Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Shifting Winds

When one thinks of the fashion offerings that emerge from Milan semi-annually, what are the words that spring to mind? Sultry? Seductive? Some other s-fronted word of similar meaning? If one were talking about the Milan of old, these words would be apt descriptors. But in the fashion world, talk of a new mood has overtaken discussions about the city. Almost all of the chatter has been positive. The roots of this new landscape seem to have only sprouted recently but I believe an earlier event allowed them the space to take hold. The dizzying pace of change at brands, the pace that leaves no one safe from the whims of their board, their investors, or their own creative fatigue, has infected Milan as much as it has the other major fashion capitals. Despite all of the changes at houses like Jil Sander, Emilio Pucci, and Philosophy, to name a few, most of the discussions about the new Milan have centered on the most recent upheavals at Gucci.

After the exit of Tom Ford in 2004, Gucci experienced its fair share of turbulence before finally settling in with Frida Giannini at the creative helm and Patrizio di Marco presiding over the business concerns. But in late 2014, Giannini and di Marco were rather unceremoniously ousted and Alessandro Michele, a virtual unknown outside of the company, was quickly put in place as the creative lead. Sales had stagnated at the powerhouse brand, especially as the fashion world moved further and further away from its obsession with logos, and a change was coming eventually. However, no one predicted the manner in which it would arrive.

Everyone loves a bit of drama with a side of intrigue and while such fireworks can be thrilling, they can also distract one from the other, quieter causes of certain effects. Milan has always been about more than simply sex. The work of Miuccia Prada exists in its own peculiar and often charming galaxy. Jil Sander continues to put forth a sleek minimalism whether or not its founder is in control. The full-throttle glamour of Giorgio Armani still dazzles. But not all that long ago the influence of brands such as Versace, Roberto Cavalli, Dolce & Gabbana, and more recently Dsquared² and Fausto Puglisi, could at times seem to overwhelm the city’s fashion narrative.

In the late 2000s, with the financial crisis yet to consume us all, Dolce & Gabbana left that fold and set off a ripple with effects unknown at that time. The Fall 2007 show, fronted by then catwalk regular Gisele, was shiny, tight, and sexy. Dolce & Gabbana had always done that better than most.

But when Natasha Poly walked down the runway the next season in a full-skirted confection in a color that resembled the sky on a perfect, spring day, it was the opening of a new chapter for the brand.

That romantic, feminine mood built from look to look until the finale, which featured blown-out florals with the hint of graffiti to them in skirts even fuller than the one that opened the show.

I remember looking at the pictures and questioning what had caused this seismic shift. There had been no shakeups in the creative leadership like those seen at Gucci in the preceding years. I pored over the images from the collection in search of the reason behind the move. Some brands foster excitement by making 180 degree turns every season while others stir up similar feelings by finding new ways to express that which has always defined them. I had gotten used to Dolce & Gabbana being the former. At the time I assumed the change would be short-lived, a brief cleansing breath taken before a return to a status quo that was nowhere near broken.

But I was wrong. That first look marked a sea change that as of their most recent collection continues to reign. The sex isn't gone. I think it would have been impossible to remove completely as it is so tied up in the DNA of the brand. It's more that it's been transformed, living side by side with an abundance of romance and the long, winding history of Italy. The stories being told don't always land. The most recent collection featured picture postcard references that were a bit on the nose for my taste, but there is an unwavering dedication to this new narrative, not only in the collections but in the advertisements meant to sell them to the fashion masses.

The Before (Fall 2007)

The After (Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2015)

The new Dolce & Gabbana proved to me was that such a change could stick without the turmoil that usually precedes it. No one was threatened or fired or poached. But turmoil makes these types of moves a less risky endeavor. Everyone expects change after the fireworks. No one expects it, or necessarily accepts it, when there is seeming calm.

Near the beginning of my personal fashion education, I often scoffed at Milan a bit, dismissing its influence on the greater fashion world as one note. (Shedding my more prudish sensibilities is a work in progress and although addressed here and there would be best dealt with at length some other time.) And because of that "one note" bias, I believed the city incapable of the ingenuity and flexibility and creativity of New York and London and Paris. It took a change, a change that I loved wholeheartedly, for me to admit that not only I had also appreciated what was being done in the before but that the before contained more layers than I had imagined.

Runway images via