Seven Suggestions For Improving Milan Fashion Week
At 8 a.m. on Sunday morning, the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana held a press conference at which attendance had been all but mandated weeks in advance. The early, un-Italian hour was no doubt meant to indicate the seriousness of the occasion, as was a lineup of speakers that included Patrizio Bertelli, Diego Della Valle, and Gildo Zegna, all of whom have joined the organization’s new board. Essentially, these captains of one of Italy’s most important and cherished industries have banded together to reinvigorate Milan’s increasingly hidebound fashion weeks. “I’ve heard the word boring,” Zegna acknowledged, though he insisted that wasn’t the case. The speeches were heavy on sweeping statements and light on concrete details, which provoked the assembly of sleep-deprived journalists into a volley of probing questions. Bertelli had earlier compared his fellow board members to “senators of fashion,” and he might have been thinking, Et tu, Suzy? as the International New York Times‘ Suzy Menkes led a round of interrogation into everything from Milan’s inhospitality to young designers to its perceived shortcomings on the digital front. Bertelli is no pushover, and he gave as good as he got. When a French journalist asked why we were only hearing from old men (Angela Missoni was a mostly silent presence on the board today), the Prada CEO told him he’d be a dangerous old man himself if he didn’t change his attitude, and then unexpectedly pointed out that Italy was the first country to abolish slavery, in the 1300s. By the end, one attendee was muttering, “Business as usual,” but if the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, then today’s announcement should be welcomed as a positive development. Certainly there is enough firepower and entrepreneurial know-how on this new board to solve world peace, let alone bring new energy to a fashion week. Zegna stressed that the process would be a dialogue and said suggestions would be encouraged. In that spirit, here are seven modest proposals for improving Milan fashion week.
1. Lure young, international designers to Milan.
Menkes wondered how Milan would be replacing Burberry and Alexander McQueen, two brands that have recently decamped back to their native London. But the city’s relatively uncrowded schedule could be one of its biggest assets. Given how ridiculously packed the New York and, increasingly, London and Paris schedules have become, you would think any number of hot young brands could be persuaded to believe that they’d have a better chance of standing out in Milan. If access to Italy’s unparalleled production expertise were thrown in as part of the deal, who could resist?
2. Take the show on the road.
The British Fashion Council and, to some extent, the U.S.-based CFDA have done a good job of promoting their designers abroad. As part of the London Showrooms events, a dozen young U.K. talents have even careened around Hong Kong together on a bus. While there are barely enough young Milan-based designers to fill a Smart car let alone a minibus, and its more established designers are already well known internationally, it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with the right kind of touring exhibition. Picture a mix of up-and-comers such as Umit Benan, Andrea Pompilio, and Fausto Puglisi; some cult brands like MP Massimo Piombo and Aspesi; and a couple of designer offshoots like Versace’s Versus line and Lapo Elkann’s highly covetable new made-to-measure collaboration with Gucci—all introduced by a charming, high-profile figure (yes, we’re talking to you, Lapo). That would go some way to showing the rest of the world the extent of Italy’s ambitions.
3. Appoint a dynamic global ambassador.
As chairman of the BFC, Net-a-Porter’s Natalie Massenet has been widely praised for her role in raising the profile of London fashion week. The Camera has reportedly approached a major digital retailer and a powerful PR to act in something of a similar capacity, but both were reluctant to take on the responsibility. Finding the right person to serve as a cheerleader-in-chief for Milan fashion week should remain a top priority.
4. Exploit the China connection.
Italy’s luxury companies were pioneers in recognizing the power of Chinese consumerism, and many of them have well-established chains of stores throughout China. They could use these connections to encourage Chinese designers to show in Milan. This is starting to happen already. Uma Wang showed here last year, and as the Camera’s president, Mario Boselli, pointed out today, Ji Wenbo is on this week’s menswear schedule. If a new wave of Chinese designers is to emerge over the next decade, Milan could be to them what Paris was to the Japanese designers in the eighties.
5. Throw better parties.
If the vitality of a fashion capital can be measured by its after-hours activity, then Milan lags behind New York, London, and even Paris. I have been to some wonderful dinners in beautiful locations in Milan, but these are usually carefully choreographed affairs designed to promote a single brand. There are fewer of the raucous bashes you find in other cities, where designers, artists, and wannabes rub shoulders. This points to a broader problem. There doesn’t seem to be the same kind of informal creative exchange here that occurs between designers in downtown Manhattan or Dalston. Why not ask the Sozzani sisters, Franca and Carla, to host an evening in which all the local designers could meet the visiting press? Why not enlist André Saraiva to import a pop-up version of Le Baron during fashion week, as he has in places like Miami? Or ask Massimiliano Gioni, the curator of the current Venice Biennale, to organize a series of cultural happenings. If nothing else, it would give editors an alternative to hanging out at the bar of the Principe.
6. Long shot: Why show in Milan every season?
OK, this suggestion is politically dicey, logistically impossible, and unlikely to win me friends among the hoteliers of Milan. Still, in his remarks, Diego Della Valle noted that Italy’s strength lay not just in Milan but in other cities such as Florence and Venice. Why not take advantage of the fact that Italy, unlike its main rivals, is not a mono-capital country. Show in Milan one season, Rome the next. Impractical? Absolutely, but it would shake things up.
7. Longer shot: Fund Nicolas Ghesquière’s new line.
If Milan’s moguls have one thing to offer, even in a politically and economically complicated moment, it’s deep pockets, deep enough perhaps to fund a start-up by the former Balenciaga designer. They shouldn’t wait for him to sign on the dotted line at LVMH. One of them should write him a blank check, the only condition being he show in Milan. Overnight, it would guarantee that the city’s fashion week is a must-attend event. That would be 50 to 100 million euros well spent.