CHIAVARI, Italy - Men’s Fashion Week in Milan ended last week, but its not over yet. The city is still trying to catch its breath from the onslaught of fashion buyers, models, seamstresses, hairdressers, make-up artists, carpenters, set and stage designers, photographers and of course all those journalists who fly in to bear witness to one of the greatest shows on earth – Italian fashion.
Fashion is a huge business here. Traders on the Milan stock market closely follow the fashion shows and the design trade shows. Milan’s financial newspapers run special fashion sections each week, and Milan is home to an international news service dedicated solely to the fashion industry. Who’s lunching with Krizia and who’s having dinner with Donatella are not just items for the gossip mill, but serious industry indicators.
Like other rites of passage, the rites of fashion celebrate change, and every three months, designers must create a new miracle. Each season has to have a new set of commandments on color, length, cut, fit and fabric. Nothing can be the same. A new a blouse, a skirt, a dress, a coat and don’t forget the accessories, need to be new, never seen before, and then artfully presented, for the presentation is part of the show as well.
|Dolce and Gabbna, Fall/Winter 2015/2016|
Some fashions are meant to shock, others are designed to fill you with waves of nostalgia, but mostly it is scramble to catch headlines, to be the most outrageous or the most beautiful – the most talked about. Fashion is fluid, it moves, sometime slow and sometimes at breakneck speed, and while we may feel a little sea sick along the way, we do eventually catch up with the ideas designers present. But that doesn’t mean no one complains.
You can’t imagine the public outcry when in 1917 Coco Chanel grabbed up bolts of jersey and turned them into dresses. There was a war on, all the fabric mills were busy turning out materials for military uniforms, the only fabric left was jersey, and at the time, jersey was used exclusively for men’s underwear. It was a shocking idea, but not for long.
A few years later, when Chanel put on a pair of trousers and went to a posh garden party, the guests were once again scandalized. They had never seen a woman wearing trousers before, at least not in public. Shocking ideas come and go and then somehow work their way into normality. And even though we know that every fashion show has the potential to make us gasp, somehow we are always caught off guard when that moment comes.
So as the men paraded down the runway wearing sequined sweaters and colorful little flowers embroidered on overcoat sleeves, the audience tightened their seat belts and hung on.
The way fashion news is presented depends on who the readers are. Working for the Milan bureau of Women’s Wear Daily (WWD), a New York based publication for the fashion industry. It is considered the bible of the fashion industry and my job was to tell our readers what was hot and what was not in the world of Italian fashion and design.
WWD is not a slick magazine like Vogue, it’s a newspaper, a workhorse, a deliverer of industry news and trends. Vogue, on the other hand, is a magic carpet. As we turn the pages of that slick magazine we are taken into a dream world, a fanciful myth, a fantasy dressed in aspirational clothes.
We all know we will never look like the super models on their pages, but who cares. A little daydreaming never hurt anyone. Besides, it fattens the bottom line of the designer’s financial statements, although not necessarily in the way you might think.
Picture the fashion industry as a pyramid, a fashion pyramid divided into three parts. The very top of the pyramid is reserved for the super expensive haute couture lines, the clothes you see on the runways. Those clothes are rarely sold and primarily serve as publicity generators. It’s that need for publicity that is behind the elaborate fashion shows staged during Fashion Week in Paris, New York or Milan, and Red Carpet events at the Oscars and other award shows.
You already know the first question celebs are asked as they approach the interviewer, “who are you wearing.” That’s when the big names start rolling off their lips like dew off a grape: Armani, Versace, Prada, the list goes on and on.
And if you think those celebs have reached into their own pockets for those gowns or tuxedos, think again. Most of the clothes are “on loan” which often translates as possession is nine-tenths of the law. I’ve got it – I keep it. So the top one third of the fashion pyramid on its own doesn’t actually translate to big sales, in fact it hardly translates into any sales at all.
In the middle section of the pyramid you’ll find expensive clothes, but not as expensive as haute couture. The price tags don’t seem to faze the top earners in London, Tokyo, New York and Beijing, who are not shy about spending big bucks for clothes in general, and especially for special events. But while the middle of the fashion pyramid does generates its share of profit for designers, it falls far short of the real moneymaker - the bottom third of the pyramid.
The bottom third of the fashion pyramid is where you’ll find $250 Gucci belts, $300 Prada scarves, key chains, wallets, small accessories, bed linens, sunglasses, cosmetics and perfume. Flashing the much sought after designer label, this is where the designers make the money to buy villas in France and penthouse apartments in New York.
Those who are not able to afford the higher-ticket items will buy a little something from his/her favorite designer that makes them feel part of the bigger, more glamorous, picture. And the products are good. I’m not a designer junkie, but I confess, I love Chanel 5 parfum and I don’t feel at all guilty about spending money on it.
While most fashion journalists try to maintain a neutral position regarding the designers and their creations, they rarely succeed. We are all dazzled, bewitched and bewildered by the magic fashion creates, and even if a journalist struggles to find something positive to say about a particular line, most hope that they have been able to convey a little of the magic.
Copyright © Phyllis Macchioni 2016