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Trend report: Italian designers revisit the 1990s

This season’s catwalks saw Italy’s leading labels embracing the best of 1990s style, from slip dresses and bare seams to leggings and square shoulders. Designers including Max Mara and Versace revisited pre-21st century style for spring/summer 2018, making a serious case for fashion that we once thought had been forgotten

Beth Druce portrait
Beth Druce,

‘That turn-of-the-millennium feeling is back in fashion,’ wrote Sarah Mower on Vogue.com, reporting on the Max Mara collection for spring/summer 2018. The fashion critic was commenting on the 1990s overtones in the collection; the streamlined trouser suits with straight, cropped legs and iridescent fabrics, like that iconic Liza Bruce slip dress worn by Kate Moss in 1993.

Across the Milan catwalks designers sought inspiration from the 90s, a decade defined by the sophistication of minimalist luxury and the glamour of the supermodels

Bare seams also featured heavily, there was not a bead, button or bauble in sight, while bodysuits and slim, racer-back vests were tucked into flowing maxiskirts. Many of the designs were executed in camel, the neutral tone that the label made so much of during that era. Ultimately, it was about the clean lines and simple silhouettes that epitomised the house two decades ago.

Max Mara wasn’t alone. Across the Milan catwalks designers sought inspiration from the 90s, a decade defined by the sophistication of minimalist luxury and the glamour of the supermodels. And, while fashion is no stranger to the appeal of times gone by, it certainly feels as though the wheel around which industry trends turn moves faster with each season, with barely a generation passing before a style becomes popular again.

At Alberta Ferretti, a brand renowned for its delicate, crafted femininity, the designer called time on embellishment and instead embraced a clean, sensual silhouette, showing nostalgia for the luxe minimalism that dominated the catwalk pre-21st century.


Alberta Ferretti eschewed the embellishment of previous seasons in favour of a clean, sensual silhouette that echoed the luxe minimalism of the 90s


The show opened with some very sophisticated swimwear in the ‘athleisure’ mode, to use the current buzz term; one-pieces in black or chocolate brown were accessorised with coordinating wide-brimmed sun hats. Eveningwear with an array of glamorous necklines followed; deep plunges, halter-neck jumpsuits and spaghetti-strap dresses with cut-out midriffs. It was a far cry from the embroidered chiffon and delicate beading for which the label is distinguished. ‘I felt this was an important moment to look back at the past and to think about what I want for the present,’ Ferretti noted after the show. 

For fashion lecturer and broadcaster Oonagh O’Hagan, this acceleration of the trend cycle stems from a common human fascination. ‘It’s probably because we are endlessly interested in the same things; form and function – accentuating or minimising our bodies and forms to express or explain something about ourselves,’ she says. O’Hagan also highlights the way that modern consumerism further compounds this cycle, so the clothing we purchase is less likely to remain fashionable for very long.


At No 21, designer Alessandro Dell’Acqua reinterpreted fabrics and silhouettes from his work of 20 years ago, recreating them for a modern audience

© Carlo Scarpato

Alessandro Dell’Acqua is a designer who came of age in the mid-90s. Having lost control of his eponymous label, he launched No 21 in 2010, and over the past seven years it has been finding its place in the fashion matrix as a compelling exploration of femininity. For spring/summer 2018, the designer revisited looks that he first worked with in 1997, from an underwear-revealing sheath slip dress to the very same patterned lace used in Dell’Acqua collections from 20 years ago.

If Ferretti and Dell’Acqua embraced emblems of late 20th-century fashion, then Donatella Versace went further, using the 20th anniversary of her brother Gianni’s death to pay tribute to the late designer’s legacy. Rather than merely referencing design elements from that era, she drew directly from the house’s archives, showcasing key pieces and prints from the Versace collections of the early 90s. These included trademark baroque prints in confident tones of yellow, gold and sky blue, sweet Princess Diana-style pastel dresses and separates, and boxy black jackets with defiant square shoulders. There were also leggings, leopard prints and the label’s famous gilt jewellery adorning belts, buttons and earrings.


Donatella Versace’s SS18 show marked the 20th anniversary of her brother Gianni’s death. She dedicated the show to him, and took direct inspiration from his designs


The designer didn’t stop there. She also reassembled the supermodels whose careers the brand played such a key part in engineering. Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Helena Christensen and Carla Bruni reenacted an iconic moment in history when they flanked Versace herself for the collection finale, dressed in gold chainmail.

What of the future? Is the appetite for reviving history a passing fad, or something we should get used to? As O’Hagan points out, ‘It’s quicker to make and deliver new items than ever before, and we know about collections quicker than before, due to social media.’ We are unlikely to experience a slowing of the trend cycle any time soon. But if that means a sleek, sophisticated wardrobe characterised by luxe minimalism, then why not embrace the fast pace of change?


Many of Versace’s looks were obvious references to Gianni Versace’s creations, updated to varying degrees for 2018. Some pieces that graced the catwalk were actually straight from the archive




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