Backstage at Gucci Fall 2016

MILANGucci fever isn’t fizzling out.

Retailers enthused about creative director Alessandro Michele’s fall collection which, together with Prada’s powerful show, were seen as drivers of a newly energized Milan Fashion Week, leading retailers to earmark budget increases. Statement outerwear and beautiful knitwear,  decorative looks, rich fabrics, bold colors and embellished accessories contributed to a strong season.

“We are no longer the Cinderella of fashion weeks,” said Tiziana Cardini, fashion director at La Rinascente. “There is a resurgence of Milan, but it’s not magic. It comes from a mix of different factors — a more positive situation in the country, an increased national pride, a younger generation that has matured, and Italians are resourceful.”

She contended that Michele’s taste and identity are very Italian, rich and decorative. “Gucci has authorized us to be ourselves again and Michele has taken over the Italian codes for a very Italian brand in a contemporary way, and this has been a great stimulus to others, each with their own style, as this is a very individualistic country, so that Marni is Marni, Versace is Versace and Cavalli is Cavalli,” she added.

Cardini also cited  Prada, Marni, Bottega Veneta, Roberto Cavalli, Marco de Vincenzo, MSGM, Arthur Arbesser, and Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini as her favorite collections.

Roopal Patel, Saks Fifth Avenue senior vice president, fashion director, also praised Michele, who “set the tone for the rest of the week. That was one big takeaway for me this week, his influence. We all get to Milan with this anticipation for Gucci.”

Her top collections also included Prada and No. 21 for its “take on Nineties grunge that felt very in-line with the trends we’re seeing.” She also cited Dolce & Gabbana, Gianvito Rossi and Brunello Cucinelli. Three categories stood out for her: a return to eveningwear; sports outerwear, and iconic accessories.

“The idea of the statement bag and the ‘It” bag has returned,” said Patel. “That felt really strong at Gucci.”

Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, also couldn’t get enough of Gucci and Michele’s “enormous influence.”

“It’s so great to see his eclectic romanticism and opulence at Gucci permeate through many fashion brands,” the Neiman’s executive said.

Downing also named Fendi, Missoni and Prada as his top picks. Of Prada, he said the coats were particularly strong because the fabrics were very transitional. “Heavy fabrics are of no interest to us because of fall never getting cold,” said Downing. In terms of trends, he called out Victorian, military, gold, velvet and a new range of shoe heels “replacing sneakers.”

The renewed in Milan energy telegraphed brisk business.

Justin O’Shea, global fashion director, said business is “up” in Milan. “Gucci was amazing,” he said, defining Prada as “pretty awesome,” and also citing Dolce & Gabbana. He named Attico as a new Italian street-style brand that could have potential. On trends, O’Shea wasn’t convinced: “Milan was pretty divided. Half were sticking to their roots and the other half were trying to reinvent themselves. But I don’t think there are specific ‘trends’ which are relevant.”

Helen David, fashion director at Harrods, said that “with the strength of Gucci, Prada, Dolce, and Fendi this season, it looks to be a season of strong growth for us.”

David described Gucci as “the hot ticket of the season, and it now appears that other houses have followed suit and upped their games. Many houses went back to what they do best, and this was reflected nowhere as well as at Prada — the Prada show was the best we have seen in years; every exit was spot-on with what Miuccia does best: Cinched waists, brocades, lust-worthy outerwear, and romantic prints, all done with an understated but uberluxurious hand. Fur was everywhere, again.”

Statement outerwear and embellished eveningwear were two key trends, and velvet “seems to be the fabric of the season,” she added.

Linda Fargo, senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation at Bergdorf Goodman, also hailed Milan’s new energy and creativity with major credit owed to Gucci and Prada, which “lifted the season and led the movement with exceptional and influential collections,” she said. “Both collections were highly original and packed with fresh ideas.”

Fargo applauded the season’s decorative richness and playful use of bold colors. As for new designers — the search is on. “We’re still looking for more new and emerging talent from a city which is rich in experience and resources,” she said.

Brooke Jaffe, Bloomingdale’s operating vice president of fashion direction for ready-to-wear, said that “in spite of the bad weather trend, everything about Milan inside the shows was sparkling. There was a definite energy to the week. The theatrics of the individual presentations was exciting – it felt like we were celebrating fashion.” In terms of budgets, she believes “there is a great deal of opportunity in Milan.”

Her favorite collections included Marni, Gucci, Prada, Fendi, Etro, Dolce & Gabbana and Versace. She also ranked “the chandelier dress that walked the Moschino runway” as the “highlight of the week. Jeremy Scott knows how to make fashion fun. Another true highlight was Dolce & Gabbana’s fairy tale-themed show. The environment was immersive and you wanted to be part of the story.”

Tomoko Ogura, senior fashion director of Barneys New York, listed Prada, Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini and Missoni as favorite collections, and Rossignol as a new discovery. “Luxe eclecticism is the strong statement coming out of Milan; a purposeful collage of decades, themes, textures, colors, etc. translated into a new kind of glamour.”

Accessories and shoes continue to be strong categories in Milan. “We loved both the fashion and commercial offering at Gianvito Rossi. He has perfected the slouch in the boot of the season. Fontana Milano presented a beautiful array of new colors and textures and we continue to be drawn to the standout craftsmanship,” Ogura said.

Pascale Camart, head buyer of women’s wear and accessories at Galeries Lafayette, said Milan was a “very rich, fresh and colorful season.” Increasingly eyeing a “more local customer” given the changing patterns in global tourism, Camart said most the commercial categories seen in Milan were fur — “always a good sell and as this season we also like it in faux, that lowers the prices” — and knits.

The Galeries Lafayette executive’s favorite collections included Fendi, Gucci, No.21, Pucci, Marco de Vincenzo, Jil Sander and Dolce & Gabbana. New discoveries were Chinese designer Shushu/Tong and Aalto. “This was a very rich season full of color with good energy,  very strong styles in every designer we highlighted, yet commercials items to sell, the designers are becoming very clever and we can notice that they are into business too, not only creation,” Camart said.

Leila Yavari, fashion director at Stylebop, said the Milan season was “energetic” with a dominant trend of “younger, more sensual spin on maximalism.” Yavari said “there has been such a great influx of talent over the last year and for [fall] you really saw the fruits of their labor; for instance, another standout collection from Lorenzo Serafini at Philosophy, Alessandro Michele at Gucci and a striking outing from Massimiliano Giornetti at Ferragamo. This revitalized outlook resonated across the shows — with a sportier direction for Pucci and the youthful sensuality at Cavalli, which showcased Peter Dundas at his best.”

The strong collections from Milan designers will accordingly be reflected in budgets for fall, she said. Yavari expected outerwear, with new options such as “updated admiral coats to the new maxi proportions and mixed-media treatments” to be hits, as well as knitwear year-round. Favorite collections included Gucci, Roberto Cavalli, Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini, Fendi and Marni, with Cavalli being “a standout.”

“There is definitely more creative energy in Milan. Gucci is really inspiring the market with its take on eccentric maximalism and highly covetable items in all categories,” said Jennifer Wheeler, vice president, corporate merchandise manager of women’s designer apparel at Nordstrom. “The Italian designers have always been more aligned with the maximalism camp so they can play to their individual strengths with this trend being so compelling. Understatement is overrated in an Instagram world.”

Nordstrom favorites: Gucci, Missoni, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi and Marni, and Attico as a discovery. “Milan budgets could be up for the collections that we really loved,” Wheeler said. “Overall we felt Milan had a lot of excitement, newness and strong fashion and commercial items to offer this season.”

“The abundance of print and color, as well as precious fabrics and embellishments will work very well for us,” said Sarah Rutson, global vice president of buying at Net-a-porter, praising the return of the “maximalist” aesthetic across all categories. 
Among important items, Rutson listed statement jackets, pantsuits, midiskirts and exceptional knits, while accessory trends included top-handle bags, new versions of the pump and vintage-look jewelry.

 Net-a-porter’s favorites included Gucci, Prada, Max Mara, Philosophy and Gianvito Rossi.

“With the reinvention of Gucci at the helm of Alessandro Michele, other designers have refreshed their collections with creative newness,” said Kelly Wong, general merchandise manager of women’s wear at Lane Crawford. “Overall, the shows reflected a feminine trend, with sequins, embellishments, soft shapes and vintage floral patterns.”

Wong also trumpeted designers emerging in Milan who are “getting attention from our customers — For Restless Sleepers, Blazé and Ports 1961. Our focuses are to bring the best edits of these collections to Greater China, and inspire our customers.” As far as the collections overall, her favorites included Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and Ports.

Sebla Refig Devidas, buying director, ladies merchandise group at Beymen in Turkey, noted that outerwear has been the major category since the beginning of pre-collections, followed by knitwear. She characterized the Milan season as driven by established designers , who mainly played it safe.

“Shows have been more mainstream; however, the focus on quality and rich fabrics has been the major strength of Milan,” she said. “While ready-to-wear gets more subtle, shoes and accessories are definitely on the opposite trend with over-the-knee boots, embellished stilettos, chunky heels and platform shoes, printed and multiple material handbags.”

She said Beymen would keep Milan budgets flat this year because of a tough outlook for luxury and economic turbulence in Turkey. “We expect a challenging 2016,” she said.

Beymen favorites were Bottega Veneta, Missoni, Dolce & Gabbana, and Giuseppe Zanotti while new discoveries included For Restless Sleepers, Blaze and Aquilano.Rimondi.

“A slew of new designers have absolutely bolstered the creative energy in Milan,” said Suzanne Timmins, senior vice president and fashion director of The Hudson’s Bay Co., whose new discoveries included Attico. She highlighted retro retreads. “The Eighties influence was very evident in the supersize-me silhouettes, while many designers embraced a kind of glam-punk attitude,” she said. “Sporty elements were infused in most collections with a nod to ski and downhill racing.”

Accessories also stood out, with Timmins singling out “punky combat boots, loads of novelty legwear, bold earrings, multiple pins, the return of the belt, long scarves and statement strapped bags.”

In apparel, key styles include oversize sweaters, power suits, louche trousers, slips and “anything that shines.” Hudson’s Bay’s favorite collections were Marni, Jil Sander, Ports 1961, MSGM and Moschino.

Emmanuel de Bayser, co-owner of The Corner in Berlin, said that in Milan there were “three types of women: the romantic, the cool and the sensual…and multiple combinations of these three. It is all about re-interpreting the Seventies mainly and the Eighties with a mix of bohemian, chic and sporty.”

De Bayser praised the collections’ “incredible craftsmanship” and “attention to details,” pointing to Gucci, Fendi, Prada, and Mr & Mrs Italy as favorites.

“We definitely felt the sense of creative energy in Milan. This city is the birthplace of the current ‘geek chic’ trend we see impacting many fashion markets,” said Steven Cook, senior vice president, buying and merchandising, at Toronto-based Holt Renfrew. “A standout moment this season was the luncheon held by [Italian Prime Minister] Matteo Renzi that further instilled the support for the Italian fashion industry and galvanized leaders from design, retail, media and manufacturing all together.”

Cook hailed a “strong season,” particularly with key brands Gucci, Prada and Fendi. “The new direction at Gucci is fresh and we are seeing a great response in our stores,” he said. “The Prada collection was one of the strongest we’ve seen recently. And at Fendi, the craftsmanship was exquisite. This house always finds a new way to reinvent.” He also praised Etro and Philosophy. Besides “nerd chic,” he highlighted “dark Victorian” styling seen in blouses, ruffles, long-sleeve, midi-length dresses, and voluminous sleeves.

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