MILAN — Fashion shows may steal the spotlight, celebrities sitting front row may hog the general attention and influencers may have their say on just about anything, but there’s a lot more to Milan Fashion Week than meets the eye — and international retailers know it.
While designer brands have increasingly ventured into new territory, experimenting with see-now-buy-now (which was quickly ditched by the Italians), capsule drops or the coed format, a cluster of major labels opt for more low-key presentations, often via installations in storied, frescoed Milanese palazzi, museums or, when the temperatures allow it, in the city’s hidden gardens. This all contributes to the Italian lifestyle and culture that continue to have a hold around the world. Brunello Cucinelli goes as far as setting up a veritable buffet feast in the courtyard of his Milan showroom, delighting guests with treats and wines from the Umbria region, where his Solomeo headquarters are based.
“While Milan Fashion Week runway shows have historically been built around the heritage houses — Prada, Gucci, Fendi, Versace and Bottega Veneta to name a few — there is a lot of talent that has emerged that can be discovered through presentations and more intimate settings,” said Roopal Patel, Saks Fifth Avenue fashion director, who values attending presentations here “because you’re able to experience the fashion in a warm, inviting, family-like setting. The Italian culture is infused in the way the collections are presented and it makes for a beautiful experience.”
Patel listed Plan C, Brunello Cucinelli, Aquazzura and Gianvito Rossi as the presentations she and her team were “most excited” to see here. “When we’re in Milan, we’re always looking at creativity and craftsmanship. It’s always exciting to see how designers bring their inspiration to life with top notch luxury and quality.”
Patel appreciated the balance of shows and presentations in every fashion city. “It’s nice to have the balance — not everything is meant to be a runway show.”
Mario Grauso, president of Holt Renfrew, agreed. “Fashion week needs to be about the clothing and not just about production and venues. We are equally impressed by companies like Brunello Cucinelli and Loro Piana who forgo shows but present amazing product.”
Alessandro Maria Ferreri, chief executive officer and owner of The Style Gate consulting firm, said there are a number of brands that are “the reference point for different categories,” such as Loretta Caponi for its handmade loungewear and innerwear, or Faliero Sarti for its precious silk scarves made in Como. “These are brands for those in the know, who have a certain kind of lifestyle, who wear a certain kind of refined clothes, who want the best, the highest kind of craftsmanship and exceptional design,” Ferreri said. “But make no mistake, these are brands that are internationally distributed, that have a wholesale business, with the highest performance but they are not industrial. They are the obvious choice for those who love luxury.”
Loretta Caponi has been in business for more than five decades, catering to royal families from Belgium to England as well as the Kennedys, the Rockefellers, the Rothschilds, the Gettys and celebrities including Madonna and Jane Fonda. The brand stood out with the use of cotton, linen and silk at a time when the innerwear category was defined by synthetics and nylon.
In other categories, these brands could be compared to Pineider for its pens and writing paper, or Santa Maria Novella for fragrances, for example. “These are all leaders in their sectors. My grandmother used to say, ‘You need some luck to make money, but you need culture to spend it,’” Ferreri concluded.
For Riccardo Tortato, fashion director e-commerce at Tsum.ru and men’s fashion director at Tsum Moscow & DLT St. Petersburg, this exclusivity is represented by Brunello Cucinelli, Loro Piana and Kiton as Italian brands “that in their different ways are really important in this industry” and that opt for a presentation rather than a runway show. “These three brands with different styles and perspectives represent the highest level of chicness, quality and luxury made in Italy. I am happy to attend their presentations because I can see and touch the quality of the product.”
In terms of business, Kiton women’s line is the most recent, but it already shows “an interesting point of view and great possibility to develop a great business,” Tortato said. Loro Piana and Brunello Cucinelli are two “super important mega brands and an important part of business for Tsum and for any department store in the world.”
Tortato said he “love[s] to go to the Brunello Cucinelli presentation because Brunello himself ‘welcomes home’ and shows personally the novelty and the mood of the season. The atmosphere is extremely cozy and it’s a moment to talk to Brunello directly about business development and new ideas.”
Loro Piana offers “the luxury understatement of a brand that represents the highest level of exclusivity and elegance,” Tortato continued. “What I always love about the Loro Piana presentation is the incredible research on the color palette of their product. A color is never a simple shade, but it has always had a sophisticated twist inside. Every season you see different tones of the same color and they look always so new, so unexpected and so unique.”
Erica Russo, Bloomingdale’s vice president and fashion director of accessories and beauty, underscored the importance in Milan of “continuously scouring the market and talking to brands that are established, as well as those that are still up and coming.” Runway shows are “often seen as the opportunity to discover what is expected for next season but smaller previews and appointments are equally as important.” Russo cited Gianvito Rossi, Jimmy Choo, Giuseppe Zanotti, Brunello Cucinelli and Herno as some of the must-see brands in Milan.
“For our partners like Herno and Jimmy Choo, it’s a time to see what they’re most excited about and show our support. Plus, it’s often during these appointments that new ‘runway market’ styles are introduced that we don’t want to miss,” Russo continued. “Milan is also a time to connect with designers and brands that we admire like Gianvito Rossi and ones that are up and coming such as Giannico. Connecting in these intimate settings allows designers to share their inspiration, personally walk you through the collection, and give you the opportunity to touch and feel the product. It also helps foster the important relationship between retailer and designer, a benefit and experience you don’t have in a runway setting.”
Federica Montelli, head of fashion at Rinascente, said Milan Fashion Week “is probably the busiest fashion week,” which offers not only runway shows but “a packed presentation calendar that is sometimes hard to juggle. It is good for these brands to host a presentation, making the contact with retailers and press more personal, giving the opportunity to see the product up close at your own pace. It is also an opportunity to interact directly with the designers.”
Montelli listed as must-sees for retailers in town the footwear brands “that make Milan a must-stop.” These include Casadei, Aquazzura, Gianvito Rossi, Sergio Rossi, Bally, Santoni and Cesare Paciotti. “I have been personally waiting for this one as we will soon be hosting a special pop-up in Milan with the brand,” confided Montelli.
Among the younger designers, Montelli cited Nicolò Beretta’s styles for Giannico and for L’Autre Chose; Flapper’s creative headpieces that have been very successful at Rinascente, she said, and Officina del Poggio for their “carefully crafted Made in Italy bags. We love their ‘bottle bag’ and they have just produced a limited edition capsule for Rinascente.”
She also pointed to Valextra and Serapian for their “carefully crafted luxury accessories, while Borbonese is one to watch for its new strategy of revamping the brand; it’s coming soon in our stores.”
In terms of ready-to-wear, she said she was looking forward to Plan C “for some good-old Marni-nostalgia by the Castiglioni family,” and Blazé, “born as a tailored blazer capsules and now developing into a full collection, each season more interesting. Among the more classical brands Aspesi is a must for those looking for the perfect modern Milanese style, while Herno is our favorite for timeless and highly performing outerwear.”