Milan Fashion Week S/S 2021: The Radical Romantics

It was only seven months ago that the renowned hub for culture & art was silenced into the rather bleak experience of national quarantine. Perhaps the last the world has heard from them was during the pandemic’s onset; in viral videos documenting the charmingly Italian ways of resisting the curse of “social distancing”; arranging impromptu musical performances and opera shows on apartment balconies, and pouring vino for neighbors in the next window. Now as for the prolonged, pensive months that followed, we look to this season’s runway shows of Milan Fashion Week which manifested some themes and moods you might find familiar to your own quarantine experience; sentimentality, comfort, change, and escapism.

Fendi Spring/Summer 2021 Collection
Images from Vogue.com

Fendi opened the week with an ode to family, and home life. As if finally rising out of the confines of their boudoir, models both fresh and familiar glided down the window motif-ed “hallway”, curtains billowing in their wake. Caftans and loose loungewear-inspired garments were printed with shadows of window views; faintly neutral dyed coats and suits recalled sepia tones in old family photographs; and delicate dresses fashioned scalloped hems and embroidered florals that were reminiscent of sala furniture cozies and house linens. 

Prada Spring/Summer 2021 Collection
Images from Vogue.com

Warmth radiated as well in Prada’s digital show, with the models seemingly swathed in clutch coats if not snug printed hoodies, with calculated spots of color and print just enough to refresh the mainly neutral and monochromatic ensembles. Raf Simons and Miuccia Prada also admitted to their shared love for uniforms in a rare Q and A conversation after the digital show, which presented a pragmatic comfort collection that reflected their harmonious partnership. Sharing sentimental notes, Ports 1961’s ready-to-wear collection revelled in the experience of “touch” as explained by designer Karl Templer, despite the garments’ outwardly romanesque and goddess-like imagery; gladiator sandals, and fluid asymmetrical dresses and suits that wrapped around a woman’s body. It was a reminder of the feeling of embrace amidst a time that was deprived of it. 

A-COLD-WALL* Spring/Summer 2021 Collection
Images from Vogue.com

In the dystopian digital film Amor Fati, Marine Serre showcased their more functionally formed collection within the context of the changes of the planet; socially, and environmentally. All-over, face shielding bodysuits in striking ruby and sapphire patterned with graphic crescent moons, were paired with utilitarian jackets, and upcycled carpet material — creating an interesting play between industrial and baroque themes suited for stylish functionality. Also inspired by the radical changes from this year; A-Cold-Wall’s designer, Samuel Ross, cites modernist design influences notable for their turn of the century visions. The resulting garments are based on the professional look of 20th-century suiting silhouettes, made fresh with more ergonomic and utilitarian subtractions and additions.

Among the confronting reactions of fashion towards radical change, the following brands opted instead to escape into memories of the past. Dsquared2 and Blumarine take us back to the minimal yet playful cuts and forms of the ‘90s and 2000s. Whereas the former personifies sensual grunge — with little lace slips, silk and leather; the latter embodies the frilly femininity of ‘90s pop culture and Sofia Coppola films — pastel low-rise ruffled skirts, Swarovski crystal encrusted cropped tops, feathers, fur, and fabric flowers. Emilio Pucci follows suit with their collection harkening back to the pastels and patterns of the ’60s, soft reminders of the design house founder’s original values of purity in print and form.

Versace Spring/Summer 2021 Collection
Images from Vogue.com

Versace emerges out of the deep blue, as a form of “re-emergence, through submergence”. A notably diverse cast with slicked hair, walk amongst a show set like undersea ruins; in starfish bustiers, deconstructed diving suits, and exquisite micro-pleated dresses reminiscent of the extravagance of ‘90s Versace. Moschino was another looker of the season, quirky as ever, they forgo a physical runway show and instead opt for a puppet runway in collaboration with The Jim Henson Company.Creature Shop, complete with a doll-sized version of the collection and doll-sized front row audience. Looking closer at the lavish gowns in dreamy color palettes, you will find intentionally exposed seams and pockets, and overrun tulle; Jeremy Scott’s interpretation of the current world turned “inside-out”.

Salvatore Ferragamo’s collection was a product of designer Paul Andrew’s Alfred Hitchcock binge over quarantine; form fitting knit dresses, suits and trench coats; feathers and other film noir references ala The Birds, and Vertigo. The garments were shown by means of a digital film directed by Hitchcock-influenced Luca Guadagnino known for his films Suspiria, Call Me By Your Name, and his most recent; I am Love. Another unique digital film showcase to note was that of Marni; presenting a sobering collection of reworked archival pieces, worn and modeled by “friends of the Marni family” recorded in their own homes as they go about the daily humdrum. Raw seams, deconstructed knit dresses, and graffiti-ed jackets tied together the collection’s message of collective fragility.

Valentino Spring/Summer 2021 Collection
Images from Vogue.com

Valentino closed the week with a “re-signification”; retaining their romantic roots amidst a changing urban landscape. This consisted of a more diverse cast, with both menswear and womenswear practically sharing silhouettes and stylistic elements; suits, blazers, and blouses in floral print, crochet, and lace; the brand’s characteristic evening wear had a minimalist flair, with caftans and cape dresses in solid colors and light and flowy fabrics. Uncharacteristic of the luxury brand however, was its show venue situated in a rustic metallurgical factory, accented by towering plant life — admittedly, a metaphor for the vibrance of life growing amidst a cold urban landscape. 

Within the commonality of the pandemic experience, Milan Fashion Week gives us a glimpse into the mind’s eye of Italy’s most celebrated designers anticipated every year at the renowned hub for culture and art. And to no surprise, we find that their response to a global upheaval is no different from their culture-pioneering predecessors — that even amidst a blurring reality and shadowed future, one must always find time to celebrate the vibrance of life.

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