On The Row SS24
Fashion Shows Reviews by Andrea Batilla
With one of the most successful collections since taking the helm at Valentino, Pierpaolo Piccioli has demonstrated to everyone that reducing doesn’t mean taking away meaning but, if anything, amplifying it. Working with almost none of the typical colours and decoration associated with Valentino, Piccioli developed a cut-out technique, which he referred to as “alto-rilievo,” effectively transforming fabrics into pieces of jewellery that, when combined, give a radically new meaning to the word embroidery. This is what a couture house should do: transport dusty archives and techniques into the present, keeping them alive while imbuing them with new significance. It should also demonstrate that even the seemingly simplest garment contains a mastery not found in places lacking this kind of culture.
However, the issues with this runway show were the visually heavy location and FKA Twigs’ dance performance, which overwhelmed and diverted attention from the meticulous work on the garments. Perhaps this collection deserved to be showcased in a white cube or a cherry blossom forest, emphasising its simplicity or enhancing its understated romanticism. It seems that lately, the Valentino team enjoys working in vast spaces with extravagant and sometimes unfocused cultural references when they should simply embrace the idea that the brand’s extraordinariness lies in its ability to make the everyday extraordinary. In other words, to turn something seemingly simple into an immortal object. There’s no need for artifice to tell that story—just a bit of space and a lot of light.
It is very difficult to explain what Demna has done with this Balenciaga collection. To be extremely concise, one might say he managed to speak of hope. By gathering friends and important people in his life, from his mother (the first exit) to his husband (the final exit in an upcycled wedding dress), and even the influential fashion critic Cathy Horyn, he decided to candidly address what is close to his heart, what he believes in, and what drives him.
Isabelle Huppert’s voice, reciting a sartorial treatise from the early 20th century in a disjointed manner, was a clear reference to the collective obsession with sartorial simplification. It was a way to reject it, to say that it cannot be an escape route or a means of reconstruction. On the other hand, the garments, seemingly simple but actually layered, aged, destroyed, or recycled, represented Demna abandoning the path of correctness and returning to speak of darkness, of difference, of the splendour of individual personalities, of truth.
Demna is the great demiurge who fights the system from within the system. He is the error that the matrix cannot erase, a precious source of truth that once again manages to remain beyond control. Those who, like me, were moved by seeing a hero rise again after being torn apart by the forces of evil had the deep conviction that in the world, not only in fashion, there are voices with such devastating power that no one ever, will be able to silence them. Today is a beautiful day.
According to affaritaliani.it, the latest financial report filed by Interbasic Holding, the company owned by Diego della Valle that owns Schiaparelli, shows a loss of 20 million euros, despite an annual revenue of 1.8 million euros. This is not exactly a picture of a thriving business; in fact, it’s likely the description of a rather unsuccessful journey that began in 2010 with the acquisition of the brand. The main problem undoubtedly lies in the creative direction of Daniel Roseberry, who, despite embarking on an interesting exploratory journey into maximalism with haute couture, seems to lack the ability to ground the brand’s symbolic heritage. This dissatisfaction is strongly evident in the ready-to-wear collections, which struggle to translate the fireworks, oriented toward the red carpet, from the haute couture collections into commercial terms.
Behind Roseberry, there is, of course, a malfunctioning corporate mechanism that struggles incredibly to work with Roseberry’s overflowing imagination. Schiaparelli is a very mysterious project with strong media appeal, and perhaps that’s the only reason it interests its owner. Yet, this is one of the brands with the deepest legacy in the entire history of fashion, and in fact, envisioning a simple black jacket with ribcage bones in slight relief doesn’t seem like such a complicated task. But everyone, including Zanini and Guyon before Roseberry, drowned in the stormy sea of signs left by Elsa, unable to control it. Who knows if a pair of female eyes, instead of male ones, could achieve the miracle?
“I Still Believe (In Love)” by Diana Ross, played on repeat across the vast expanse of the Palais de Tokyo, served as an obsessive soundtrack of Rick Owens’s show. It was a sonic backdrop and a signpost towards a possible path for facing the future. This revelation naturally came from one of the few genuine auteurs remaining in the world of fashion.
Emerging from the profound darkness of a personal battle against mainstream culture, a post-apocalyptic vision comprising black, sex, and pain, Rick Owens resurfaced with violent splashes of colour and ethereal fabrics. These elements spoke of a somewhat antiquated concept: romanticism. Romanticism, with its nostalgic yearnings, tear-filled eyes, and impassioned hearts, was a revolutionary movement that shattered the male chauvinist and bellicose rationalism of the 19th century. It reintroduced poetry as a fundamental element of survival and placed affection at the core of storytelling.
Rick Owens mirrored this spirit, charting a course out of the darkness with one of his most exquisite collections to date. Beyond the massive mountain of bourgeois minimalism, there exists the possibility of breathing anew, infused with fresh inspiration, brimming with colour, joy, bodies, masquerade dances, and tears of passion. It’s a marvellous equilibrium between the power of darkness and the optimism of light. As Byron once said, “And thus the heart will break, yet brokenly live on.”
Jun Takahashi has covered each piece of his Undercover collection with an extremely thin layer of tulle, almost like a shroud. This may serve the purpose of seeing the collection more clearly and, in a sense, a clearer reflection of ourselves. He has contemplated the significance of clothing in today’s context, even going so far as to enclose live butterflies within skirts to remind us of the human element. This human element represents a wholly Western construct of attire, one that aligns with contemporary criteria of necessity.
His approach is characterised by an emotional connection to universal and personal history. We encounter flowers, prints from his paintings, embroidery, and various colours in this collection, which, instead of agitating our senses or adopting a circus-like flamboyance, have a calming effect. It’s like when we pause to appreciate a magnificent painting, perfectly framed and displayed against a reassuring white wall.
Undercover is a brand that consistently operates outside conventional commercial norms and stands as one of the few brands offering insights into what lies ahead. While its vision may not be entirely reassuring, it is undeniably reconstructive. There’s no attempt to erase the past; instead, nostalgia finds an essential place within it. To reconcile with our culture, we must examine it, acknowledge its value, and perhaps grant ourselves forgiveness for our past errors.
Jun Takahashi’s work, characterised by a delicate layer of tulle, allows us to discern a dense layer of life beneath it clearly. It’s contained, momentarily arrested, and seemingly trapped, yet undeniably alive.
And even at Saint Laurent, we have decided to set aside storytelling and take refuge, for the moment, in the tranquillity of a poplin cotton safari jacket repeated endlessly. As we reach a point where runway show reviews are becoming interchangeable, we wonder if everything we have learned so far about how fashion operates is correct. Perhaps the truth is that the mechanism is finding a different form of balance, one where the product is the expression of a rational commercial approach, and meaning is subsequently constructed through communication.
In fact, this approach has always been the norm for many brands until the 1990s when mega-designers like McQueen, Galliano, and Margiela introduced runway shows aimed at generating collective excitement in order to break away from the prevailing sense of boredom. However, Those runway shows drugged the fashion scene for a long time, making it dependent on visual upheaval, dramatic twists, and completely reliant on often brilliant but uncontrollable personalities.
Now, there appears to be a normalisation of discourse and a deliberate simplification of the message, ensuring that the product you see corresponds to what you actually buy. Final customers need it, but super brands need it even more to emerge unscathed from this state of apparent calm. After all, if you think about it, these safari jackets are stunning and wearable objects. They neither add nor subtract anything from the work of Vaccarello or Saint Laurent and if we feel the need for excitement, we can always listen to Mahler’s Adagietto from the Fifth Symphony. Perhaps with headphones so as not to disturb anyone.
Miuccia Prada has found her successor in Raf Simons and bid farewell to her “adoptive son”, Fabio Zambernardi. Surprisingly, this transition resulted in their most successful collection since the new magical duo was formed.
There are numerous ways to work through subtraction. Still, in this context, there appears to be a kind of magical recipe for turning the ordinary into the exceptional and the everyday into the extraordinary. This recipe involves deconstructing the product to its very core and then reconstructing it joyfully, along with a significant renewal of meaning.
Raf Simons has come to understand that Prada is a project centred around meticulous attention to detail. It’s about choosing a slightly thicker thread than usual or a print that may seem familiar but is, in fact, entirely novel. This approach involves building from the inside, breaking free from the stale rules of the product, yet ultimately producing precisely that: the product.
Miuccia, on the other hand, has learned that the northern chill can work wonders for a brand that needs synthesis, rationality, and lightning. Together, they’ve become a solid team, shaping Prada’s future. In this process, both of them have made sacrifices. He sacrificed his instinct for drama while she let go of someone who was almost like a son to her. They did so consciously, understanding that sometimes, by relinquishing certain parts of ourselves – much like pruning dead branches from a plant – we can allow ourselves to be reborn, to endure longer, and to bring more happiness to everyone else. This process is called sacrifice, and it’s a display of intelligence. It’s an extraordinary recipe that many others should take to heart.
I left the Gucci fashion show deeply disappointed, perhaps even a bit angry. I decided not to attend any more shows today and to walk back home to give myself time to collect my thoughts. Because this was an important event that deserved serious reflection. What we saw from Gucci was not a nostalgic reflection on the past or a futuristic tale of the future. It was a description of the present. Or perhaps, better put, a reaction to the present.
In the midst of uncertain horizons, schizophrenic markets, and a terrifying sense of uncertainty, Sabato de Sarno constructed a collection full of clear certainties, a widespread and reassuring sense of understandable elegance, an everyday vision easily digestible by the masses of double-G buyers. What everyone expected and indeed got. The question now is whether it’s right for fashion today to have the sole task of describing and no longer imagining alternative worlds, possible paths of rebirth, change, and resurrection.
Is it right for fashion not to be a place where doubts emerge anymore, where we try to peel away the smooth surface of things, but rather a place where everyone waits together for the storm to pass before resuming sailing? I don’t have an answer, but what I feel is not enthusiasm or hope. It’s a kind of subtle and amorphous desolation that comes to those who would like to see explosions, fireworks, beating hearts. Today at Gucci, hearts weren’t beating. And I wonder whether this is the sole means of preserving our hearts or if, hidden somewhere, there exist others—more audacious, more untamed, and ultimately, more courageous.
Carol Christian Poell, one of the absolute geniuses in the re-conceptualization of craftsmanship in fashion, told us, just before arriving at Bottega Veneta, that Italian craftsmanship is disappearing, bent under predatory market logics, and that we should do something to preserve our immense heritage very quickly. The response to his profound cry of pain has come clear from the most successful collection Matthieu Blazy has created for Bottega Veneta. Each outfit could be the subject of a small treatise, given the complexity of the work being done on craftsmanship and manual skills. Exploring centuries-old techniques and bringing them together in a balanced discourse, without sentimentality or obviousness, is the impossible task that Blazy seems to perform with less and less effort each time, building a world made up of very different pieces that convey an image of peace rather than chaos. This time, unlike the first three collections, the gaze has expanded from Italy to the entire world, and references from all parts of the planet have come together in a powerful message of peace. If there is a way to rethink the very concept of elegance centuries-old and clash it with the hands and culture of those who invisibly sew, embroider, cut, or paint, it is this. If there is a possibility to save fashion itself from its agonising need to endlessly self-reproduce, it is this. Bottega Veneta’s objects are small precious jewels to be cherished, observed, and loved as we cherish, observe, and love the letter of an old master that we find in our hands, pulling it out from old drawers. A master who told us that our task in the world is to respect its richness, to share its knowledge, to make it more beautiful. In a word, to love it.
Decadence seems to be the central theme of this Milan Fashion Week. The uncontrollable gossip about who will leave from where and who will take their place has reached unprecedented levels. Among the impressive whirlwind of changing seats on the horizon, there are also rumours that this was Kim Jones’ last show for Fendi. This anxious and indistinct chatter among industry insiders is making the fashion week feel more like a day at the horse races than a series of runway shows for the upcoming summer.
Under a grey sky, pouring rain, and an uncertain horizon, Fendi, however, presented something beautiful and reassuring, perhaps not optimistic but certainly balanced, practical, and pleasant. Whether it’s true or not that Kim Jones is stepping aside for someone else, there was an air of stability at Fendi. It’s as if in this stormy moment when all the world’s brands are struggling, the recipe for moving forward, the only possible recipe, is to focus on creating everyday, wearable products without overthinking. It’s as if the wonderful artisanal machine of a brand about to turn 100 years old can weather any storm thanks to the work, care, and craftsmanship of the many people who have worked there for years.
Decadence is when the current system of ideas becomes unusable but not yet replaceable with a new one. Perhaps everything will change, both at Fendi and in the rest of the fashion world. Still, the invisible, all-Italian machine that manufactures the product will always be there, accompanying change without disruptions, without violence, with evident and immense love.
In a moment that we can rightfully refer to as a “restoration,” not only in the context of the complex global political situation but also in fashion, there are fortunately territories that couldn’t care less about quiet luxury. One such territory is Roberto Cavalli by Fausto Puglisi, which, with unwavering instinct, tells tales of unabashed eroticism and hyper-decorativism – in a word, what everyone wrongly labels as bad taste.
This often judgmental and anxiety-inducing category is, in reality, one of the possible narratives of femininity (and masculinity). While it has existed since the time of the Egyptians, today, more than ever, it doesn’t align with the many brands’ desires for tranquillity. Despite Beyonce and Taylor Swift (both dressed by Puglisi) embodying and popularising this theme, for most of the current fashion world, it’s better to forget about high slits, tight fits, and embellishments because they are considered out of place.
Puglisi stands his ground on the front lines of floral and animalier prints like a lone fighter in a metaphorical conflict between the bourgeoisie and the people, between power and freedom. His collections, carefree, playful, and provocative, have never been so discordant from the rest of the global fashion, and that’s precisely why they should be protected like an endangered species.
This kind of taste, which is essentially an alternative life perspective to the prevailing one, exists and struggles alongside us. It’s hoped that differing viewpoints, sometimes uncomfortable and embarrassing, will continue to remain at odds with the mainstream and express narratives that are less heard, less elegant, yet fiercely alive.
DOLCE & GABBANA
Hidden and shielded behind the idea of a revival of themselves, Dolce and Gabbana have systematically tackled a topic that many have forgotten: eroticism. In times of counter-reform and reaction, one of the few brands in the world that can afford to roam through the vast territories of exhibited sexuality without suffering repercussions from the market (or being afraid of them) is demonstrating that there are alternative discourses to the prevailing ones. Specifically, this collection explores the elegant, and perhaps more perverse, side of eroticism, one that descends directly from Saint Laurent but, in this case, passes through Italian audacity, the liberating belief that conflicts can also be resolved through bodies. Dolce and Gabbana’s story is never one of waiting, of renunciation, of privation, but a narrative of concessions, of skin, of warmth, of pleasure. Working only in black and white, their message is even sharper and more contemporary because it is inscribed within a simple aesthetic that is understandable even to those who don’t know what the 90s were. We live in a country where talking about sexual education in schools is a mortal sin, and in this way, we do not provide the younger generations with the technical and emotional tools to enjoy physical pleasure without worries. Dolce and Gabbana have always conveyed a powerful positive message to those who do not see a hell of frustration in their bodies but a paradise of joy. But also to those who still do not know this simple thing and greatly need a symbolic universe in which to recognise themselves, through which to understand that we are beings made of flesh. And this is fine. It’s beautiful. It’s capable of bringing joy, so much joy.
Young Italian brands (young is an adjective that does not define their identity at all, on the contrary, it is limiting, but there are no better ones) are not in good health. Not so much in terms of commercial results but in terms of visibility and recognition. The responsibility is not generically with the system but with a specific set of co-causes too complex to explain here, ranging from the structure of the fashion show calendar to the lack of attention from investors, to the neglect of the press, especially the Italian one. Those like Marco Rambaldi, who do not give up, are doing a superhuman effort, fighting every day to secure the last roll of fabric needed for production, the last collaboration, the last consultation. With one of the most successful collections of his still short professional life, Rambaldi has not only demonstrated a powerful identity and a recognizable aesthetic but also the tools to face the invisible perfect storm, entirely Italian, that rages against those who try and, as in his case, succeed. The only brand in Milan to tirelessly promote the idea of inclusion of bodies and genders, Marco should be protected like the Javan rhinoceros, of which only 60 specimens remain. And those in power (in the true sense of the word) should wonder how it is possible to allow a system not to die if new births are not nurtured. The ones that, more fragile but beautiful, need protective gazes, friendly hands, and lots and lots of care.
There are fashion shows on which it is challenging to express a critique, whether positive or negative. The second collection by Daniel Lee for Burberry, presented at London Fashion week, is undoubtedly one of those. Lee has chosen to move away from the over-design of the first season and has focused on portraying a shapeless everyday life that often verges on banality. In this moment of frenzied chaos that all major brands are experiencing due to a complex conjunctural crisis, perhaps his response has been to concentrate on wearable items, reminiscent of what Christopher Bailey used to do when he was in creative direction. Perhaps. Or maybe the anxiety to survive in the markets and demonstrate continuous growth towards infinity instead of pushing into new territories is blocking the innovation mechanism, and collectively, CEOs, designers, marketing directors, and merchandisers have chosen not to choose. It’s a bit like deciding to admire the view of the Titanic as it sinks. In a transitional season, Burberry’s recipe may not be the winning one, but I fear it will be the one followed by almost everyone. Something is entirely absent from fashion at this moment: courage. And if someone doesn’t decide to launch the lifeboats, both the crew and passengers will end up in the icy waters of the Atlantic. And they won’t survive.