MILAN — Oculus goggles and QR codes hallmarked White Milano’s most fashion-tech focused fair yet.
Although the Russian invasion of Ukraine that erupted on the eve of the fair’s Feb. 24 opening was a top concern, the evolution of the fair’s new expo, community-driven model, which incorporated experiential installations and the latest “eco-geek” innovations in sustainability, was well-received by an increased amount of visitors — up to 18,850 from 13,000 in September.
“Sign of the Times” was again the title of the latest edition of White, which closed here Feb. 27 and welcomed 330 exhibitors, with a 45 percent rise in international brands. The show’s attendance also surged in terms of buyers, up 24 percent compared to September 2021. Throughout the pandemic, the White trade show organizers and its consortium of brands and partners have remained resilient. However, the small and medium-sized companies that showed here are “not quite back to pre-pandemic levels in terms of revenues,” Massimiliano Bizzi, founder of the White Milano explained.
“Easing of COVID-19 restrictions just offered us a slight reprieve,” he said, adding that, “Our focus is finding the right brands for the Far East market and continuing to evolve our commitment to sustainability, tech and high-end, researched products.”
Buyers flocked to Milan from the U.S., South Korea and China, though brands reported few Russian buyers at the fair, in light of the ongoing conflict.
Heavily focused on evolving the fashion week experience and showcasing environmental solutions, White’s new streamlined, experiential model is aimed at supporting the Italian fashion sector and the city of Milan by way of collaborations and joint efforts with other key players. Marking 20 years since its inception, the trade show operator recently streamlined its event by hosting only two fairs a year (versus the previous four), happening concurrently with women’s fashion weeks in February and September.
Its latest fair strove to offer something for buyers across the luxury spectrum and fleshed out the fair into several diverse, yet well-curated sections: The Circle Room staged an expo-installation designed in partnership with the Berlin magazine 032c and Dimorestudio; the London Showroom demonstrated the influence of the city’s fashion community and emerging designers; the Middle East Souk, outfitted with light installations and its atmosphere enhanced by mirrors, propelled niche labels onto the fore; Beyond the Norm, curated by Alfredo Carducci and Melanie Innocenti and designed by Berlin architecture firm Gonzalez Haase AAS, presented special curations as a reflection of the different facets of fashion, art and music; White Cube was dedicated to footwear, while WSM (White Sustainable Milano) focused on fashion tech this season.
With the merger between fashion and tech paramount, guests had the chance to experience a taste of the metaverse with Oculus goggles, at the WSM section of the fair where Italy-based magazine nss presented nss meta, its latest collaboration with tech partner Justwhy, which aims to expand the editorial universe of the magazine to the metaverse.
Also at WSM, New York-based retail platform The Canvas presented a special installation that showcased their consortium of brands and a new collaboration for their first NFT collection of spacesuits.
The Canvas’ Down to Earth collection highlighted creations for Earth and beyond, including silk pajamas, knitwear from Slovenia and Spacesuit NFTs or digital assets that will be linked to a physical real life spacesuit in collaboration with Pacific Space company and its founder Cameron Smith, the Portland State University professor and anthropologist, who starred in the Discovery Plus series “Homemade Astronauts.”
“Cameron Smith’s spacesuits aim to bring the same kind of open access to humans for outer space travel, and these NFTs help support a new kind of mission,” said The Canvas’ chief executive officer, Devin Gilmartin, who personally wore the suit for a panel talk at White.
Exploratory gear and fashions were paramount in other areas of the fair.
In the Circle Room, Phipps International, founded by Spencer Phipps with deep respect for the environment and outdoor adventure, showcased a motocross jacket and pants from its spring 2022 collection made of upcycled Gore-Tex and reflective safety panels and jacket and crafted with upcycled potato sacks turned into long shag fringe.
An international celebration of dense knitwear and fashion-forward accessories took place at the MUDEC museum space at the Beyond the Norm area, where brands like New York’s KidSuper Studios and Japanese brand Taakk took center stage. KidSuper — a creative collective that designs and makes clothing, paints and puts on art shows, records music and makes music videos — showcased experimental designs like exaggerated, roped slippers and a series of uptown graphics emblazoned onto sweaters, created by founder Colm Dillane.
“We’ve seen an uptick in direct-to-consumer business, up about 30 percent compared to 2021,” said John Baldwin, chief sales operative for the KR8 agency which represented the brands. “Italian expansion is important to us because Italy has a lot of luxury stores and it’s a reference for the luxury market,” Baldwin continued.
Local players distinguished themselves for innovative personalized services. PLUS, the customization project launched in 2020 by Seriplanet, an Italian-based screen and digital printing company, takes personalization to another level and also helps brands resurrect deadstock from previous seasons into something completely original. This time, in addition to its footwear, the brand showcased their exclusive graphics emblazoned onto vibrantly printed puffer jackets.
With inevitable economic woes ahead due to the ongoing geopolitical crisis, the company’s sales director Lorenzo del Biondo seemed confident that the brand’s geographical mix would keep the company ahead of the game.
“We have unique product and we have Italy as our top market followed by the Middle East and the Far East,” del Biondo said.
Buyers, like Beppe Angiolini of the Arezzo, Italy-based multibrand store Sugar, were also optimistic.
“When business is stagnant for months, it’s not like you stop thinking, actually you strive to understand where the world is going,” Angiolini offered. In terms of trends, Angiolini said consumers are looking for personal style, an “attitude and something that endures the test of time.”
“We’ve had a lot of time to reflect…one of these revelations is that buying something that doesn’t damage the environment, is the future for everyone,” Angiolini said, commending responsible brands at the fair like Re/Done and climate-neutral jeans company Boyish, as well as classic brands like Malo, Faliero Sarti and Pierre-Louis Mascia, which unfurled its environmentally conscious organic silk capsule that dove into the personal illustration archives of the founder, reinterpreting nine botanical and entomological 10th-century prints featuring birds, dragonflies and bees.
“I’m personally looking for a fashion that is more respectful also in terms of creativity,” he added.