As Milan Fashion Week drew to a close, designers paid not-so-subtle tribute to style idols past and present. Perhaps it’s just a statement of the times, but the resounding emphasis on historical perspective seemed to offer an optimistic reassurance for a struggling global economy.
Dolce & Gabbana were inspired by Elsa Schiaparelli, whose work in the ’30s served as a basis for the surrealism present on contemporary catwalks. Their collection featured scarves and hats made from gloves, massive bow-shaped headpieces, trompe l’oeil lingerie prints and splashes of Schiaparelli’s signature hot pink to liven up a mostly black-and-white color palette. Like many other collections from the week, inflated shoulders served as the show’s focal point, but, in this case, they were more feminine and softly rounded. A secondary tribute was paid to Marilyn Monroe, whose face was plastered over full skirts and shift dresses—as if the idea of enduring glamour weren’t evident enough from the multitude of furs, feathers and flounces covering each piece.
DSquared2 also evoked Hollywood glitz, as Dean and Dan Caten paid homage to today’s gossip rag fodder. The designers have just unveiled their costumes for Britney Spears’ Circus tour, so it’s not surprising that they’ve also been inspired by her compatriots for fall. Evening gowns were insouciantly paired with grandpa-style cardigans, while cargo pants were coupled with strappy stilettos, and all the looks were accessorized with floppy knit berets, oversized aviators and Starbucks lattes. Amusing as it was, a lot of the looks—such as leggings under jean skirts, trucker hats and cropped lavender sweats—felt like they were showing up to the party five years too late.
Pollini and Versace both honored the history of their own houses, digging deep into their archives to resurrect the greatest hits of years past. Jonathan Saunders unearthed a Pollini scarf print that he blew up and splashed over demure cocktail dresses in electrifying hues. Donatella Versace, on the other hand, looked to a more obvious reference from brother Gianni’s playbook, snaking staple-like hardware across skintight tops and handbags. Although the latter outfit was clearly reminiscent of that famous safety-pinned dress that put the label—and Liz Hurley—on the mainstream map, the collection was also balanced with more grown-up pieces that starlets could wear today, including a skirt suit with iridescent panels and a series of soft, curve-skimming shifts with partially hidden belts.
In times like these, it’s tempting to look back, relying on old standards and formulas that have proven lucrative in the past. From a focus on heritage to an evocation of a bygone era, many of the designers in Milan have reverted to this tactic. But the best way for the industry to pull through its current crisis is by looking forward, and one of the few brands to do this was Fendi. As the show opened, models resembled well-shod disaster victims—black shades were faded, leathers were worn and edges were frayed. But as the collection went on, the looks became more polished and glamorous, driving home the idea of survival. As bleak and dark as it seemed in the beginning, there was a hint of optimism signaling that that although the fashion industry may be taking some hits right now, that doesn’t mean it can’t emerge triumphant in the end.