The fashion industry, much of it anyway, wants to tell the story that Mr. Alessandro Michele has not only cemented a cultural revolution at Gucci, but that his revolution has reverberated throughout the entire city of Milan. This is simply not true: Milan is still Milan, and Milan is at its best when its storied luxury houses do what they do best. Luckily, many of those houses were in fine form for FW 2016: Prada, Bottega Veneta, Marni, and Jil Sander all introduced stunning collections. Nevertheless, Milan is still marked by gaudy and opulent brands never too easy on the eyes, unless that’s your thing: Phillip Plein, Dolce & Gabbana, Etro, and the like feel increasingly out of step with the current tastes of style. If Dolce really has found influence in Gucci, it is only a step towards finding relevance. That relevance savored during the brand’s Sex and the City glory days will probably never come back.
The best Milan-based brands right now have an indefinable quality that makes them seem like they might be weird fits for the perceived traditionalism defining Milan but nevertheless find themselves better suited to the city than they would elsewhere. Damir Doma, for instance, has flourished in Milan after seeming to be buried under the heft of the Paris schedule in the first few years of his brand’s existence.
This was a good season for Milan, with lots of the brands using a sense of giddy romance and poetry that emphasizes the state of mind of the Italian state. I was just in Florence and Milan, and the feeling that I felt there was pure bliss and contentment. It’s hard to separate the best of the Italian fashion from that feeling. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.
Fashion design at its simplest is the identifying of interesting shapes and color palettes. When you have those two aspects in your collections, embellishment and decoration become far away after-thoughts: icing on the aesthetic cake. That is most likely why Consuelo Castiglioni of Marni is continuously revered, as her brand always remains an exploration or architecture and light. Her FW 2016 collection was perhaps one of her least minimal, but the shapes were still the first thing striking about the clothes. The sleeves on the knits were widened to epic proportions, while the garments lay cropped to the hips. Though the clothes drew attention, they didn’t at all draw attention away from the female form. They accentuated it, and even sexualized it. For a brand so revered as a “clothes as art” label, I don’t think Marni gets credit for how sexual it can be. These are seductive garments, or maybe captivating is the right word. As stated before, Castiglioni got a little taken with embellishment in this collection, as in the kaleidoscopic blue and white prints that featured on both a dress as well as a knit and trousers pairing. But they weren’t opulent. They were sort of dreamy. There’s still nothing like Marni.
With Prada being the global juggernaut it is, it’s safe to say that many of the women that wear the label aren’t aware of the fact that Miuccia Prada is a communist with a taste for radical art and the spirit of rock n’ roll. As if to remind the world of this fact she presented her FW 2016 collection. Set to a roaring soundtrack of songs by radical female musicians PJ Harvey and Nico, FW 2016 was Prada’s most freewheeling collection in seasons. Ms. Prada said that this collection was about a woman starting over with what she has, as in throwing all one’s clothes on the ground as assembling something new from it. As such, the collection used a variety of garments seemingly out of place with one another coming together and creating something fascinating to look at. Pseudo technical outerwear sat atop cocktail dresses, while other coats brought to fruition a post-WWII referencing ensemble. The colors in this collection were mesmerizing, the way the hues of brown and green and orange and blue all clashed but complimented one another. Prada, as wild as it gets in its stories and ideas, still focuses on product. There wasn’t one item here that women won’t want to buy. Ms. Prada says she is interested in teaching after the show. Teaching women to dress? She certainly could, but still Prada can really work for every woman once broken down.
3. Jil Sander
I haven’t thought much about Jil Sander in a while (other than the brand’s Uniqlo collaborations because I needed a suit at a nice price) but it feels like the house creative director Rodolfo Paglialunga has finally gotten a grasp of what the Jil Sander customer wants. That was evident in the menswear collection that was characterized by minimal lines and an overall harsh militaristic aesthetic and color palette. In a similarly toned down but different palette of black, white, grey, and silver, the FW 2016 womenswear collection also felt quintessentially Jil Sander: minimal but strong. Sander herself was always able to create a striking and imposing look with the least bit of gesture, and that is evident here with the masculine-leaning dresses and coats. Nothing much going on, and yet I imagine if I saw a woman walking down the street like this there’d be no way my eye wouldn’t be following her around. Bravo Rodolfo (plus replacing Raf Simons is a thankless job from the get-go).
It’s being written by many that Angela Missoni’s best collection in years is in someway due to the success of Alessandro Michele at Gucci. But really it just seemed like Missoni doing what Missoni does best: knits, knits, and more knits. The first 14 knits featured Missoni’s hippie-luxe chunk knits cut into sweaters, dresses, robes, beanies, and scarves. It all seemed older Missoni than new Gucci, looking back on the 1970s Laurel Canyon women that made Missoni the brand it is.
5. Bottega Veneta
Tomas Maier revolutionized the idea of luxe sportswear, but now that every brand has more or less started ripping him off he’s abandoned casualwear for something more adult and powerful. Really, nothing looks as sharp as Bottega Veneta when Maier is at his best, as in the FW 2016 collection. From the first look, an oversized pantsuit, you can see Maier’s ability to infuse a touch of brutality into elegance, that is only furthered by the increasingly technical looks that came thereafter. Maier is of course one of fashion’s master technicians, evidenced here by a multitude of plaid looks in knit and leather. A leather plaid trench coat was one of the most striking looking pieces of the entire season. The collection didn’t seem to have any single theme or inspiration; Maier is a product man and uses the best technologies to bring those products to fruition. He utilized new Italian machinery for the knitting in the collection, best evidenced by the paper-thin dresses that defined the middle part of the show. And as usual, the shoes and boots were quite nice.
6. Damir Doma
Damir Doma has flourished since leaving Paris for Milan last year. It’s not just he no longers finds himself overshadowed in the glut of revolutionary designers that show in Paris, it’s that his brand feels a little more Italian. Though it is conceptual, it is vague in its conceptions. It’s very much about structure, and the poetry is in the architecture of the garments. In some ways, he has just as much in common with Jil Sander as he does with Rick Owens. For FW 2016, Doma consulted his actual models to see how they would like to wear the clothes, capturing the inner being of each woman in the show (yikes that sounded pretentious didn’t it?). The patterned dresses flowed loose off the bodies, while a white hoodie clung tailored to the waist while its sleeves flared out. Everything looks free but considered. Some of the looks were a bit safe, as in the clunky knit sweaters that you see time again. But the best pieces were all essentially Damir Doma: architecturally vibrant but poetically minimal.
Of course. Celebrating his one-year anniversary as head of the house, Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele has radically altered perceptions of the brand and has seen his aesthetic reverberate throughout the entire fashion world. Though the gender ambiguous aesthetic has been a part of fashion for some time, seeing it at Gucci and more importantly seeing it successful at a house like Gucci proves that people are ready for irreverence in fashion. FW 2016 had a very vintage aesthetic, but also a more palatable one. Now that Michele has solidified his vision, he seems intent on turning it into a legacy and not a flash in the pan. There were so many things here, from a cat print sweater to magnificent tye-dye dresses to elegant but retro-leaning pantsuits. You also see Michele’s talent in how every look seems to carry so many products, from jewelry to bags. It could be just idea diarrhea, but they way he presents everything really is rather artful. Somewhere, Frida Giannini is cursing the name Alessandro.
Text by Autre Fashion Editor Adam Lehrer. Follow @AUTREMAGAZINE for the latest in fashion, art, culture and more.