MILAN — At White Milano, the curious were invited to take a peak into the future by stepping into a cube simulating green NFT artwork. The eco-conscious satiated their thirst for knowledge in a soundproof pod where sustainability leaders pondered the responsible business models of tomorrow.
Down the road, Saudi Arabian women were showcasing their own collections and faces for the first time before press and buyers.
By positioning itself as a stage for solutions and new frontiers, White Milano has survived the COVID-19 pandemic and further developed its reach.
“White is dynamic and full of energy. We innovated our format to make it more modern, and we are committed to working with the best talents,” the fair’s founder Massimiliano Bizzi said in an interview.
Becoming a part of its roster of brands has also become even more competitive.
“We put on our buyer caps and every brand undergoes an X-ray,” said White Milano’s commercial director Simona Severini, who noted that she and her team evaluate 3,000 brands for every edition for creativity, materials, certifications, distribution and target price.
Things haven’t been easy for brands or buyers, Severini added, as Chinese import duties have gone up 30 percent and in the U.S., about 28 percent since last season.
Taking place amid a crucial election, where far-right candidate Giorgia Meloni’s coalition won the most votes, soaring energy and transport prices were among the top concerns at the four-day fair that closed here Sunday, election day.
“[Wholesale] prices overall have gone up about 10 percent,” said Uberta Zambeletti, owner of Milan concept store Wait andSee, after touring the fair. Pop colors of bubble gum pink and emerald green; chunky heels, and resortwear were among the top trends noted at the fair, which was once again dubbed “Sign of the Times.”
The four-day fair welcomed an increased number of 400 exhibitors, compared with 330 during the March edition, with a 18 percent rise in international buyers. This season, organizers expanded White Milano into spaces at the Magna Pars Hotel, the Superstudio Più and the Archiproducts spaces to its two existing venues, the Base — ExAnsaldo and the Padiglione Visconti — all located in Milan’s Tortona Design District.
The fair was well-received by an increased number of visitors, up to 16,000 from 13,000 in September 2021.
White Milano welcomed buyers from the world’s main department stores and retail groups, ranging from Al Tayer UAE and Bergdorf Goodman New York to Harvey Nichols Kuwait, Bloomingdale’s New York, Galeries Lafayette Doha and Ounass.com, among others, with a small number of Ukrainian buyers who have established boutiques in other countries like Portugal, organizers noted.
Some of the most-awaited new names who took part in the four-day event included Simon Cracker, Swarovski, Avant Toi, Maria Calderara, Sophie D’Hoore and Stefano Mortari. In addition, Pierre Mantoux presented a capsule collection developed in collaboration with Carine Roitfeld.
The September edition also saw the debut of ExpoWhite, a new format that promoted the work of fashion creatives from Saudi Arabia, Brazil, the Netherlands and South Africa. This year, the focus was on Saudi designers via the Saudi100 Brands project supported by the Ministry of Culture and the Fashion Commission, which presented the country’s best talents, 85 percent of whom were women.
With the merger between fashion and tech paramount, guests had the chance to experience a taste of the metaverse with new simulations by Green Light Project and Red-Eye, the first artificial intelligence, Web 2.0 (online) and Web 3.0 (AI and virtual) magazine that explores the virtual worlds.
At the heart of the fair in the White Cube space dedicated to shoes were the otherworldly NFT creations by Cyprus-based artist Constantinos Panayiotou, who is known as Pet Liger, who made his debut onto the fashion scene with the first Gucci Vault exhibition. As the metaverse has yet to be completed, Panayiotou said he is creating fashions for a world that has yet to exist. “I am trying to think for an alien world.”
For Pet Liger, the viability of the NFT fashion market is already palpable. His futuristic designs have been sold for up to $35,000, with a resale value of $16,000. “There is a small community buying these, but they are willing to spend,” he said, flanked by metaverse creators like California-based, Italian Alex Bellesia and Pico Velasquez of VIIRA, a company that helps brands and companies build their virtual and metaverse presence.
Elsewhere, designs for the real world mirrored the virtual. In the Circle Room, Marshall Columbia, a Brooklyn-based brand coveted by A-listers like Dua Lipa and Bella Hadid, showcased a spring 2023 collection of cartoon-inspired bags.
Other collections admired by buyers were in the Brazilian section, where sustainable, social impact brands like Dotz and newcomers like Marco Anzil, a leather goods accessories designer who got his start at Salvatore Ferragamo, showcased their goods.
Local players such as Avant Toi distinguished themselves with innovative designs, rich storytelling and hand-painted cashmere. The brand’s marketing director Giulia Marini said Avant Toi sells to more than 300 stores worldwide, as more than 80 percent of its sales are booked outside of Italy, with the U.S. its top foreign market.
“The U.S. has always been a core market and it’s one in which we are investing and concentrating on at the moment,” Marini said.
Despite the Russia-Ukraine war’s impact on energy prices and transport costs, the company insists its original designs are behind its resilience, especially during the pandemic. In 2021, the company booked pre-COVID-19-level sales of 8 million euros and forecasts 10 million euros in sales at the end of 2022, due to its success in offering a trendy product that is reasonably priced.
Italian e-commerce site The Dressing Screen founder and chief executive officer Stefania Inama said the U.S. consumer is endorsing online boutiques like hers. “The American market is absolutely fundamental as one-third of our sales are generated by U.S. clients, with Americans booking an average order value double that of our local clientele,” Inama commented.
Sustainable talks were spearheaded by globally recognized thought leaders like Giusy Bettoni, founder and CEO of Class, guiding fashion brands to responsible innovation, and meeting the demand of today’s conscious consumer. She was joined by eco fashion pillars Javier Goyeneche, CEO and founder of EcoAlf, and Eileen Fisher’s social consciousnesses director Amy Hall, who commented on the company’s new CEO, Lisa Williams, a former Patagonia executive.
“We are very excited to see what of her experience at Patagonia and of her personal value system she can bring to the company and continue to bring along the values that we already have in the company and improve upon them,” Hall said.
Looking ahead, ExpoWhite will continue its growth and commitment to broadening its horizons.
February 2023 forecasts the participation of other countries with a particular focus on Indigenous and native fashion expressions.
At Magna Pars hotel, 42-year-old Saudi Arabian designer Mona Alshebil talked to buyers at the Saudi expo showcase with her daughter. Her cotton dresses are based on classic icons like the trench and are produced in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, as the nation pushes ahead with its ambitious plans to build up its fashion industry and design prowess with the help of consultants like former right hand creative to Valentino, Antonio Bandini Conti.
“I sell mostly in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf but I am looking forward to being in Europe, the U.S. and Asia,” she said.