Milan is the city of elegance, where sumptuous materials and pristine tailoring are front and center. And for the spring 2021 season, the city’s designers showed ample amounts of both. See the five best looks from each collection.
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.
Eschewing the traditional fashion calendar, Bottega Veneta’s Danial Lee debuted his spring 2021 collection today via a video hosted on the brand’s website. And what he presented was well worth the wait. In Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, which he cast in lime great lights, a coterie of guests—including singer-songwriter Neneh Cherry, dancer Michael Clark, and artist Rosemarie Trocke—eyed a lineup that showcased Lee’s idea of beauty and femininity.
To get his definition across, Lee released Salon 01, a collection of three books that are composed of collages. Book 01, in particular, focused on his inspirations, combining images of dancers, a Greek statue, a snapshot of a model in the ’70s, and close-ups of body parts. Lee also played a prerecorded voiceover by Cherry throughout the presentation. She expressed how “You can make a lot with very little,” how “Stillness and quiet can also be quite loud”—often ending each phrase with a laugh. For Lee, beauty is found in simplicity, and femininity is based on confidence.
This rumination was perfectly reflected in the collection. Careful attention was given to marrying fabric choice and silhouettes, which resulted in knitwear and sporty dresses that imbue confidence and sex appeal. There were sleek tops and mini frocks made of thick gauge yarns, form-fitting jacquard suits in pastel hues, and wool dresses with visible boning. As Cherry added, “Sometimes, you need to get dressed up and feel bad, and hot, and sexy.”
Alessandro Michele delivered on his promise to change how fashion shows are presented and consumed by the masses. The creative director of Gucci debuted the finale of Ouverture of Something That Never Ended, a seven-part miniseries showcasing the brand’s looks that will be in stores during the second half of 2021. Shot in Rome, the cinematic spectacle follows performer Silvia Calderoni throughout her day, from waking up in her apartment to performing errands around the city, bumping into a cast of eclectic characters. All are outfitted in the label’s new collection, which consists of a mix of timeless Gucci stalwarts: ’70s-style suits, bohemian dresses, and sportswear-inspired separates.
Layered but light was the name of the game at Jil Sander, with airy silhouettes and translucent recycled poly ensuring the accumulation of materials didn’t feel heavy. From tailored coats to plissé dresses, the lines were simple but expertly worked. Decorative accents came via the handicrafts that have been so vital to establishing Lucie and Luke Meier’s reign at the label; look for delicate smocking at the shoulders, embroidery on the torso, and a crocheted bolero that you’d end up wearing more than you possibly imagined. It’s felt like this season has been going one of two ways: Clothes meant to celebrate the joy of getting dressed or to remind us, again, of quality over quantity. The Meiers responded to both: “In today’s atmosphere questions abound, yet beauty and quality remain essential. Consciousness, appreciation, and positivity are what can help us all move forward. The collection celebrates these ideas.” — Leah Melby Clinton
Pierpaolo Piccioli showed his latest collection for Valentino from Milan at the Fonderie Macchi, an industrial-feeling metallurgical foundry. It was a change up from the gilded halls of Paris for the Rome–based brand that just made sense in these COVID-times. Worry not, Valentino remains a brand dedicated to all things beauty. Much of the collection is made of easy dresses woven in many incarnations of macramé, crochet, and lace. A series of silk blouse and denim looks (a collaboration with Levi’s) also speak to that polished ease, while maintaining the romanticism Piccioli is synonymous with—this is a man who has put love poems on the seats of show-goers, after all. And lest you were still looking for more romantic notions, a finale series of diaphanous, sheer, colorful gowns, floated by like love letters to a more optimistic time.
If you were going to order new spring clothes with only a written out menu to pick from, anything billed as “sunshine-soaked, joy-sparking, and mood-boosting” would sound pretty good right about now, no? The exuberant adjectives ascribed to La DoubleJ in its spring notes make perfect sense: founder J.J. Martin was a fashion journalist first, after all, and her entire brand is predicated on an almost manic cheerfulness. They’re fitting words when you study the collection too, including the brand’s first full-circle take on beachwear (avant, après, and sur, but in Italian, per favore). Voluminous silhouettes—full skirts, puffed sleeves, and flouncy tiers—are done in saturated prints, creating a one-two punch of notice-me attitude. From the reversible bikinis and caftans to the Bermuda shorts and high-glamour maxis, everything the maximalist could want for vacation is here.
Switching it up while remaining true to your roots is Stella Jean’s approach this season. Her familial history is shown in the striped shirting toyed with throughout and the vibrant prints that color them; the former is a nod to her Roman father, the latter to her Haitian mother, and they mix together beautifully.
In her hands, the traditionally masculine shirt is turned into relaxed shapes that slide off the shoulder or are otherwise artfully undone, along with flirty minis and maxis. And while she typically immerses herself in another culture for the decoration (she teamed with a women’s group in remote Pakistan for last spring’s embroidery), COVID has forced her to stay local this go-round. Though it’s a disappointment that the spotlight she’s wielded so brilliantly couldn’t be utilized, the result still dazzles. The embroidery and hand-painted prints, either created by Italian artisans during the country’s lockdown or collected from previous collections, create a tactile scrapbook of places visited.
Jean also opted to show a bit differently this season, skipping the runway and participating in We Are Made in Italy, a digital showcase to highlight emerging Black Italian designers that she helped to organize. From creation to execution, she used every turn to say something, reminding us that fashion is about so much more than clothes. — Leah Melby Clinton
Last month, Haitian–Italian designer Stella Jean and Edward Buchanen, the Ohio–born, Milan–based designer of cult knitwear brand Sansovino6, wrote an open letter to the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (CNMI) titled “Do #BLM in Italian Fashion?” They then joined with CNMI president Carlo Capasa and Afro Fashion Week in Milano founder Michelle Ngomo to launch a working group to address the egregious erasure of Black talents in the Italian fashion industry. Today, the collective unveiled We Are Made In Italy, a digital showcase of 5 Black-owned Italian fashion labels you may not know, but definitely should. Introducing the “Fab Five”: Mokodu, sharp tailoring painted with flowers by Rome–based Senegalese artist and designer Pape Macodou Fall; GISFAB, experimental hemp forms by Cameroon–born, Bologna–based textile designer Claudia Gisèle Ntsam ; Frida Khiza, Fabiola Manirakiza’s feminine separates, which celebrate her homeland of Burundi and her home in the central Italian region of Marche; Modaf Designs, Joy Ijeoma Meribe’s modern fusion of print and texture inspired by her upbringing in Nigeria; and Karim Daoudi, the neon minimalist accessories label by a Morocco–born creative who lives in San Mauro Pascoli. Each will receive mentorship from Jean and Buchanen—watch this space.
With a consistent vision and a steady hand, Giorgio Armani has charted his label on a beautiful journey that’s rarely seen varying landscapes. (Should you, by some incredible chance, find someone who has never heard of Mr. Armani, direct them to Timeless Thoughts, the 20-minute documentary that accompanied this collection for a crash course in how he’s stayed the course for more than four decades.) Elegance, per his MO, is being remembered, not noticed, and it’s the person who wears the clothes that really counts. With all that said, he’s turned out more of what he does so very well, with fluid dresses and separates and eveningwear that sparkles, all in palette-cleansing neutrals. Suiting, forever an integral part of the label, is present from look one, with single-breasted blazers paired with ankle-length trousers. Someone in the mini-doc said it best, explaining that the Armani man and woman are those who know themselves and feel effortlessly comfortable. It goes without saying that the man at the helm has that type of easy assurance in spades.
When observing a fresh collection, one is struck first by either shape or texture. While both factor into every garment produced, it’s an interesting exercise to notice which grabs your attention. Tactile typically comes out on top for Ferragamo, and spring was no different, with perforated leather, clusters of hand-applied feathers, and a silky ribbed blend that was sliced clean through in one instance, letting the ribs, as it were, hang like high-grade chains. Simple silhouettes, like tank dresses and bomber jackets, were inspired by Hitchcock heroines and are ideal for showing off materials; complicated twists and tucks can hog the spotlight. Leathers and silks (plus a sustainable wool-mohair blend) that you know will feel divine just by sight are a clear indicator of luxury, and a focus on material is in the house’s footwear-first DNA. Looking into the yet-to-be-defined new new normal, it also feels like a smart bet. If office outfit-peacocking will no longer exist (and Zoom just doesn’t cut it), the person inside the clothes starts to rank feel even more highly.
“In order to begin anew, you have to start small,” was the parting thought Moschino’s Jeremy Scott left us with after showcasing a couture-level puppet show of dreamlike proportions in collaboration with Jim Henson’s Creature Shop (yes, of Muppets fame), complete with a front row and backstage imagery. In the surreal yet all-too-real world we’re living in right now, nothing feels right; Scott sought to create an alternate universe in which the topsy-turvy, the upside-down, and the otherworldly were the things of fantasy, dreams, creativity, technique, and dress up. And in throwing out the rulebook of what fashion week should be, Scott stepped into what it could be: the catwalk of his imagination, with high-day and evening wear that was as beautiful on the inside as it was the exterior. Exposed seams, trims, and zippers along with see-through tulles that showcased the construction of the garments were a hint to all that’s been exposed in our culture as of late. But rather than get too pensive or grim, Scott took our need for a new beginning and our desire to get dressed up again and spun it into gold brocade suits, oversized bows, crystal-adorned cropped ballgowns, feather-trims, a floral-printed high-low wedding gown, and a peppering of chic day looks that at any “normal” fashion week would have us double-tapping incessantly as style imagery from the streets of Milan clogged our feeds. Scott is doubling down on our desire to step out again, with a collection that seems to say: “dream, dress up, f*** sweatpants.”
Emerging from a gestation period that’s been fraught with more uncertainty than any other time in fashion’s recent past, it’s not surprising how many spring collections are looking to bottle a calm, easy vibe. The worldwide obsession with not touching (whether each other or grocery store shelves) caused the design team at Ports 1961 to heave the pendulum as far as possible in the other direction, creating a collection that celebrates both gorgeous fabrics and the way they hug, wrap, and otherwise caress a body. These are dresses, trousers, and coats that might look beautiful on a hanger, but positively come alive when slipped on and walked in. It’s the kind of clothing that others remember from your wardrobe not because of color or print, but simply because it was the most perfect version of something they’ve seen before. Consider it confirmation that elegance whispers and never shouts.
“Sophisticated beauty, femininity and soft elegance,” were the adjectives used by Emilio Pucci to describe the house’s latest incarnation, which was captured on film at a lakeside retreat. The soft colors, boyish shapes, and collared knits and shirting were a stark contrast from the sexy, boldly-printed Mediterranean Pucci heritage, but this collection seemed to honor that ethos in a fresh, more delicate way. The new design team revived three archival prints which pay homage to Capri, and two floral prints added layers of romance and organic inspiration for a season where clients will likely spend more time at home and less time jet-setting. Cuts were more androgynous, like palazzo bermuda shorts and pajama dressing. And a collaboration with Japanese designer Tomo Koizumi interpreted the “femininity and soft elegance” the brand spoke of into sculptural, frothy, and dreamy creations that celebrated the house’s most celebrated archival print, the Vetrate via bustiers, dresses, a satchel, and a cute pair of ruffly slides in shades of ivory, and pastel pinks, peach, and daisy yellow.
South African designer Sindiso Khumalo, who was one of the 8 LVMH Prize finalists to split this year’s prize, made her Milan Fashion Week debut (digitally, of course, due to ongoing travel restrictions). Harriet Tubman—whose name appeared on embroidered patches affixed to a beautifully tailored jacket with raw edges and a patch pocket cardigan—served as the collection’s muse, “Violence against Black woman has been in existence since Harriet Tubman’s time and still exists today with Uyinene Mrwetyana in South Africa, Breonna Taylor in America and the young school girls from Nigeria who were stolen by Boko Haram,” says Khumalo of her powerful inspiration. “There is still a lot more work to be done.” Khumalo is committed to uplifting other Black women through her collaborations with female artisan collectives across Africa. Hand printed silk taffeta and handwoven cottons used in Harriet-like prairie dresses came from Burkina Faso, while the collection’s embroidery details were done by members of a Cape Town employment program for former sex workers.
We’re going to be candid, earth is a mess right now, so when Donatella Versace tells us her new collection “transports us underwater to Versacepolis,” where the rare beauty Medusa dwells, we’re ready to grab our passport and hit it. While so many collections took the pragmatic route this season to give the people the clothes they’re most likely to have an opportunity to wear right now, Versace went all in on the fantasy: a melding of mermaids, Miami, and mythology. There’s suiting with oversized jackets layered over bikini tops and mini skirts, neon mini dresses in coral reef-inspired prints, color-blocked pastel short suits, and glimmering bra tops paired with easy sarong skirts. “I wanted to create something disruptive,” Versace says, “To me that meant dreaming of a new world. A world made of popping colors and fantastic creatures and a world in which we can all coexist peacefully. This collection has an upbeat soul and is optimistic, dreamy, positive… These are clothes that bring you joy.”
Francesco Risso calls this collection, “a social experiment.” And truly, it is. The designer and his team performed a sort of mad science project with pieces and fabrics they had on hand, from slashing a bathing suit to turn it into a tank top and gluing a thick sole to a pair of shoes to adding an extra long zip to a bag to “make it look like a torpedo” and cutting a tutu in two. The resulting suiting, dresses, and skirting are sporty and cool, with some unexpected doses of femininity found in floral prints and voluminous skirts. All of it was shot on friends of the Marni family, livestreamed from all over the world. It’s a creative endeavor that paid off and feels of the moment. “Clothing is accidental, and yet accidents always happen for a reason,” Risso says, “This one, most of all, is about not getting back to normal. It is about discovering fragility as strength and emotions as a connection, celebrating the dissonances that make a symphony.” And, well, that certainly sounds nice.
Tod’s creative director Walter Chiapponi was inspired by the outdoors for his latest collection. But not just any outdoors: the manicured grounds of Villa Necchi Campiglio—aka the incredibly elegant Italian Rationalist mansion in Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love—to be exact. So while we have the denims and khakis associated with long days spent outside, these looks have a decidedly polished Milanese vibe. It’s rich but casual, a difficult to achieve balance that lands on target in louche white suiting, dark denim dresses, oversized leather jackets, and lace up boots.
Alt-rock inspired Vincenzo Palazzo to toy with hard and soft, feminine and brash, but this isn’t a story of a tear sheet tacked up to cork board and periodically referenced. Palazzo spent the quarantine period isolated in his hometown, a tiny hamlet in southern Italy, remembering what it felt like to be a teenager who dreamed of escaping, flying higher than the smallness around you, and using music to disappear for a bit. The clothes his indie-rock heroines wore in the ’90s were a real mash-up, and he goes for the same amalgam here, mixing impeccable tailoring with loose, shapeless dresses, and gauzy, transparent fabrics with shiny Cordura nylon. Playing with opposite ends of the spectrum can be tricky, but it’s a type of stylish rebellion that that kid listening to music in a sleepy country town would definitely have approved of.
Prada’s spring 2021 show—the first co-designed by Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons—was to have been the main event of Milan Fashion Week. The designers opted to film it without an audience and did a rare sit down Q&A following. Their theme was the uniform, a concept both have returned to over the years, Simons most recently in his exploration of American sportswear at Calvin Klein. “A uniform needs to also express something that is more timeless for me than a season specific fashion item,” said Simons. “My personal uniform is usually quite simple: black pants—Prada, not because I work here, since ten years or more—and a shirt,” he added cracking a smile. “I personally go from one uniform to another one,” said Prada. “My last love is a white pleated cotton skirt and a sweater.” Both of those personal uniforms were evident in the collection’s refined, focused silhouettes, namely, logo shell tops, straight pants, and pleated skirts. Many looks featured wraps fashioned from all sorts of materials: t-shirt jersey, fleece, re-nylon, embroidered duchesse satin, chiné taffeta. It was a cocooning mood that felt throughly of our work from home moment, while also offering a timeless sense of ease.
When thinking about spring 2021, Max Mara considered what women ought to wear for a job as epic as “rebuilding the world,” and, goodness, what a question! No matter your stance on the secondary queries (what kind of world? are we doing the work in isolated bubbles or pods? etc.), the answer for how to wardrobe oneself appears to be classic-with-a-twist silhouettes in soothing camel and ochre tones. Sleeves of jackets and sweaters were slashed from wrist to elbow to create a swingy, cape-like effect, while drawstrings and snaps added a utilitarian element to basic shapes otherwise stripped of adornment. The clothing for world-building is portrayed as practical but luxe, a dichotomy we can get behind. Everything feels easier in cashmere, after all.
Spring 2021 will always be remembered as Dolce & Gabbana’s “patchwork collection,” an explanation-not-required moniker that future fashion historians can point to as an example of how designers adapted to circumstances beyond their control this season. The house was one of many who saw their access to fabrics affected by the pandemic, instead being forced to use bolts they might have had tucked away for a rainy day. In their case, what was available wasn’t slim pickings, but luxe brocades, floral silks, and dotted chiffons. Intriguingly, the print combos both exaggerated and disguised different signature aspects of Dolce. The bold clashes furthered the over-the-top feeling they’ve made a calling card while simultaneously making it harder to spot their Italian bombshell. There were bustier dresses and thigh-high slits (of course), but they didn’t whistle quite as loudly when tucked in amongst prints that positively shouted.
After New York and London showed a fair amount of abbreviated collections this season—due to tight edits and pandemic constraints most likely—it’s been energizing to see full collections paraded down a runway in front of masked editors and buyers. Alberta Ferretti was the latest to join that camp, and the additional space allowed a choose your own adventure for wherever we find ourselves next spring. There were crocheted pieces perfect for meandering on vacation, lightweight separates fit for the summertime workday, and slipdresses you could wear over a bikini or with a heel. There were cuffed linen trousers, billowing maxis, and boxy button-ups ready to be worn open and flapping in a breeze. The shapes plus the styling (flat sandals and seashell jewelry) served as a reminder of how brilliantly clothing can evoke a certain time or place. These are clothes designed to be worn in sunshine, in places both happily familiar and romantically new.
Silvia Venturini Fendi’s quiet and introspective vision for spring 2021 is a metaphor for our era of social distancing. The window leitmotif which featured prominently throughout her collection came to the Fendi creative director during Italy’s lockdown last spring. Venturini Fendi spent that time watching the world go by from her bedroom window. And by the looks of it, the view from her room is one even Lucy Honeychurch would admire. That inspiration was evident most literally, of course, in Venturini Fendi’s window-pane print dresses. There was also a clever play of transparency and texture through her choice of materials which put the focus on the rigor of Italian craft: lace, latticework furs, and flourishes of ajouré flowers that expose skin to create layers of light and shade. Even the house’s signature Baguette bag got a window treatment, dressed up in tombolo aquilano sugar-coated lace. The technique has been refined by Benedictine nuns—women who know a thing or two about deep contemplation—since the 15th century.
Elevated basics with a focus on special details is the hallmark of cashmere king Brunello Cucinelli, and the designer drove this point home for spring 2021. He presented a collection titled Pure Spirit that focused on relaxed silhouettes, soft colors, and interplay of textures. A gilded leather coat adds a glam finish to a humble fisherman sweater, while a macramé top—featuring precious sequin yarns and irregular jute ropes knotted together—peeks out from underneath an easy linen suit. Even cozy knit sweats paired with a flowing silk robe are given the royal treatment. Through each elegantly understated ensemble, Cucinelli proves that there’s beauty in simplicity.
Over the past few years, the sustainable Italian brand Redemption has shown its rock ’n’ roll chic collections at Paris Fashion Week, But for spring 2021 creative director Bebe Moratti decided to stay closer to home, shooting a fashion film at a country estate in Lombardy. It features models strutting through the grounds in high-slit maxi dresses in shocking pink and electric blue, oversized blazers over cut-off denim shorts, and zebra print blazers. The colorful python-effect boots are vegan: they’re a collaboration with sustainable footwear brand AERA and are made in Veneto from 50 percent bio-based materials including corn, wood, and cotton. In fact, the majority of the collection—down to the upcycled sequin embellishments—was fashioned from certified recycled and organic materials, offering proof that there’s nothing sexier than environmental responsibility.
Last season, Alanui offered up cool cashmere dresses and jumpers inspired by the night sky in American Frontier. Designers Nicolò and Carlotta Oddi continue this westward journey for spring 2021, but with a focus on the sun-kissed deserts and valleys in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. Aptly titled West is State of Mind, the collection features intarsia sweaters with Southwestern patterns, light-wash denim dresses and jackets, and cable-knit cardigans and dresses with ample amounts of fringe and lace-up details.— Barry Samaha
What is corporate culture in the era of COVID-19? This is what the design team at MM6 tried to answer with its spring 2021 lineup of traditional attire worn to the office. There were blue dress shirts either chopped at the waist or elongated; blazers featured three-quarter sleeves that were paired with matching roomy trousers; and a trench coat was split in half and formed into a skirt-and-top combo. Indeed, the focus was placed on the top half of the body, the part that is visible on Zoom calls at home, which has become the defining characteristic of working during the global pandemic.— Barry Samaha
Fabiana Filippi turned down the volume for spring 2021, showing a collection, titled The Perfect Rhythm of Nature, that focused on uncluttered forms and effervescent hues. From an elegant Grecian-draped slip in beige and a pleated skirt-and-top combo in mauve to a sleek sky blue coat and a refined brocade dress with a sarong skirt, the Italian label proved that one need not shout to make an impact.— Barry Samaha
For Blazé Milano, blazers don’t always have to mean business. As actress Annabelle Belmondo (yes, that Belmondo, Breathless fans) demonstrates in the brand’s spring 2021 lookbook—where she lounges in and against a yellow convertible on the cobblestone streets of Milan—they can also mean a whole lot of other things depending on the style. Ready to party? Try the one in ikat. Gearing up for a dinner under the stars? The white double-breasted version has your name on it. Need something for everyday? The pink-and-green tartan style will do nicely. Whether you dress it up with heeled sandals or down with sneakers, in a Blazé Milano blazer you know that you’re dressed right.— Barry Samaha