Face-Off designer Lele Danzi

MILAN Shields and anti-bacterial fabrics took center stage as a historic, COVID-era phy-gital edition of White Milano in the city’s Superstudio Più  and BASE Milano/ex Ansaldo locations.

This edition combined the White Milano spring/summer trade show, traditionally held during women’s fashion week, with the WSM Fashion Reboot event dedicated to sustainability — originally scheduled for June and then postponed due to the pandemic.

During lockdown, White organizers had the time to evolve their strategy, aimed at distinguishing itself from other B2B physical and online fairs, as a hub for high-end fashion research, innovation and thought-provoking talks.

On a physical level, White Milano, which ran from Sept. 24 to 27, hosted more than 200 brands, 32 sustainable realities and welcomed 5,000 buyers and members of the press, compared to more than 21,000 visitors in February. With the launch of its business-to-business digital marketplace, White Milano said it registered a total of 550,000 virtual visitors and 5,000-plus certified online buyers in over 24 hours of livestreaming that included 40 live presentations and 140 brand showcases.

White president and founder Massimiliano Bizzi’s energy was high at the start of the fair, eager to transmit a message of optimism amid uncertain economic times, in light of the special projects “Milano Loves Italy” and the #insiemesiamopiùforti [“together we are stronger”] launched to bolster small and medium-sized enterprises on social media and promote a sense of camaraderie among fashion industry players.

Boutiques around the city supported “Milano Loves Italy” by showcasing the collections of a number of designers in their shops and in their window displays: 10 Corso Como showcased White Milano special guest Vièn; Milaura for Jejia; DAAD Dantone for Giovanni Cavagna: Biffi Boutiques for Maissa; Acca Kappa for Yekaterina Ivankova; The Merchant of Venice for Cromantica; Bel Boutique for Avant Toi, and Incontri Boutique presented VeryBusy.

“This is really the first time fashion has come together to work as a team,” Bizzi said, applauding brands and their rapid response to the crisis, via new and improved digital strategies and innovative products that include sign-of-the-times protective gear and anti-bacterial clothing.

“This trend is extremely important, and our ready-to-wear brands and textile-makers at the fair understand this need to equip ourselves with the right gear,” Bizzi said.

At the fairgrounds, eyewear designer and founder of Face-Off, Lele Danzi, attracted attention with trendy face shields he envisaged and produced during lockdown and available in an array of tech styles and colors. The shields retail for between $200 and $300.

Research and innovation in the worlds of fashion tech and science was paramount in the WSM Fashion Reboot section, supported by Confartigianato, Italian trade agency ICE Agenzia and Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Curated by White’s team with Matteo Ward, cofounder of the brand Wråd and artistic director of Give a Fok-us, this edition of WSM shined the spotlight on an array of participants — from textile-makers to software companies providing blockchain solutions and conscious business models.

“I’d say we are one of the most relevant shows on this topic. For the first time, we have been able to combine media, finance, education, fabrics, artists and big brands, all of them working together to purvey the same message,” Ward said, noting that even before COVID-19 ebbed, he started researching health-care fabrics, in order to create a line of anti-bacterial garments for newborns, in an effort to reduce the number of infant deaths due to bacterial infections.

WSM’s Health n’ Fashion Exhibit propelled the discoveries of Swiss company Technow, which produces bacteriostatic, toxic-free graphene fabrics that eliminate surface bacteria, as well as the BiBye line from Tuscan mill Manteco, which has been making circular knits since World War II and today is known  for its high-end, upcycled and traceable fabrics.

“White is different from traditional textile fairs because it is really a small museum of innovation, an incubator for young designers dedicated to sustainability,” said Marco Mantellassi, who runs the company with his brother Matteo and whose grandfather recycled blankets and military garments during and after the war.

During the lockdown, the Mantellassis improved their b-t-b services, promoting their archive of more than 40,000 textiles through hi-res photos and videos. “I’d say that our revenue slid about 15 to 20 percent, which is remarkable in this climate, considering that a lot of our clients saw sales plunge 50 to 60 percent,” Mantellassi commented.

On the buyer side, retailers said Instagram sales and new online stores kept them afloat. Uberta Zambeletti, owner of the Milanese concept store Wait and See, launched her own online platform right after COVID-19 sealed off the region of Lombardy. “It was perfect timing.” As retail enters a new age, Zambeletti said she has a different approach, interacting with brands mostly in showrooms and online. “This season, about 90 percent of my suppliers didn’t even show at the fairs, so I meet 60 percent of my suppliers in showrooms, versus 30 percent [I saw in showrooms] pre-COVID-19. I am only seeing about 10 percent of my suppliers in physical fairs right now. It’s a very ‘Wait and See’ moment.”

White organizers also dedicated a great deal of digital and physical space and effort to promoting a more diverse fashion industry with the “Exhibit Beauty — We are made in Italy and Italy is made of us,” which highlighted the work of young Afro-Italian talent promoted by Italy’s Afro Fashion organization. Designers on show included Joy Meribe, Frida Kiza, Karim Daoudi and GisFab Design, as well as the artwork of Christopher Veggetti Kanku.  Established designers Stella Jean and Edward Buchanan, Italy-based proponents of the Black Lives Matter movement, also took part in “Exquisite Beauty” with a selection of their signature outfits, renewing their pledge to ensure creatives of color have a place in Italian fashion.

“We are here to say we deserve this space and the merit.  We want to encourage young people to find themselves in creative fields. We are going to help them do that and we are going to make sure that our industry, which is under an umbrella of (like everyone else in the world) under systemic racism….We are going to make sure the industry knows that we are not running anywhere,” Buchanan said in a livestream on his Sansovino6 Instagram page.

Diversity was also highlighted with a panel talk moderated by Dinner Conversations founder (a female-empowerment firm), PR consultant and events organizer Natasha Slater and involving Trussardi chief brand officer Antonella di Pietro, sustainable fashion designers Bav Tailor and Flavia La Rocca and designer and style curator Beatrice Fontana,  all of whom echoed the need for a more balanced industry and for more female, top-level executives and creatives.

“We need to be equal in color and in gender. This is the only way we can go forward and create the future,” Tailor said.

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