Youth is having a bit of a moment in Italy these days, thanks in part to the country’s new 39-year-old prime minister-designate, the youngest ever. For years, there was talk of the need for new blood and the new generation, and then it finally arrived, albeit not quite in the way everyone anticipated. Pointedly, much the same discussion has been under way in fashion for seasons now, thanks to an industry so dominated by major brands there’s very little room for new names to grow. Except that in Italian fashion, unlike in Italian politics, the establishment seems to be making something of an effort to change the status quo before it gets changed for them.
Certainly this was the mood as the ready-to-wear shows got under way, with Ermenegildo Zegna announcing the establishment of the Zegna Founder’s Scholarships: 10 grants a year of up to €50,000 each to enable Italian graduates to study outside Italy and bring their newfound knowledge back. Meanwhile, Italian Vogue and Yoox unveiled their 11 participants in the Vogue Talents Corner, an exhibit of work from relatively unknown young designers from countries including England, Qatar and Australia. And on the catwalks, three next generation designers – Fausto Puglisi and, for Fay, Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi – showed their stuff. Admittedly, Puglisi is in his late thirties, and Aquilano and Rimondi are in their forties, but in Milan, that still counts as young.
Which perhaps explains the overtly youthful thrust of the Fay collection, which was (like Gucci earlier, though it’s too soon to be a screaming trend), full of 1960s shapes, mini skirts and bomber jackets, little pea coats and knits, all done in collegiate stripes or oversized houndstooth chevrons, with the occasional bright yellow Woodstock, aka Snoopy’s pal, as mascot. It was cute, but one-note: a bid for the youth vote as opposed to a sartorial platform for growth – a problem that also held true in Fausto Puglisi’s collection.
Though Mr Puglisi, who is part of the Aeffe design stable and does double duty as creative director of Emanuel Ungaro, cited a variety of influences (Sonia Delaunay, Kazimir Malevic, the Ballets Russes – predictable young designer fare), in practice they all seemed to boil up to bright kaleidoscopic geometrics on body-con minidresses, leggings, sweatshirts and miniskirts, with the occasional exaggerated banana boat shape thrown in for good measure. Not to mention the Statue of Liberty. It was a little old Versace and a little current Givenchy, and while it had lots of energy, it did not have lots of originality.
Indeed, contrasted to some of the work of the old guard, it looked pretty thin on ideas, which highlights one of the problems with deciding it’s time for a youthquake, as opposed to letting the youth fight its way up: if said youth itself is not ready, the result does not have the staying power (or, that terrible word, vision) upon which careers are built. Even MaxMara, which marked out its coats-and-calm territory long ago, mining the same ground season after season, managed to find a new corner to explore via unexpected combinations, so tweed met houndstooth met puffa cashmere in masculine overcoats and elongated ribbed knits topped more-elongated pencil skirts in gold leather with faux alligator embossing, all in earthy tones of lichen, grey and brown.
Then there was Alberta Ferretti, who took the subject of surface decoration and worked it and worked it in increasingly intricate ways, so the closer you looked at a garment, the more you saw. A simple round-necked long-sleeved full-skirted dress, for example, might be covered in radiating whorls of pheasant or peacock feathers, or hand-embroidered with two kinds of ribbon plus big bronze scalelike paillettes, or painted with a baroque scene of birds and flowers that occasionally blossomed into three-dimensionality. The encrustation was almost medieval, but the shapes were simple, and the balance between historicism and modernity, decoration and design integrity, was gracefully wrought.
Perhaps no one has a greater multiplicity of imagination when it comes to material and what can be done with it than Fendi’s Karl Lagerfeld, however, to the extent that sometimes a show can feel like a bowl of spaghetti being tossed at the wall to see which strands stick.
This season, for example, he seemed inspired by the military-athletic-astral complex (perhaps thanks to the troika of drones flying overhead to livestream from every angle), which meant perforated mesh married to heavy loden wools, shaved minks and sweatsuit detailing, all in three-quarter length skirts, anoraks and sweater-effect dresses – which were, in fact, shaved fur and looked fabulous.
More fabulous, anyway, than the shaved mink sweatpants, which were just silly, though the leather version of the same with splatter paint looked better, which then became a galaxy of splatter stars on loden running shorts (weird) which became a shaved mink parka painted to look like a galaxy of stars in the night sky – a garment both elegant and cool enough to appeal to any age.
By the way, Mr Lagerfeld recently turned 80.