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Comment: New names mix with Italy's power brands in Milan

Prada menswear autumn 19

Gaps left by some of the big-name designers leaving the Milan Fashion Week Men’s schedule presented opportunities for smaller brands to shine this season

The role of men’s fashion weeks has been a hot topic of debate in recent seasons, as several brands have consolidated their catwalk shows into single, “co-ed” events on the womenswear schedules – Burberry’s decision to show to a joint catwalk from 2016 has certainly been felt at London Fashion Week Men’s.

There have been similar changes in Milan, where brands including Gucci and Bottega Veneta now hold co-ed shows during women’s fashion week, leaving holes in the men’s schedule.

Milan has a very distinct place and viewpoint in menswear

Damien Paul, Matchesfashion

However, the autumn 19 edition of Milan Fashion Week Men’s, which ran on 11-14 January, showed this could have positive consequences for emerging designers.

The big names are still what draws people to Milan. Like London or Paris, the Italian fashion capital has created a strong identity for itself within the buying calendar, known for design powerhouses such as Gucci, Fendi, Prada, Giorgio Armani and Versace.

“Milan has a very distinct place and viewpoint in menswear,” says Damien Paul, head of menswear at Matchesfashion. “It has a longstanding tradition in tailoring but is also known for craftmanship, development of fabrications and its ability to move with the times. Look at some of the best unstructured tailoring pieces, for instance – Italians are masters at this.”

Marni autumn 19

Marni autumn 19

Paul’s highlights this season were Prada, which showed a horror-themed mash-up of pared-back tailoring and statement chunky knitwear; Marni, where creative director Francesco Risso showed lashings of leopard print, boxy tailoring and slouchy, 1990s Nirvana-era knitwear; and Fendi, which returned to sexy, 1970s-style sartorial suiting.

“They all presented strong collections that were true to the brand’s heritage yet felt modern,” Paul tells Drapers.

Milan Fashion Week, unlike some of the other European shows, is a schedule that’s dominated with many of the big established fashion houses. Milan has always been and will continue to be an important part of our European buying trip as it’s where the teams meet with the Italian powerhouses,” echoes Fiona Firth, buying director at Mr Porter.

Open doors

However, this season, the gaps that have opened up on the schedule presented opportunities for smaller brands.

This is something the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (CNMI), which organises Milan Fashion Week in a role similar to the British Fashion Council, is focusing on.

Launched in 1958, the not-for-profit organisation represents 220 – or 70% – of Italy’s fashion companies. Fashion is second only to Italy’s automotive industry in size, and contributes ‎€90bn (£80.5bn) to the domestic economy.

“New designers give Milan a new perspective, offering something fresh and different. What is the future of fashion? It’s the new generation, so it is important we help these brands,” says Carlo Capasa, who has been president of the CNMI since 2015 and himself built an emerging brand in Milan as co-founder of Costume National (from which he resigned in 2016).

New designers give Milan a new perspective, offering something fresh and different

Carlo Capasa, Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana

Milan’s autumn 19 menswear schedule featured several new names, including M1992, Magliano, Bed JW Ford, Miaoran and United Standard – all of which were supported by the CNMI.

Bed JW Ford autumn 19

Bed JW Ford autumn 19

Bed JW Ford is an up-and-coming Japanese brand that made its debut in Milan this season.

“I see a correlation between the elegance of Japan and the elegance of Milan, particularly for menswear,” the brand’s designer Shinpei Yamagishi told Drapers backstage after his catwalk show. “I want to bring that elegance back to menswear today, and Milan feels like a fresh place to do that now, so that is why I chose to show here.” 

In the mix

The mix of big names and new designers caught the attention of influential international buyers.

“I attend Milan Fashion Week because, while the show schedule has thinned because of the combined men’s and women’s shows, many of our important partners such as Prada, Marni and Ermenegildo Zegna still show during the week,” says Josh Peskowitz, newly appointed men’s fashion director at online luxury fashion retailer Moda Operandi and former men’s fashion director at US department store Bloomingdale’s.

However, he adds that his highlights included emerging brands Bed JW Ford, Sunnei – which launched in 2015 – and Sartorial Monk, which was new to schedule for autumn 19.

“New names are something Milan lacked for many years, so it’s good that [the CNMI] is going out of its way to help young designers who would have had trouble getting on the schedule otherwise,” he says. “The city might benefit from looking outside just home-grown talent to round out the week. Many designers who present in Paris, for instance, are from abroad.”

The big brands and the small brands can definitely sit side by side on the schedule

Lee Goldup, Browns

Lee Goldup, menswear buyer at Browns, agrees, telling Drapers that the lighter schedule allowed some of his focus to fall on emerging talent. As well as Prada and Marni, his highlights included Sunnei, Bed JW Ford, and United Standard, which also made its Milan debut.

“There are gaps in the Milan menswear schedule which I’d be happy to see filled by more new talent,” he says. “It would be good to see more fresh brands come through in Milan rather than all of them gravitating elsewhere. Plenty of brands not based in Paris show there, so that could work in Milan. The big brands and the small brands can definitely sit side by side on the schedule.”

Sunnei autumn 19

Sunnei autumn 19

Sunnei autumn 19

Milan still has work to do to attract more of fashion’s stars of tomorrow, and it must ensure that the level of talent it puts on the schedule remains high, focusing on quality over quantity. It must also ensure new names are not simply filler, or get lost in the shadows of the city’s star attractions.

CNMI’s Capasa is pragmatic: “All our brands – Armani, Versace, Prada – they started small and grew here in Milan. And new designers, brands and businesses can do the same. The buyers and press are here, and there is new space for them now, so if they are smart, there is an opportunity for them here in Milan.”

Comment: New names mix with Italy's power brands in Milan

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