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Brands take to Milan with a younger consumer focus and a mission to democratise fashion

By Rachel Douglass


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Image: Boss, AW22

Against the backdrop of Italy's tense general election, Milan Fashion Week took place boasting a packed schedule of big name designers that took to the runways in dramatic flair, likely in an attempt to alleviate the strained disposition throughout the country and worldwide.

Among the shows and presentations, a number of high-fashion brands displayed collections that attempted to fall in line with the onslaught of leadership reorganisations and adjusted brand strategies which have taken place over the past year. These included everything from completely rejuvenated identities to the total refresh of creative teams, or collections and shows that strived to attain the attention of a younger generation.

The moves come in the midst of international macroeconomic blows and various global conflicts putting a burden on supply chains, through which it appears luxury is continuing a fierce fight for its place in the industry, revitalising its presence and looking towards new consumers.

Fendi pushes accessories

It was the second show of the season for Fendi, which already wrapped up its first runway during New York Fashion Week, where it unveiled its resort 2023 collection. For Milan, the fashion house instead took to the floor to exhibit its spring/summer 2023 line, where the brand’s artistic director of womenswear, Kim Jones, gave a subtle nod to Karl Lagerfeld through his designs.

Image: Fendi SS23
Image: Fendi SS23

Jones, who took over from the late designer after his passing in 2019, drew from both the Fendi archives while also attempting to build on the codes he has developed at the brand over his tenure. This included the modernisation of a logo first introduced in 2000, as well as contemporary nods to Lagerfeld’s work between 1996 and 2002. “It’s about continuity,” said Jones, in a release. “I am interested in looking at things that Karl has done, and seeing how we can develop them – both visually and technically.”

The LVMH-owned brand was among the luxury conglomerates top performers of 2022’s first quarter, helping to boost its Fashion and Leather Goods division. The group particularly credited its success to its notable handbag styles, Peekaboo and Baguette, likely resulting in the emphasis put on the designs during each of its shows for the season. While the Baguette was at the centre of its SS23 in New York, the Peekaboo contributed to Fendi’s heavy reliance on accessories in Milan, where it became one of the brand’s key pieces.

In keeping with his Lagerfeld references, particularly within the aforementioned time period, Jones’ designs were largely linked to the ongoing Y2K trend, present in his use of bold pops of colour, utilitarian-inspired silhouettes and abstract cuts that defined the decade. The trend has run rampant throughout the industry in the past two years and has distinctly been favoured by younger shoppers, a group fashion houses are collectively aiming to appeal more to.

Designers democratise fashion

Glenn Martens also took the style on for Diesel’s SS23 show, in which the creative director offered up a denim-heavy collection for the season. The material was seen distressed, raw, laminated and printed, utilised for everything from mini dresses to oversized cargo pants.

Image: Diesel, SS23
Image: Diesel, SS23

However, clothing wasn’t the only focal point for Diesel. The show itself was open to the public in a bid to democratise fashion. Alongside online viewing, tickets to the physical event could be applied for, all of which had sold out within 90 minutes, according to the brand’s press release. Among the 4,800 in attendance, 70 percent of ticket entries were for people aged between 18 and 25 years old, while over 1,500 Milan fashion students were also provided with free tickets. Collectors of Diesel’s non-fungible tokens (NFTs) were further given free access to the show, contributing to the digital project’s goal of creating a more exclusive feeling for its NFT members. Martens noted that he wanted the event to be open to the public and people who may never have been to such an occasion because “they deserve a show”.

The concept comes as the designer continues to implement a “brand evolution” at Diesel, a strategy that was unveiled in OTB Group’s 2021 final report in which the company said it would embark on a mission to reposition the brand into the alternative luxury segment. Alongside the completion of a distribution requalification process, under its new creative direction, OTB said Diesel was to divert its gaze towards trend-focused international clients. In fact, its mission was company-wide, as stated by the group’s founder and chair, Renzo Rosso, who told the Financial Times he was ready to compete against the biggest French groups, like Kering and LVMH.

Image: Diesel, SS23

The group’s attention on its positioning in the luxury market was also evident in its acquisition of Jil Sander, which it said in a release reached operating break-even only nine months after the takeover. Diesel’s sister company also presented during MFW, albeit in a more toned down fashion. In the tailoring-centred collection, designers Luke and Lucie Meier opted to recombine menswear and womenswear after splitting the two up in 2018.

Image: Moncler, Milan Fashion Week SS23
Image: Moncler, Milan Fashion Week SS23

Fantastical presentations, however, were not in short supply, as displayed by Moncler, which, like Martens, also opened up its viewing for the general public in a show located on the Piazzo del Duomo. The large-scale event was a celebration of the label’s 70th anniversary and marked the beginning of a 70-day long programme of global celebrations. A cast of 1,952 took to the iconic square in a choreographed routine, most sporting the brand’s Maya jacket, a design the brand revisited as a bridge between its past and future.

The group, which also owns Stone Island, has so far welcomed a strong financial performance for its anniversary year, with revenues up 48 percent compared to the first half of 2021. The response to its runway mirrored its reported success, as 18,000 spectators descended on the location to watch the performance. Speaking on the event, Remo Ruffini, chairman and CEO of the Moncler Group, said: “What I’m most proud of is that we gathered together all generations, and felt the strong energy coming from our communities. It is with them that we want to build our next 70 years.”

Leadership refreshes all around

In a sharp contrast to Moncler’s parade of white puffer jackets, Versace’s runway told the story of a “dark gothic goddess”, Donatella Versace’s self-described muse for the season. Among tough leather biker jackets and graphic prints came cascading chiffon pieces and silhouette-skimming dresses, as well as many pieces that were crafted from upcycled production off-cut, the brand noted in a release.

Image: Versace SS23

Its high-glamour collection follows an announcement by the CEO of its holding company Capri Holdings John Idol, who said the label would be raising its prices, bringing it into a new era of elevated costings. Unlike high street retailers, however, Versace’s price increase is not reflected by inflation, but its intent to compete with its luxury peers. Initially, in 2020, the group said it was aiming to reach two billion dollars in sales at Versace, with the goal of expanding its accessories and shoes to 60 percent of its revenue.

Image: Versace SS23

Like Fendi, its attempt could be viewed during its SS23 show, through which its Medusa accessory lines were emphasised. A wide variety of bags from the La Medusa line were spotted in the collection’s staple green, purple and metallic hues, while its new Medusa Anthem selection also was put on display, again offering up a vast range of styles. The brand’s growth strategy is being led by its new CEO, former Alexander McQueen exec Emmanuel Gintzburger, who was tasked with leading Versace’s strategic initiatives and future plans.

Etro was another to embrace a recent leadership team remould, including the welcoming of a new creative director Marco De Vincenzo, who joined the house in May 2022. De Vincenzo made his runway debut with the brand’s SS23 collection in Milan, presenting looks that drew inspiration from Etro’s heritage, giving it a new perspective that focused on simplicity and essentials.

Image: Etro SS23
Image: Etro SS23

The new designer also hinted at a possible sustainable outlook for the Italian label, offering up accessories that combined archival fabrics with recycled materials, as well as hand-dyed polychrome cashmere present in denim brocades and cotton shirts, as noted in a release.

Similarly, change was present at Boss, which had undergone a complete identity revamp over past months. Its recent celebrity-clad presentations and campaign, the FW22 Milan show included, have each aimed to portray the brand’s ‘Be Your Own Boss’ motto in a modernised form. Its latest drop aims to encapsulate this message via a deconstructed idea of power dressing, which sees archive Boss items reinvented for a new, younger generation. The runway show itself further mirrored this goal, with bikers performing gravity-defying tricks in spheres, a likely attempt at another social media moment that the brand has been so keen on in past presentations. This has been heightened by the ‘See now, buy now’ approach Boss has continued to adopt during these already enthralling events, which has allowed digitally-savvy consumers to purchase runway looks as they are revealed.

Its efforts for the season comes as part of the Hugo Boss Group’s Claim 5 growth strategy, through which it has set its sights on understanding this new consumer. An addition to its refresh was a newly evolved Boss logo, which the brand said in a release was one of the driving forces behind the current collection, as it looked towards this fresh perspective of tailoring and sleek power dressing for both men and women.

Image: Boss, AW22
Image: Boss, AW22
Jil Sander
Milan Fashion Week