mfw spring 2023

A New Energy at Milan Fashion Week

Diesel gives Gen Z what it wants and Kim Jones of Fendi shows a fresh look.

Photo-Illustration: The Cut. Photos: Victor Virgile; Courtesy of Fendi; Valerio Mezzanotti
Photo-Illustration: The Cut. Photos: Victor Virgile; Courtesy of Fendi; Valerio Mezzanotti

Kim Jones, who recently brought Fendi to New York for a big show — a tribute to the ultimate “It” bag, the Baguette — was back in Milan for the spring 2023 collection of the Roman house. On Tuesday evening, in the sprawling Fendi show space and studio, the designer was keeping one eye on models there for fittings while chatting with friends, eating pizza, and firing a small dart gun at staff. His aim was surprisingly good, in more ways than one.

Fashion season here often feels like a chaotic family reunion, the Italian version of the Tenenbaums. Among those in the studio was Sebastien Jondeau, who for years worked for Karl Lagerfeld as a personal aide and sometimes model at Chanel. Jondeau’s first child, a daughter named Julia, had been born a few days earlier, and Papa was showing off pictures on his phone of the pink-swaddled infant.

Fendi. Photo: Courtesy of Fendi

Elsewhere, there was a strong sense of life reasserting itself and also moving in funny new directions. In more than 30 years of covering the Milan collections, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the city so crowded. Restaurants and stores are packed, and not only with fashion people. In the last decade or so, Milan has become more a cosmopolitan city, with a greater mixture of races and cultures, many more young people, and an explosion of new retail businesses, galleries, and takeout places.

In the past, in the late ’80s and ’90s, the big gripe about Milan was that nothing ever changed. But that’s hardly true today, and the post-pandemic era has intensified that feeling. On Wednesday morning, I hit a number of stores, including Prada on Via Monte Napoleone, and then walked around the Brera, which has the flavor of Soho and where there has been a surge of new boutiques, especially for fragrances and candles.

Diesel. Photo: Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

The swift forward movement of things, together with the steady erosion of historical memory, is reflected, not surprisingly, in the clothes designers are showing. Glenn Martens of Diesel took distressed denim into new terrain, with pieces that were frayed, feathered, and bleached in the extreme. A standout look, a fitted denim-blue dress, seemed to disintegrate at the hem, ending in a wide band of stretch chiffon. Martens showed the body as much as he concealed it, under soupy denim and cotton fleece jackets and wide-leg trousers — apparently a nod to Gen-Z preferences. But Martens’s genius lies in how he nimbly borrows couture elements, like the lavishly frayed neckline of a fitted denim jacket, without losing sight of his casually dressed audience.

Milan actually has a long history of kinky chic, and not only from Versace, which co-sponsored a new exhibition with the Richard Avedon Foundation, including imagery Avedon made for the late Gianni Versace. But eroticism — the uninhibited, 21st-century kind — is likely to be a main theme of the spring collections, with Prada, for example, set to do a show later today called “A Touch of Crude” in collaboration with the filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn. (The company, as a teaser, sent guests small camera obscuras made of black cardboard.)

Del Core. Photo: Valerio Mezzanotti

Alessandro Dell’Acqua had lots of lingerie-inspired dresses in his No. 21 show, and other styles that looked wet. In a collection inspired by the sea, the relatively young designer Daniel Del Core drifted between sharp tailoring in, say, dark-green python-embossed leather and ultrafeminine pink florals that looked sculpted on the body. He, too, had transparent and clingy clothes, including a black dress that looked remarkably close to Azzedine Alaïa’s famous mummy designs. Do people notice that today? Do they even care? More and more, one feels that the industry operates like a machine — or a hungry sea monster — devouring past and present, and giving a split-second view of the future. For Del Core, the problem is compounded because he hasn’t created a clear identity for his label.

“It’s everything and nothing — that’s what I like about things,” Jones said of his latest Fendi collection. Responsible also for the men’s collections at Dior, Jones was speaking loosely. This was among his better efforts, in part because the shapes and the attitude were so youthful and realistic. When he first took over Fendi, succeeding Lagerfeld, the designs felt a bit overwrought, his woman deserving of a pedestal. That’s all gone away.

Fendi. Photo: Courtesy of Fendi

The girls came out with their hair half in the faces, wearing sheer knit tops or satin tunics layered over shifts or satin cargo pants, their feet planted in molded rubber-platform slides. The collection answered many things at once. It was highly adaptable; some of those layered items, like a loose satin tunic or a kind of open-sided vest in woven leather, could be worn any way you choose. It was circular — meaning that many of the styles were made from recycled materials. Fluffy pullovers in lime green or cream were pieces of mink that had been shredded and then knitted. Jones also used shearling in fresh ways, as cropped jackets that mimicked the mesh jersey of athletic garments. And the collection smoothly drew on Fendi’s past — the shell tones were archival, as were flower motifs for dresses and leather tops — while expanding on the Jones era. The minimalist, Japanese-inspired coats and obi sashes sprang from his July couture show and looked fabulous as ready-to-wear.

Still, with the pandemic helping to jam our memories and also aggravate the rapid speed of change, “everything and nothing” starts to feel like a modern condition. At the Prada store, I ran into an old friend, Preia Narendra, a senior vice-president of marketing for the company who handles VIP relations. Preia was with a young, blonde woman who introduced herself as Ella.

“I just wanted to say hi,” the woman said, smiling shyly. “We met at a Dior dinner.”

I mumbled something blandly polite as my mind searched distant dinner tables, and then said brainlessly, “Oh, so nice to see you!”

Later, I saw Preia and whispered, “Who’s Ella?”

She smiled and said, “Lorde.”

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