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Milan's creative edge


Influential art movements are informing Milan’s latest fashion designs, Harriet Quick reports

Harriet Quick portrait
Harriet Quick ,

Last season, designers were fixated with the botanical universe, using wild blooms and petal-like layers along with sufficient plant references to fill a natural history museum. For autumn and winter, they have turned their attention to the more enigmatic and intellectually challenging realm of modern art, specifically to the Bauhaus and Fluxus movements and the ephemeral world of installation and performance art.

The fashion/art friendship is as old as fashion itself and this latest courtship is resulting in high-profile collaborations and sponsorships of art fairs, such as Frieze London and Fiac in Paris, which kicks off the autumn season, as well as in more subtle influences on cut, construction and presentations.

In the research for her latest menswear and womenswear collections, Miuccia Prada (who also oversees Prada’s art foundation) delved into the radical work of the 1970s Fluxus movement. Fluxus comprised international artists with backgrounds in art, film and music, who valued spontaneity, humour and guerrilla interventions over formal exhibitions and emphasised that any material, from newspapers to broken crockery, could be the subject and matter of art.

In a tribute to Fluxus artist Joseph Beuys, who frequently covered objects, rooms and even himself in felt and leather, Prada’s show space in Milan was cloaked in thick grey industrial felt, which muffled the sound of the models’ wedge heels as they emerged from under the catwalk, as if walking out of an underground art movement’s secret gathering. An almost anti-fashion style was evident: odd colour mixes (brown, yellow and black), neck laces, ties and fur trims brilliantly turned plain-speaking clothes into conversation interrupters.

The most memorable fashion shows for the autumn/winter season could also be described as artistic happenings. A case in point was Agnona’s presentation which was modelled by Dree Hemingway, the brainy and beautiful great granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway. It took place in an Art Deco-inspired set that was lined in leather, sheepskin and feathers, and contained furry flowers and a feather skirting board.

Agnona’s creative director Stefano Pilati projected the sensuality and tactility of the luxury brand that is owned by Italian powerhouse Ermenegildo Zegna. Wearing a wave-pattern appliquéd cocoon coat, leather evening gloves and wide-cut trousers, Hemingway appeared to be an extremely elegant art patron. Note that the wave, signifying ongoing change, was a favourite metaphor for the Fluxus movement.

The interest and emphasis on fabric and construction has led many designers to look to the Bauhaus art school, which was founded by architect Walter Gropius in 1919 as a multidisciplinary arts and crafts institution. Bauhaus’s striking, ornament-free architecture, furniture and graphics have caught the imagination of fashion designers. Consuelo Castiglioni at Marni, and Pilati, have used bold graphic colourways, innovative fabrication and complex cutting techniques this season.

At Bottega Veneta, Tomas Maier, a man who is very learned and passionate about art and photography, created a compelling collection that he referred to as ‘a puzzle’. Fit-and-flare coat dresses and shifts featured appliquéd geometric panels that were also a lesson in the craft of construction. Eveningwear was intricately assembled from metres of tulle and chiffon fabric in gradated ripples which, from afar, looked like delicate ink drawings.

As the new season collections arrive in store, the artful formula will be put to the test. If you find yourself tempted by a cocooning grey felted coat, or a double-face cashmere panelled midi skirt, a colour-blocked sleeveless jacket, a silk shirt dress or a pair constructivist wedges, the art/fashion union has successfully spread its word.

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