An impassioned speech by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi — fresh off the plane from the UN General Assembly in New York — set the tone for Milan Fashion Week.
He spoke in front of an audience that included every designer of note, from Giorgio Armani to Donatella Versace and so many more, as well as every executive who counts in the world of Italian high fashion.
“I am not going to tell you what the government will do for fashion in 2017, even though we will do a lot and do it together,” the Prime Minister said. “I ask you to discover a ‘Made in Italy’ — made up of values, culture, ideals, passion… those that underlie the artisans who make your extraordinary works.”
Speaking without notes in the giant workshops designed by David Chipperfield that are devoted to La Scala, Renzi gestured behind him at the mighty, digitally-formed stage sets for this December’s Madame Butterfly and then waved in front at the historical costumes, including those worn on stage by Maria Callas.
The Prime Minister ended by speaking more about Europe and the basis “of our feeling a united people”.
Carlo Capasa, chairman of the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (the Italian Chamber of Fashion – the industry’s ruling body), pointed out in an earlier speech that it was a first in Italy for a Prime Minister to open Milan Fashion Week, as he also did last season, even though the country’s fashion was the second largest industry in Italy and first in the overall European economy, accounting for 30 per cent of all clothing manufacturing.
Add to the gathering the Mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala, formerly the organiser of Milan’s tourist-magnet EXPO 2015. He called the city a “fashion incubator”, and it was evident that there was more to Italian fashion’s opening day than the Gucci show that followed the lunch.
That was a dramatic event on its own, titled “Magic Lanterns” and shown in a glowing red half-light with references to Los Angeles cemeteries as inspiration and revealing some extraordinary works of craftsmanship — if you could see them.
Nobody has put the focus on artisans and elaborate handwork more than Gucci’s Creative Director Alessandro Michele, whose work, from aviator hats to intensely decorated handbags, daisy-print soft coats and lightning-bolt embroidery on evening gowns, I will review separately.
Gucci’s celebration of the intense handwork that can now be found in Europe only in Italy, has done much to sustain the craft workshops.
But fashion is at a crossroads. The “see now, buy now” strategy so boldly offered in New York by brands as big as Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger and so strategically by London’s Burberry, is a Sword of Damocles hanging over Italian fashion.
Italian Alta Moda, or high fashion, such as Dolce & Gabbana, is built on a personal workmanship that cannot be absorbed into fast fashion.
Crafting the Future — an exhibition about artisanal work and innovation, was also the focus of the lunch party, whose guests enjoyed a preview of the show at the Museo delle Culture di Milano. Curated by Franca Sozzani, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Italia, the exhibition aims to show how and where artisans work across Italy.
The painstaking, artisanal work included bags made as sculptures in Plexiglas — the clear material polished by hand; hats shaped on wooden mounds; and naturally dyed scarves made on 200-year-old looms.
Most extraordinary is a group of women in Southern Italy’s Calabria region weaving organic yarn to an ancient technique that can be traced back to Hellenic and Byzantine history. As the women sing, they follow the cadence of the notes in their stitches.
Poetic indeed, and surely as worthy of protecting as all of Italy’s historic building and famous paintings.