The biggest news at Milan Fashion Week was Jennifer Lopez showing off her bod and Alessandro Michele showing restraint.
Lopez wore a jungle-print dress nearly identical to the one she wore to the 2000 Grammys, and Michele showed restraint — literally, in the all-white opening looks resembling straightjackets (yikes), and in the Tom Ford-era, sexy-minimalist clothes that followed, accessorized with such tools of seduction as riding crops, “Gucci Orgasmique”(destined to be a perfume?) logo wear, even a bed pillow strapped to the back.
At Versace, it was certainly inspiring to see a 50-year-old woman strutting her stuff, even one with every diet, fitness and surgical option at her fingertips (she took not one but two laps around the runway). But drawing inspiration from a two-decades-old moment — and print — for a whole collection, even one cloaked in the illusion of the new through a Google tie-in, spoke to a bottom-line mentality Versace and several other Milan brands seem to be caught up in: The remake.
You can’t blame them; Hollywood is spoiled with remakes, with “The Lion King” earning nearly $1 billion this summer, Sylvester Stallone punching into theaters for the fifth time as Rambo this weekend, Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” and many more coming.
The concepts are tried and tested — they can reinforce valuable franchise story lines, whether they be a superhero or fashion founder myth. But even when they offer a fresh take, like a gender swap, or a new, more inclusive or multicultural POV, as in Gucci’s cast of quirky individuals and Versace’s spotlight on a mature diva, they are still remakes. (The Gucci collection was served up on a conveyer belt, which invited the unfortunate comparison to an assembly line, rather than with white rose petals raining down, as Tom Ford would have done, and it lost some of the romance because of it.)
Looking back was an epidemic in Milan. The Seventies was an overriding trend, seen in the patchwork denim and dip-dye caftans at Alberta Ferretti, and in Silvia Venturini Fendi’s first collection for Fendi post-Karl, where the new Age of Aquarius looked a lot like the old one, only with Granny taking a trip to Boca, perhaps, in a quilted, psychedelic bed jacket.
Name-checking Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin at Etro and Missoni, with Seventies suits and boho layers, also felt well worn. Do young people today even know who they are — or care? And more importantly, shouldn’t we expect more from these leading brands?
True creativity and risk-taking should be part of the luxury experience. But it’s understandable why profit-hungry, billion-dollar-plus fashion brands don’t want to do it; because self-reference and throwback themes are made for merchandising into Fendi socks and Versace Google tool charms, just like film franchises are made to merchandise into theme parks. Remakes are safe, and they’re easy for customers to digest and buy into, so long as they don’t feel too much like they’ve been had.
What was most appealing to me this week, however, was the less familiar and more experimental.
At Jil Sander, Luke and Lucie Meier articulated a counterculture spirit in a way that wasn’t recognizable as any era but this one, by showing craftsy details like raffia lace, silk patchwork, sequin bird embroideries and swirling marble prints modeled after Florentine paper to warm up their minimalist suiting, tunic dresses and slit skirts.
At least Miuccia Prada wrestled with too-muchness publicly in her pre-show press conference. As a compromise rather than a solution, she settled on a lovely remix of clean ladylike Seventies suiting, leather pieces with shimmering sequin palm-shaped embroideries, Nineties sheer sweaters and skirts, and Twenties chemise dresses. They were pieces to last, even if they were familiar.
But like most designers here, she only made passing mention of sustainability as part of the creative motivation. It was rather shocking that even with the global climate strike in the background, and millions marching worldwide on Sept. 20, there was scant recognition of sustainability as a topic on any runway. Missoni put Olafur Eliasson solar lights in the hands of models and on the seats of showgoers, but that was it.
A welcome exception was Marni, where designer Francesco Risso erected a tropical jungle runway set made from recycled materials. Using sustainable cottons and regenerated leathers, the collection featured a museum’s worth of frantic brushstrokes on balloon tops, apron dresses and raw-hem skirts. The show notes were kooky (and used too much paper), mentioning a drug called “tachitropirina” that seemed to be a metaphor for fashion and overconsumption, but could have also included the addictive phenomenon of looking back. Whatever it all meant, he was working on the solution, and the mad creativity was the balm Milan needed.