aka with limited audience. To mark this distinction, here, I will put the format of the presentation along with the brand reviewed below to distinguish between the (digital) and the (sfilata) the Italian word for ‘a parade of a line of people or vehicles moving together through a public space to celebrate an important day or event’ according to the Collins online dictionary. In fashion, sfilata simply means live fashion shows.
Regardless of the format chosen, the real work comes in when the broadcasts are over and when the last models have exited the runway when the designers and their brands will face the reality of building a new and innovative industry.
Silvia Venturini Fendi sent out her farewell women’s collection as a reflection of the years she has spent working together with Karl Lagerfeld then going solo since February 2019. A reflection not just of her work but in what she considers as Fendi’s own materials like precious linen, feathers, furs, and eiderdown quilting that have the effects of embroidered bedding and tableware. Venturi Fendi will head menswear and accessories while ceding the women’s collection to Kim Jones who will start with the fall season.
From the inside looking out, and from the outside looking in, shadows and reflections are cast across collections. Intimacy is abstracted through signposts of domestic life – a trousseau of stories unpacked and unfolded in a weaving together of the precious and the plain.
– Silvia Venturini Fendi, on how she conceived her final women show
Venturini Fendi’s final women show acted as an anchor to this new mood with the home as the main source of pride, joy, and inspiration especially since everyone has been at home for such an extended time during the lockdown. The pleasures of small things at home like household objects such as table cloths or trousseau passed from one generation to another formed the soul of this soft and well-made collection.
The workmanship of these garments is unrivaled – the softness of a light print long blouse, the feather weight of gold and brown linen cape sleeve dress, the white crochet lace knit skirt, the ice blue delicate lace tunic and skirt, the linear encrustations of the light acqua blue sheer silk knit long dress are just among the marvels of the house’s command of craftsmanship. Each of these garments is surely great individual pieces and deserved their places in this memory-filled show.
The show felt a note of optimism and comfort – showing all the right signs for the hopeful new mood.
A very soft silhouette permeates all the men’s look from the matching ecru linen shirt and pants, to the black single breast large lapel jacket with pleated shorts and a black perforated leather coat, to a light blue broad shoulder jacket with detachable lapel and loose flare pants, and to a white and brown tie dye short sleeve short suit with matching shirt. As menswear will be her sole responsibility, Venturi Fendi has to hone a more precise vision to grow this segment of the company that is often regulated to a side business. It should be a competing business along with the women’s.
Now a large question looms over Fendi as the brand makes changes in the creative team.
What is missing in this ‘reflection’ show besides the demonstration of arts and crafts is the more important question of what is Fendi today. The decades of Karl Lagerfeld produced many and invaluable fashion moments like the 2007 show on the Great Wall outside of Beijing but these Lagerfeld years never really left Fendi with any instantly recognizable signatures for the house save for the double FF logo in dark chocolate.
What is a Fendi signature look? When was the last time anyone looked at an outfit and instantly said ‘That’s Fendi!’?
That, of course, is not an easy question to answer and in today’s competition among many brands, specific and standout brand identity is critical. It’s a hard question to answer because there really isn’t a Fendi ‘Bar’ look or silhouette.
The real dilemma at Fendi is simply – the fact that the brand has never really developed any signature ready-to-wear fashion looks or styles that audiences can identify. Yes people associate Fendi with furs but that’s just a category identification rather any specific style or look.
On the subject of furs which is a Fendi specialty since its founding, the house has been strenuously made an effort to modernize the way furs is crafted – in many cased creating fur garments that don’t look like furs. Notwithstanding this technological progress, fur isn’t a chosen fabric of the younger generation, and some fashion houses notably Gucci no longer used fur in the collections. Fendi has to decide how to align the brand with the values of the new generation. This is a critical choice the brand has yet to make.
The recent resurgence of the brand comes mainly from the Baguette and the Peekaboo bags and their seasonal remakes. Yes, the brand sold plenty of head-to-toe FF logoed merchandise with collaborations like Nicki Minaj Fendi prints in 2019 or the reinterpretation of the FF logo project with the visual artist Joshua Vides ‘California Sky’ collection unveiled early this summer. While all of these logo driven projects are great for business, it does not in any way build an image for the collection, especially if the clothes from these collections are to be a priority for the company.
That said, it will be up to Jones and Venturini Fendi to plot the course of Fendi’s next creative move but it is imperative that both identify and create a ready to wear signature, sooner rather than later in their future endeavors.
Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana are totally committed to fashion and to their brand. The duos vested work and devotion to their craft was on full display with the men’s and Alta Moda shows in July and now in early September, commendable in this pandemic and these difficult times.
The duo was the first to stage a full-scale fashion show in the outskirt of Milano on the campus ground of the Humanitas University for their men’s collection to benefit the medical school doing global research with the opera pop group Il Volo sang their various hits throughout the live show. For the duo designers as for the rest of the fashion world, the live physical shows are fundamental.
In a 98 look show that took place at their own theater space the Metropol in central Milano, with a limited audience dictated by Italian health guidelines, Dolce & Gabbana delved into their own design DNA over the decades and brought forth their best designs and their signatures garments each uniquely made by artisans in a joyful show titled ‘Patchwork di Sicilia’.
Every garment in the entire collection was uniquely handmade craftsmanship or fatto a mano as each artisan-crafted each piece of available fabrics due to lockdown measures together forming an array of colors of brocades, poplins, georgettes, velvets, silks, and wools in patterns locally made in various areas of Sicily like Palermo, Catania, Siracusa, and Agrigento and according to the pattern of each jacket, dress, pants, and coats. Each garment is a tapestry of history and labor of devotion from the Italian artisan who made them.
Dolce & Gabbana’s response to this time of crisis was to bring their audience back to the early days of the brand where their signature clothes began to take shape.
Fashion must come from the heart and not from the mind – fashion is a feeling more than about intellectual thinking. Every time you hear the designers mention Sicilia that simply means looking inward to home and to the inspirations where everything started for them.
The designers noted as their starting point for this spring collection was their 1993 men’s and women’s collection that was an ode to the 1970s, hippie generation. The show, held at Via Santa Cecilia, was packed with multicolor patchwork garments. Madonna attended that women show in October 1992 and Dolce & Gabbana designed the costumes for her 1993 Girlie Show tour that featured a segment of their 1993 show for her performance of the Express Yourself/Deeper and Deeper songs.
*Disclosure: I was working for Dolce & Gabbana at the time as the head of communications for the U.S.
The distance from then to now is how much the designers have sharpened their signature garments – for example the jackets fitted and narrow at the waist with spread lapels, the men’s vest fitted well like a men’s vest, and the multitude of corsets always structured to the women’s body.
Subtle changes abound in the collection but they resided in the details of the clothes. Looking beyond the colorful patchwork were altered silhouettes – this time the double breast jacket got a little more volume, the spread collar got a tiny bit wider on the single-breasted jackets, the tailored pant got a little more flare, the men’s white shirt had brocade collars, and the chiffon skirt got a little longer. But customers won’t need to notice these subtle sartorial change, they only need to know these clothes are D&G.
This is the right moment to break the mold and try something new. Many years I think that the timing of the shows and the purpose of the shows have changed – before to the trade and the press – but today it goes to the public and final consumer. This ad campaign depicts what was shown in March and has finally in the stores just now.
– Angela Missoni, Chairman/Creative Director of Missoni SPA
The campaign was shot by a young English photographer near the family’s compound in Varese to portray that sense of family ties as Missoni remains one of the few family firms to still be independent, now with the third generation entering the company headquarter ready to take charge. Models are seen around the town square and relaxing on the hillside wearing long patchwork knit dress, zig-zag cardigans with black sparkly jeans, or in very thin colorful sweaters and writing postcards.
“We are a family company,” said Missoni about the choice of shooting around Varese where the firm’s headquarter and the production factory are located.
Missoni’s decision to showcase the current collection to remind consumers of what they can buy now was also seen adopted in New York by Jonathan Simkhai with his small recreated showing of the various looks from his fall show in an empty studio with empty chairs with models wearing clothes that are produced and delivered to retail and e-commerce sites and in London where Palmer/Harding sent their fall clothes to make a home video of their respective family members.
This is not simply a response to the business crisis at hand, of how to restart the desire for consumption. The Missoni business rests in selling the familiar family multicolor knits in all its infinite varieties and there will always be new customers for these wonderful products. But the purpose of a fashion show is about new fashion ideas and Missoni’s shows in the past decade or so did not really fulfill this purpose while the shows did provide a platform for showing new ways of making these knits or iterations of this range of knitwear that is the foundation of the brand. There really aren’t any reasons then for Missoni to waste resources and produce a fashion show.
The new, whatever that may or may not be, can wait while the immediate priorities here is on how the current merchandises need to move and move now not tomorrow.
The three segments of the short film ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ made by Samuel Ross, Pierre Debusschere, and Robbie Spencer was presented digitally as a visual presentation of the London based A-Cold-Wall*’s spring collection can be view as perhaps a symbolic representation our present moment and the situation of the pandemic. The feel of isolation was felt throughout the three segments as if the models were fighting or walking away to get out of the space but were still stuck inside for Ross’ second installation in Milano after defecting from London last season.
The film opens with two male models in a light struggle in a darkened studio, the second showed several models in bright light and the last was a moody lit space with the same cast moving about but had little contact with each other wearing clothes that seemed to be the current gamut of menswear influenced by streetwear and tradition of dressing up.
That meant clothes that alternated between a black single breast suit with a white shirt and a black work vest or a black pinstripe pantsuit, to the layering of white patchwork coat, grey wool cardigan, and brown pants, to yellow water-resistant coated coat, to a red cotton parka with matching blouson and a hooded sweatshirt, and to black denim pieces with slight uneven washing. The outerwear was the forte of the collection like bright yellow gabardine field jackets.
While Ross offered many variations of dressing for today’s Gen Z consumers, he seemed to have wanted to satisfy so many customers by showing such a vast array of different kinds of clothes that the message got lost along the way. For a young brand like A-Cold-Wall* having a strong point of view would matter more at this moment than a multitude of products diluting the designer’s vision.
The trick with a coed live show is that sometimes either the men’s or the women’s side feels stronger in terms of ideas.
It’s not exactly fair but this may be the case at Alessandro dell’Acqua’s live show for the label N°21 at Garage Ventuno in a coed show where the designer said he “used fabrics, shapes and colors” to make clothes share the same ideas, shapes, and fabrics but have distinct characteristics specific to each gender. This was not exactly the same as or as radical a proposition as to how Jean Paul Gaultier broke the gender boundary in his 1985 groundbreaking show ‘One Wardrobe for Two’ show where clothes no longer have gender signifier.
The show opened with mostly all white and light ecru fabrics used for double-breasted jacket and white feather dress or a drop shoulder coat with crop white shirt and cuffed short pants. The men’s shapes varied from a cropped shirt and nude lace tee shirt and hand-knit sweater exposing the navel to a long white shirt paired with a six buttons pantsuit. The women’s had silver paillette decorations on mauve long silk dress or silver beads on a sleeve of a white shirt. Not to be left out, dell’Acqua gave his men’s clothes some feathers on the sides of pants and shorts or silver embroideries on a black side cut sweater.
Taken apart there were a few great coats and jackets for both genders but it was far from clear what the designer’s message was on gender differences or should there be any in terms of clothes.
Nicola Brognano, the new creative director at Blumarine, is a graduate of the Istituto Marangoni fashion school in Milano, and the ateliers of Giambatista Valli haute couture and RTW, and Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda, and a founder of his own line Brognano since 2015.
Following the acquisition of Blumarine by the Italian entrepreneur Marco Marchi in November 2019, the new owner hired Brognano as creative director in March with the hopes that the young designer would be able to translate the house aesthetics developed over the years by Anna Molinari. Mixing sexy and romantics clothes destined for younger women of her times to the younger and more progressive women today who are less dictated by fashion standards.
In this transaction, it is never a certainty how much Brognano will need to abide by the Blumarine house codes if anyone can even recall what that Blumarine DNA is? Can Brognano create what he thinks will be the right collection for now? And given his training at Valli and Dolce & Gabbana, and his seasons with his own eponymous line, what are the expectations?
The seated guests at Brognano’s debut live show in Milano in an industrial space watched models wearing the colorful and sexy tight fitted clothes as they meandered around a zig-zag walkway with planted flowers to separate the invitees. One-shoulder bead embroidered micro dress with fur trim collar crossing the front, white or black boat neck fur trims with long slim pants sliced at the ankle, a range of midriff looks like zig zag green and blue floral long sleeve top and skirt or a yellow floral print strapless corset with a yellow cardigan and leopard pants were some of the highlights of the collection.
It is hard to imagine young women today attracted to these clothes.
In the next seasons, Brognano has to think about his customers and how he can match his aesthetic and his sensibility to the desires of these women for the kind of clothes they will want to wear and that he can create for them. Forget about the DNA of Blumarine – that is totally irrelevant. At this point, no one has any recollection of what Blumarine was, and frankly no one cares.