Milan Fashion Week Highlights: Crowd-surfing models, a condom mountain and 80s club culture

CNN Newsource Pristine Villarreal

(CNN) — Oscillating between flashy and understated, escapist and down to earth, Milan Fashion Week’s Fall-Winter 2023 collections conjured glamor in very different ways, with several brands putting on theatrical displays that provided ample entertainment.

Over 50 shows were held in Italy’s fashion capital during the event that concluded on Monday though there were a few notable absentees — namely, Marni and Versace (the house will instead show in Los Angeles March 10).

A mountain of condoms at the Diesel show kicked off proceedings. The backdrop for creative director Glenn Martens’ Fall-Winter 2023 collection, predictably, turned out to be one of the week’s most Instagrammed and talked about sets. True to the label’s provocative ethos, the Belgian designer put on a sexy, tongue-in-cheek runway of low-low rise jeans and skin-revealing clothes that confirmed his mastery of denim. Many of the sheer lacy effects obtained through devoré, a technique that uses a paste to burn through cellulose fibers, leaving woven fabric behind in a pattern.

More skin was flaunted at Roberto Cavalli and Dolce & Gabbana. The former channeled hedonism and excess, with patchwork leather trimmed in crystals, animal motifs, lots of faux-fur and black lace reinvented in countless different ways from corsets to figure-hugging dresses. Dolce & Gabbana meanwhile reached for a glamazon aesthetic through lingerie dressing — bras with metal cups, lacy teddies, embroidered slips — paired with feathered parkas, white tuxedos and hourglass shaped double-wool coats — no doubt a nod to the brand’s ongoing collaboration with Kim Kardashian, who was seated front row.

Elsewhere, other big-name brands like Fendi, Prada, Max Mara and Giorgio Armani adopted an altogether more conservative approach to fashion, with clothes that were sensible and seemingly designed for everyday life. The slew of tailored gray coats seen almost everywhere on the runway were a case in point — as was the footwear, which spanned loafers, work boots and black patent shoes.

Just as in previous seasons, Hollywood royalty and influencers were back in full swing, drawing huge crowds outside the shows and proving Milan still holds plenty of A-list appeal.

Julia Fox and actor Haley Lu Richardson of “White Lotus” fame were spotted at Diesel, while Sienna Miller, Dua Lipa and Emma Roberts were just some of the notable names attending the Prada show. Gucci had A$AP Rocky, Maneskin, Dakota Johnson and Chinese actor and singer Xiao Zhan among its guests; and Moschino welcomed Saudi model and influencer Hala Abdallah and Palestinian social media star Julia Hussein, who showed up in matching outfits. At Bottega Veneta, the arrival of BTS band member RM inside the venue almost caused a stampede by excited fellow attendees, prompting security to intervene.

The overall spectacle wasn’t enough to distract from the fact that, like London and New York before it, little effort was made to cast diverse bodies on the runway. With only a few notable exceptions, like Ashley Graham walking the Dolce & Gabbana show, ultra skinny models outweighed all other body shapes, underscoring a new worrying trend.

Lack of size diversity wasn’t the only issue on the table. Ahead of the week, designer Stella Jean — the only Black member of the National Chamber of Italian Fashion and one of the very few Black designers in the country — took the stage during a chamber’s press conference to announce that she would not be taking part in the event, and would go on a hunger strike to protest the industry’s lack of diversity and inclusion. Jean, who co-founded We Are Made in Italy (WAMI), a collective that supports Italian designers of color, accused the chamber of having “abandoned” the initiative. According to a spokesperson for Stella Jean, the designer and president of the chamber, Carlo Capasa, have since been in touch to agree that Capasa will meet with designers of color from WAMI to hear their personal stories. The National Chamber of Italian Fashion did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Real-world dressing

Understated was the word of the week in Milan. In what was perhaps a reflection of the current economic times, several brands presented collections that pushed forward a quiet, almost modest approach to high fashion, with clothes that felt wearable and sensible, while still being aspirational.

Max Mara captured the sentiment perfectly with its collection, fittingly named “The Camelocracy.” Inspired by Émilie du Châtelet, the 18th century French natural philosopher and mathematician whose work was key to spreading the ideas of the European Enlightenment, designer Ian Griffiths presented a modernized version of 18th century womenswear that was both sharp and discreetly elegant, with plush fabrics like cashmere and brocades rendered through bustiers, floor-swishing teddy coats and ankle length skirts.

At Fendi, artistic director Kim Jones drew from the work closet of jewelery designer Delfina Delettrez Fendi — a fourth-generation Fendi heiress and the daughter of co-artistic director Silvia Venturini Fendi — to offer up a sophisticated, prim wardrobe of draped dresses, ribbed knits and pleated skirts with plenty of utilitarian elements in between, from boiler suits to uniform-like separates.

Uniforms were also the house code at Prada, where Raf Simons and Miuccia Prada co-designed a collection of so-called new “quotidian” clothes spanning wedding dresses repurposed as daywear, shirts with practical front pockets and high-fitting tapered trousers. “Garments are representations of the beauty of care, of love, of reality,” read the notes for the show. “Through a redress of purpose, a significance is afforded to clothing that expresses these fundamental values.”

Tod’s, Armani and Jil Sanders embraced the practical, too — albeit elevated through fabrics, details and thought-out constructions — as did Ferragamo with a strong second collection from creative director Maximilian Davis that featured sharp tailoring and house-specific red notes hidden within most garments.

Even Moschino, a brand known for its outlandish designs, toned it down slightly, showcasing skirt suits and knit dresses rather than subversive looks like last season’s pool floaties — though the slow tempo synth-pop soundtrack and the models’ mohawk hairpieces still had Jeremy’s Scott’s stamp all over them.

Matthieu Blazy does it again

For the third time in a row since taking over from Daniel Lee as creative director of Bottega Veneta, Matthieu Blazy stole the show. Taking inspiration by a parade, or Italian carnevale, “where there is absolutely no hierarchy” as he said backstage, the designer sent out 81 looks that were quickly hailed as some of the week’s best, confirming him as one of the most compelling names in fashion today.

Spanning soft dressing gowns and slipper socks (with the wool upper made of knitted leather), oversized masculine suits and intricately woven dresses and skirts, the presentation featured an “odyssey of characters” aimed at representing different personas, times and places. “The idea was that of becoming whoever one wants to be through clothing,” Blazy said. “I was after a balance between costume and fashion.”

The clothes — all eminently relatable, keeping with the overall theme of the week — would suit a number of individual tastes, yet still felt cohesive. They also showed a meticulous level of craftsmanship — Blazy’s signature — from a fringed coat that wasn’t embroidered but woven in one piece to feather-fronted corsets and a tunic-and-skirt combo made with hundreds of small leather petals.

Blazy said the collection would bring to a close his “Italia” trilogy of shows (the two naked Roman runners in bronze, circa 1 BC, and Umberto Boccioni’s 1913 statue “Unique Forms of Continuity in Space,” which were loaned from museums for the runway, were a clear nod to the history of the country), opening up the next chapter for the brand. It was apt, then, that the leather tank top and leather jeans from Blazy’s debut show closed the show.

From big-draw sets to participative fashion

Diesel’s condom mountain aside, most household names kept to rather standard runway formats this season, with a few notable exceptions.

At the Deposito of the Fondazione Prada, a moving ceiling transformed the space by altering its dimensions, creating a sense of expansion and contraction and revealing stunning floral decorations previously concealed. The set was once again conceived by Rotterdam-based architecture firm OMA, which counts Rem Koolhaas — a long-term Prada collaborator — among its partners.

Gucci’s venue resembled a convention hall, with matching upholstered chairs and carpeting and a sunken seating area at the center of the room where a bevy of influencers congregated, surrounded by rows of elevator doors from which models entered and exited from.

But it was younger brands that offered the most interesting formats and set design.

Emerging label Cormio held its show at a soccer field in the outskirts of Milan, where teams of young female players who had just finished a game watched the models make their way onto the pitch. Up-and-comer Marco Rambaldi, one of the few designers to strive for inclusivity in his shows, reproduced an iconic 1980s Italian night club called Cocoricò in an old TV studio, then cast friends of varying height, size and background as models.

A stroke of genius, though, came from Sunnei on Friday. The Milan-based brand (which is no stranger to memorable runway concepts) squeezed guests into a narrow room to stand around a tall catwalk, from which the house’s team of designers, assistants, web managers and accountants launched themselves into the audience, crowd-surfing while wearing looks from the Fall-Winter 2023 collection.

Scroll down for more eye-catching moments from the shows.

Top image: Jil Sander’s Fall-Winter runway show at Milan Fashion Week, February 2023.

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