At Milan Fashion Week, craftsmanship is speaking louder than monograms: Staging performative runway shows, sending out Instagram-worthy show invitations, and courting Gen-Z are out. Instead, maisons are reviving their archives, focusing on tailoring, and bidding farewell to the eccentric street styles that have long dominated catwalks.
The appointment of new creative directors — Maximilian Davis at Ferragamo, Sabato de Sarno at Gucci, and Matthieu Blazy at Bottega Veneta — reflects luxury brands’ shift to focus on recession-proof high-net-worth individuals, who prefer "exclusivity, scarcity, value preservation, and mystery."
According to Bain & Co, global very important customers (VIC) — the top 2 percent of wealthy consumers — were responsible for 40 percent of luxury sales in 2022, with HNWIs forecast to contribute a growing share of luxury revenue in 2023.
Chinese fashion blogger @Avafoo, who boasts 3.5 million followers on Weibo, also spotted the trend. She believes the resulting pieces are more attractive to HNWI consumers.
"This season's collections allowed them to get their ideal wardrobe without following a certain fad. Perhaps returning to the classics and leveraging the brand's unique values will be a major trend we shall see in the future," she tells Jing Daily in an interview over WeChat.
For Fall 2023, Max Mara travels back to the 18th century — the Age of Enlightenment — to search for the modern.
Inspired by women like French mathematician and natural philosopher Émilie du Châtelet who advocated rationality, sought knowledge, and challenged authority, creative director Ian Griffiths presented rigorously sharp, tailored designs. A touch of romance was added through the incorporation of rich brocade fabrics, side-hoops, bustiers, and chemises.
The classic yet futuristic collection, dominated by the brand’s signature camel hue, received overwhelmingly positive reactions from Chinese netizens. @mirrorfissure, a micro-influencer based in Beijing, wrote: "Needless to say, if you have money, you can buy the whole collection with closed eyes.”
For Fall 2023, Walter Chiapponi, Tod's creative director, celebrates the brand’s Italianness by presenting a refined and modern collection of iconic pieces that combines the high quality of traditional craftsmanship with the softness of precious fabrics. The color palette remains largely warm camel, brown, and cream tones, interspersed with monochromatic black and white.
Tod's iconic moccasins and Di Bag were reinterpreted with a modern touch enriched with a woven detail or a T timeless buckle and made precious with the finest leather. Thanks to Tod’s ambassador Xiao Zhan, the label has made waves on the Chinese internet, trending on Weibo's Hot Search top spot.
Gucci last month announced the appointment of Sabato de Sarno as its new creative director. The former Valentino fashion director for men and womenswear ready-to-wear will debut his first show for the Italian house in September this year. Hence, this season saw Gucci's design team take the collection’s reins for the second time since Alessandro Michele‘s departure in December 2022.
The leaderless crew took historical cues from past Gucci collections — such as the '90s slimline tailoring of the Tom Ford era and eccentric styles of Alessandro Michele — and reinterpreted them through a modern lens.
Despite lacking a creative head, Gucci still managed to earn a place at the forefront of social media attention. According to influencer marketing platform Lefty, Gucci gained $14.5 million in earned media value (EMV), claiming the second spot at Milan Fashion Week Fall 2023, according to data from February 22 to 28. The presence of Chinese celebrity Xiao Zhan contributed to the online buzz.
The creative duo of Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons riffed on uniforms, like nylon parkas in military green and off-white maxi skirts embellished with wedding dress details such as paper-cut-like flowers.
"Prada's concise designs focused on cutting and craftsmanship, and were extremely eye-catching and unique, triggering deeper reflection in the fashion industry," influencer @Avafoo tells Jing Daily. "All kinds of sweaters were paired with exquisitely designed wedding dress-like skirts. Elements of formal attire were turned into everyday garments. There was much food for thought: Is there a gap between formal and everyday wear?"
She adds that the 3D flowers on the skirts are proof of high-level execution. "It is remarkable that the brand can deliver luxury assortments while ensuring a sense of simplicity," @Avafoo added.
Fashionistas widely appreciated the collection, and the presence of 18-year-old TikTok phenomenon Charli D'Amelio and Chinese brand ambassador Cai Xukun amplified the show’s visibility. Prada retained its top spot on the EMV rankings by generating $36.3 million in media value, surpassing runner-up Gucci by a wide margin, according to Lefty.
For this season, Kim Jones explores elegance and classicism through the lens of subtle subversion, twisting masculine clean-cut tailoring into ladylike sophistication. The star creative director drew inspiration from Delfina Delettrez Fendi's wardrobe, "how she wears her Fendi archive with an instinctive sense of self-expression," states the brand's press release.
Fendi is another brand looking to its past through a modern approach. The collection celebrates the house's history, with graphic motifs revived from the Fall 1996 Fendi archives, alongside Karl Lagerfeld's 1981 sketches for multipurpose knitwear.
Many Chinese celebrities attended the show — Cheng Xiao, Song Yuqi, and Xu Guanghan — as well as South Korean actress Song Hye-Kyo. Thanks to their presence, the brand earned a spot on Lefty's top-five list for Milan Fashion Week with $9.4 million in EMV.
If there were any doubts about Kering's risky decision to part ways with hit-maker Daniel Lee, Matthieu Blazy has put them to bed. The creative director dazzled the audience with a spectacular collection, but not courtesy of a performative stage or loud luxury features. Instead, it was a whispering of beauty, quality, and craftsmanship — a nod to anonymous chic.
Presenting intrecciato high boots, a male sweater dress, and oversized leather jackets, Blazy offered a refreshing perspective on the house's codes that grabbed the audience.
Media reps, celebrities, and influencers went backstage en masse to thank Blazy for delivering a dazzling show. Bottega Veneta has returned to its roots. It is not creating Instagram-worthy "It" products, but asking consumers to appreciate its heritage.
Each guest at the Diesel received a box of Durex condoms. Yes, that was the show invitation. In the middle of the runway, 200,000 boxes of condoms were massed together, creating a breathtaking mountain that most guests took pictures of.
"Successful living is about being sex-positive, having fun, enjoying life, and also being respectful and safe," said Diesel's creative director Glenn Martens in a pre-show statement. A Y2K fiesta of low-rise jeans, mini mini-skirts, and crystal-etched dresses dominated the stage. The show looked perfect for the young hipsters of the TikTok generation.
The show’s soundtrack reproducing ecstatic moaning noises was banned from Chinese social media — Chinese reporters present at the show revealed they could not upload videos of the event on domestic platforms.
Has China forgiven Dolce & Gabbana yet? This year, some Chinese influencers, notably @ 孙怡静cristine and @季未燃JiweiJW, made an appearance at the Italian label's show and posted about it on Weibo, attracting only a couple of negative comments as of press time. The majority of reactions praised the sensuality of the collection, which revisited lingerie and loungewear. In a departure from Dolce & Gabbana's past collections, prints were absent from the stage, while monochromatic colors and shades of nudes triumphed.
The presence of Kim Kardashian, who boasts 346 million followers on Instagram, secured the spotlight for the luxury house. Dolce & Gabbana received $10.5 million in EMV, ranking it third, according to Lefty. Yet, Dolce & Gabbana still has a long way to go to restore its image in China.