MILAN -- Sustainability is coming into even sharper focus at Milan Fashion Week.
The industry is seeking to show its mettle in big and small ways after 32 leading fashion companies signed off on a set of shared goals presented to the leaders of Group of 7 industrial nations.
That can mean experimental textiles and ecological materials, or editing a collection down to its purest form, getting rid of excesses. Hitting a balance is a challenge for designers, facing the demand for constant novelty while trying to maintain a socially responsible profile.
Highlights from Wednesday's shows launching Milan Fashion Week of mostly womenswear previews for spring/summer 2020:
LESS IS MORE AT PRADA
Already essential, Muccia Prada is trying a less-is-more aesthetic, also in support of a sustainable agenda.
The Prada collection featured a mix of basics with staying power — simple suits, knit skirts and top combos — alongside more adorned pieces like beaded overcoats that can become heirlooms.
Prada said the idea she was trying to convey was that the person wearing the garments "is more important than the fashion."
The sometimes austere looks at times summoned images or elements of puritans, nuns, and schoolmarms — all with a subversive fashion edge. Textiles formed the leitmotiv of the collection: heavy male wools, rough silk and muslin.
The collection opened with a fine-knit gray sweater and straight light rose muslin skirt, introducing muslin as a mainstay of the collection. Other pieces included simple, sweet summer dresses fastened at the shoulders with bows, and tiered looks, perhaps contrasting velvet panels at the neck, like a soft judicial frill. Mix-and-match suits featured two-button blazers in blue over gray button-down shirts and wide-legged brown trousers, for a look of classic ease.
The only real adornments were sequin leaf patterns on skirts and overcoats.
The work about subtraction, Prada said, is to counter a prevailing sense "that there is too much of everything."
The looks were finished with floppy rain hats — often in gold or silver lame — and flat or heeled loafers and sandals. Shell jewelry had a do-it-yourself feel, as did rattan and bucket bags, with nautical knots forming the handles.
"It's simple, without being minimalist," Prada said.
Nicole Kidman, rapper A$AP Rocky and director Wes Anderson — a long-time Prada collaborator — were among the front-row guests.
ARTHUR ARBESSER'S TALE
Arthur Arbesser tells his own fashion story in his latest collection, taking inspiration from his grandmother's love of textiles and her Transylvanian heritage.
"There is so much of everything. The only way to do it is to do it personally, tell a story that is really your story. Otherwise, there is no point is there?" the Milan-based Austrian designer said after the show.
The collection featured patchwork pieces of textiles form Arbesser's previous collections — dresses, vests, trousers and shirts for him and for her — inspired by a recently discovered trove of his grandmother's fabrics from her wardrobe spanning the 1930s to the 1980s.
New prints represented his grandmother's life, marked by war and shifting borders: blue and white swirls reminiscent of Transylvanian ceramic, geometric color blocks for post-war architecture and "dots and florals convey the serenity she finally found," according to the show notes.
The looks were as layered as the emotions behind the collection. Smocks were worn over geometric dresses. Smudged floral tunics paired with clashing trousers. Tops with sailor collars, representing his grandmother's school uniforms of yore, were paired with color-block Bermuda shorts. The silhouette alternated between tailored and flowing.
The looks were finished with big stylized earrings playing with Arbesser's AA initials, which the low-key designer said was tongue-in-cheek, something he got from his grandmother.
Arbesser said his grandmother's "humor and irony remain at the core of this emotional story." And to keep it light, he left each attendee a black-and-white photo of his fur-clad grandmother sticking out her tongue.
No. 21 EXPLORES EROTICISM
Alessandro Dell'Acqua presented a co-ed No. 21 collection for the first time, blurring gender lines with an interplay of florals that created surprisingly androgynous looks.
Dell'Acqua said he designed the same clothes for men and for women "without falling into the no-gender trap," instead exploring the interplay between volumes, silhouettes and textiles.
The looks aimed to be erotic without being exhibitionist.
Arms swung out of long sleeves, backs were left bare, a skirt slit reveals a mini hemline below. For both men and women, shorts were layered over trousers in identical prints, and tunics trailing over wide-legged trousers. For her, slip bodices peeked out of missing dress panels.
"This touch of eroticism is very important," the designer said backstage. "Today there is too much moralizing. People focus on a breast or an exposed leg, and they don't get scandalized over serious things."
ARTISINAL ZEN AT JIL SANDER
Artisanal zen was on display in the new Jil Sander collection shown in the courtyard of the Brera Academy, around a stone garden with tiny pyramids.
The collection was a play of volumes.
Black tailored jackets over flowing dresses in matching black or psychedelic prints suggested structure, which balanced with a gathered white pleated dress. A pleated white tunic harmonized with a light-yellow quilted skirt. Black and blue silken panels appeared woven together like a basket on a structured skirt with belted tunic; an ivory and white counterpart was long and flowing.
Tassles and raffia embroidery on garments lent an air of the exotic, and reflect the handcraft that designers Luke and Lucie Meier are bringing to the brand, nudging it gently beyond its minimalist roots. The looks were finished with flat sandal-boots and a classic clutch.
GREEN IS THE NEW BLACK
Milan Fashion Week also features for the third year the so-called Oscars of sustainability, the Green Carpet Awards, rewarding innovation in the fashion world.
Valentino will be the recipient of the legacy award, one of 11 to be handed out Sunday evening at Milan's famed Teatro alla Scala. Fashion chamber president, Carlo Capasa, told reporters that Valentino is being honored for his attention to artisanal hand-work in his collections spanning his five decades in fashion.
Capasa said a roundtable of Italian fashion houses is continuing to work on a set of sustainability guidelines that it hopes will become European standards. So far guidelines have been set out for the use of chemicals and for the production process, and a project underway is studying fair wages in the Italian production chain.
Italy is considered key to promoting sustainability in the luxury fashion industry as 41% of European luxury goods are produced in Italy. By contrast, German in the second slot produces just 11%.