MILAN (AP) — Fashion is always about renewal, but in this round of Milan Fashion Week it's not just the collections that are getting a fresher-upper but, it seems, much of the Italian fashion system.
Gucci's new designer Alessandro Michele, a brand insider little known until now in the wider fashion world, made his runway debut on the first day of womenswear previews Wednesday, giving the historic brand a clean break from the past.
Michele's launch is a fitting banner over a push to embed new talent in Milan, where the density of the firmly established Italian system, with brands from Armani to Prada to Versace creating a de-facto Italian colony along New York's Fifth Avenue, has made it difficult for young designers to make inroads.
In a bid to help foster new talent, the Italian Fashion Chamber sponsored a live runway competition this round among five young designers. At the same time, recently discovered young designers, like Stella Jean and Fausto Puglisi, have quickly established themselves as an integral part of the fashion calendar, which comprises 68 shows and 76 presentations this season.
"I am hoping this is the beginning of a new phase, accelerating the growth of the new designers," Italian Fashion Chamber CEO Jane Reeve said in a recent interview.
"We lost a whole generation," she said, referring to the period after the ascent of the likes of Giorgio Armani, who celebrates 40 years in the fashion business this year, and Dolce&Gabbana, a design team who established themselves with Madonna as their muse in the 1990s and are now themselves in their 50s.
Reeve says her mission is to bring the young established designers and the even younger promising designers into the Italian system, and secure their loyalty. The Next Generation fashion contest, won by 22-year-old Claudio Cutugno on Tuesday evening, was a first step.
Here's are some of Wednesday's highlights:
Alessandro Michele strove for discontinuity in his Gucci debut, relaunching the brand with romantic flourishes against a hardened, urban background.
His debut collection displayed a confident break with the past, reasserting the double-G brand logo with prominent belt-buckle placings in the opening and closing looks but also introducing a new motif: birds in flight.
The collection snatched elements from the hastily assembled menswear collection, a team effort, shown last month after his predecessor Frida Giannini's earlier-than-expected departure. There were the same elaborate poet bows on silken shirts and loose-fitting suits with contrast piping, nods to androgyny for both men and women.
Michele put his signature on the new collection with a pleated floral dress with a built-in cape; a crinkled leather dress in peacock blue and military-style coats with fur trim that had an antique feel. A red dress with pleated tiers was paired with flats for the perfect day-into-evening look.
Footwear included whimsical furry slip-ons, fitting for either a Hobbit or Dr. Seuss character, depending on your sphere of reference, or laced-up sandals with trailing pompons. Glasses complemented the looks.
Running in just as the lights went down was Selma Hayak Pinault, who is married to the CEO of the French conglomerate Kering that owns Gucci.
PASSAGE TO INDIA
Haitian-Italian designer Stella Jean's looks zigzag the globe from England to Haiti, Italy to India, yet always respecting the borders.
For next winter, the designer has climbed high into the Himalayans for inspiration, giving rise to richly woven cropped sweaters paired with big, feminine 1950s style skirts, coats decorated with colorful tassels of yarn and high-waist men's plaid trousers worn with an elaborate embroidered belt with two pockets.
Stella Jean's adherence to Italian tailoring ground the looks, keeping them from veering to the purely ethnic.
"All this color hits you hard, but if you pay attention in every single piece there is the Italian tailoring, the Italian tradition. It is the element that helps me balance the strong impact of the color. It is also the key for the multicultural crossover," she said.
She finishes the looks with bangles made in Haiti, including broad bracelets worn over the sweater above the elbow. Shoes are flats, allowing the mountain climber to make it down to the city streets of London, Paris and Milan.
Fausto Puglisi combined a punk aesthetic with elements taken from his native Sicily, both baroque and sublime.
On the sublime end, Puglisi used coral-like beadwork, giving spectacular accent to his gladiator skirt, worn with a bold-accented bra top and a plaid-paneled overcoat, and a double front-slit floor-trailing gown. And toward the baroque, he topped his creations with oversized jeweled necklaces and belts.
The silhouette included pleated skirts in layered panels, mini-dresses with midriff-baring cutouts and long, floor-trailing overcoats. He maintained a punk edge by combining the normally preppy pink-and-green combination in electric shades, and pairing it with fantastical animal prints.
Like the fairytale princesses who have danced all night till there were holes in their shoes, Alberta Ferretti's woman for next summer strides confidently through the forest as the sun rises. She is tussled from a night of merrymaking but without a second thought.
The looks are unapologetically romantic, from the deep red sheer dress with floral overlays and knit arms and hemline to the crocheted mini-dress over a white lace collar. There's a medieval princess in a royal red and purple ankle-length skirt and red-riding hood in fur trim and a quilted coat. The looks were finished mostly with soft thigh-high boots or slippers.
Philip Plein went out of his way to dream up a dizzying intro for his latest show: Azealia Banks performed and a roller-coaster circled in the background. Yes, a roller-coaster.
The German designer is one of the fashion world's great showmen and for Wednesday night, the runway was a midway, traveled by #PleinWarriors in the fierce rocker sense of the word. Which makes one wonder: Did he really think he'd throw the crowd off his scent by playing opera music before the show?
Banks performed in a fur-trimmed football jersey with the "WARRIOR" spelled out across the front. Models were similarly attired for a night of loud music in leather bra tops and matching athletic drawstring pants, with only a fur huggy for warmth, or leather mini dresses with cut-out panels.
Plein displayed his flair for excess with a short and shaggy fur coat layered over a leather biker jacket, and an oversized fur backpack.
Follow Colleen Barry at www.twitter.com/collbarry