Identity Crisis. Missoni + Etro SS23

There’s this tricky thing about Italian brands that used to be family-owned. Once a new designer, who never worked with that family, takes over the steers, a hard identity crisis begins for good. This Milan Fashion Week, on the same day, there were two such debuts: Filippo Grazioli at Missoni and Marco De Vincenzo at Etro. Both delivered highly uninventive collections that were strangled with some familiar style codes of the brands, but lacking any fresh perspective of what these two idiosyncratic Italian houses could be in 2022. Grazioli’s take on Missoni felt like yet another failed attempt of the brand to rejuvenate itself since the family no longer does the creative direction. The designer, who cut his teeth at Givenchy and Hermès in the past, offered a tight palate-cleanser collection which was a very plain interpretation of Missoni’s timeless zig zag and fiammato patterns. Most of the looks orbited between sleek minimalism and uninspired, 1960s retro. It would d be interesting to see Grazioli playing with the house’s codes with a freer, more daring approach, expanding his creative reach. Because if you are planning to design just good clothes, then don’t even bother – or at least, don’t show during fashion week. A range of similar problems appeared on Etro’s runway. De Vincenzo is a well-known designer in Milan, but when I heard the news of his appointment, I scratched my head. Etro’s most recognizable repertoire – the eternal paisley pattern, the fringed gypsy look, the romantic sweeping gowns – was nowhere to be seen in his debut. “I don’t really like fluid fabrications; I like structure and compact materials,” De Vincenzo explained. “I’m not really familiar with the boho world. It doesn’t mean that in the future I cannot interpret it my way, but for now I’ve been given this position to express my point of view. That’s why I’m here.” I really don’t understand his mission then. There’s no need for Etro to be something else than Etro. And definitely not a bunch of shallow designs, featuring lazy-looking dresses and silly crop-tops. The collection tried hard to appeal to a younger audience, but I guess it was forgotten by that very same audience the minute the show ended. Missoni and Etro are brands that truly deserve better. Either their new creative directors quickly find balance between their personal aesthetics and the houses’ style ethos, or they will simply fall into oblivion, just like many other Italian brands that never could find their way again without their charismatic founders (and their descendants).

Missoni spring-summer 2023:

Etro spring-summer 2023:

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Gothic Mermaids. Blumarine SS23

Blumarine‘s Nicola Brognano keeps on digging deep into the 2000s nostalgia, but for spring-summer 2023, the designer switched the attitude: from girly to femme, from roses to crosses, from flimsy Lolita-esque dresses to tight-fitting, liquid silhouettes. Also, the Blumarine woman went underwater, becoming an IRL mermaid. In his childhood, Brognano was obsessed with The Little Mermaid cartoon. “I watched it on repeat so many times that the VHS got destroyed,” he said. But what is it about the Little Mermaid that so enthralled Brognano? “She was a redhead like my mother, and I loved the way she was dressed, all those eye-popping colors. I remember a minidress that was exactly a cartoon version of a Versace metal mesh number.” The glamorous mermaid look evidently stuck, but for spring, Brognano turned it into a darker, gothic representation, “intriguing and sexier, less pop, much dirtier.” The image of the Blumarine girl seems to be submitted to a constant process of mutation into ever-evolving versions of herself. A plethora of sexy numbers in luscious jersey contoured every curve, flaring into extra-long trains trailing on the sandy floor of the show’s set, which was scattered with shells and bathed in aquarium-blue light. With similar conviction, the Blumarine mermaid was provided with endless variations of True-Religion-esque denim trousers and cargos, whose hems opened into flares so wide or into undulating ruffles so humongous they almost seemed to crawl behind the models. Midriff-baring was de rigueur; being the ubiquitous trend’s instigator, Brognano just owned it with nonchalance, offering shell-shaped bras in oxidized metal paired with extremely low-slung denim flares or cargo-skirt hybrids. In the Blumarine seasonal mutation into gothic marine creature, the crystal-studded cross replaced the rose, one of the label’s symbols of voluptuous sensuality, here reduced to a few timid rosettes gathering the draping of figure-hugging minidresses. In Brognano’s ongoing identity shaping, drama takes the place of innocent flirting, and romanticism has darker, erotic undertones.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Inflated Camp. Moschino SS23

At Moschino, there’s no such thing as too much camp. Jeremy Scott started his spring-summer 2023 collection with a bunch of looks that nodded to Yves Saint Laurent’s signature silhouettes, and ended with over-the-top eveningwear. But that wasn’t just that. One thing connected these two parts: inflated, plastic pool toys, which were everywhere. “Everybody’s talking about inflation,” the designer said backstage. “The cost of everything’s going up: housing, food, life. So I took inflation into the collection.” He wasn’t talking about rising hemlines or oversized volumes either. Every look save for a small handful had some sort of inflatable detail, be it a heart-shaped collar or hemline or “broken heart” lapels, one half on either side of neatly tailored jackets. “Sometimes we feel like we’re drowning,” Scott continued, acknowledging the bad news stories clogging our feeds. “I’m sure you do. I know I do. But no matter what is going on, we have to save space for joy, right? The darker it is, the lighter I have to be.” Making good on that promise, he embellished his evening looks with pool floaties. The most inspired of the bunch included a strapless purple column cinched at the waist with the deflated ends of a pink raft, its pneumatic ends creating a train, and another strapless number that was accompanied by a Lilo stole. By the end, Imaan Hammam’s look was more of a floatation device than gown, but that was Scott’s point. Anyone who could use a little buoying up, Scott’s your pool boy.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Crude. Prada SS23

Finally, after two and half (fashion) weeks, a truly brilliant collection. Of course, it had to be Prada. Spring-summer 2023 might be the most sensual offerings to date coming from the creative dialogue between Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons. At a first glance, one might find it very simple, even straightforward. But the more you dig into the details, into its raw, yet cinematic effect, and the oddness of silhouettes and lenghts and material clashes, you realise that another word describes it better: “crude”. For the show, the Prada Fondazione was covered in black craft paper. Cut into the set walls were windows behind which short videos by the director Nicolas Winding Refn fame played: clips of a coat on a wooden dining chair, an empty kitchen, women in repose on couches. Were these scenes of domestic bliss? Knowing our protagonists, and understanding the two years we’ve all been through, that doesn’t seem likely. Instead, what Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons seemed to be after was some sort of truth – peering behind the curtain for a glimpse of reality or its close verisimilitude. “There is a sense of the life of women,” Miuccia Prada said in a statement. “Life and humanity crafts the clothes – not superficial embellishment, but traces of living, leaving marks. This idea of clothes shaped by humanity excites us.” The first look, in its corporate anonymity, seemed to belie that statement. Where’s the humanity in a dour gray top coat and lighter gray button-down onesie? But before long, the layers came undone. The boxy tailoring of that coat, for example, was replaced with an old-fashioned nightie, the familiar logo triangle embroidered on its tulle neckline. Picking up on the craft paper of the set, they used paper – “the most simple, modest material” – for dresses whose color and print didn’t quite meet the edges. These were the most thought-provoking pieces in the collection. The white outlines at necklines and hems gave the sleeveless shifts an unfinished, work-in-progress quality, like an artist made clothes out of a freshly painted canvas, rather than putting it in a frame. Clearly, Miuccia had her autumn-winter 2004 collection as the reference, where a similar technique was used for dresses and coats. Knit sweaters and skirts, meanwhile, came pre-creased in places, and the skirts’ slits were left raw-edged, with the slips underneath following the same almost ragged lines. The white nighties and peignoirs over black briefs and the icy silk duchesse dresses tapped into beloved parts of the house archives. Trained for decades to see Mrs. Prada as fashion’s fortune teller, a mostly silent arbiter with an outsized influence, we come to Prada shows eager to know how we’ll want to dress next season. On that topic, the house founder and her partner had a new idea, and it goes back to that skinny legged, stripped of all excesses all-in-one. Many designers are thinking wider and fuller for spring – the overwhelming vibe is go big or go home. But here the silhouette was tapered to the ankle and punctuated with a boxy coat or jacket and chunky cowboy boot mary janes. A new Prada uniform? In his own comments, Simons said, “more than any other collection, this one is filled with different views… different bodies of work, within a single body of work – shifting between disparate form languages.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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More Than A Muse. Max Mara SS23

It’s quite shocking how good Max Mara is latey. Ian Griffiths is becoming the patron saint of overlooked and underestimated historical “muses.” Following his resort reassessment of fabulous-’50s Lisbon radical Natália Correia, for sping-summer 2023 Griffiths turned his restorative eye two decades earlier. It focused on Renée Perle, a lover and much-snapped subject of early alpha-photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue. “But she also painted all these self-portraits that were absolutely panned by the critics,” said Griffiths. Then there was Eileen Gray, who designed her own feminocratic ideal of the modernist house, the Villa E-1027 in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France, in 1929. This was much coveted by Le Corbusier, who painted murals in its interior while staying there and was sometimes even wrongly credited with its wonderful design. As Griffiths suggested, both women were cast as muses – objects of masculine inspiration – rather than artists who were themselves inspired. The irony in the benevolently meant result of Griffiths’s rehabilitation mission was that while seeking to recast Perle’s and Gray’s place in history he was also to a degree reinforcing it. For there they were behind him as he spoke, fabulously frozen in time but pinned to his mood board like butterflies. Griffiths’s excavation of these histories allowed him to pitch this collection as a redemption song, but it also provided the designer, whose college tutor in the 1970s was Ossie Clark, to engage with gusto in the fashion conversations that echo between the 1930s and that decade. Yet it would have been remiss for a collection predicated on elevating unacknowledged female cultural protagonists to reject the full-blown “feminine,” and this was delivered in swooping backless dresses worn with doorframe-wide sun hats and a trio of swimwear-inspired citrus looks topped with Esther Williams–worthy swimming-cap hats. A closing bunch of hand-drawn floral gowns and separates, sometimes hitched to trailing bow-tied strips of organza, drew the veil on another dreamy Max Mara meander.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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