Milan Fashion Week: digital, a medium for strong ideas

Bettina Bush Mignanego

By Bettina Bush Mignanego05 octobre 2020

Oscillating within virtual reality, the Milanese fashion week offered collections for both men and women for the very first time, totaling twenty-three offline shows and forty-one online. Fashion is reacting with strength and ideas. But the same question remains: during Covid times, could digital be the solution to the industry’s crisis?

The Versace brand was inspired by an imaginary underwater kingdom or city, presenting a show reserved for an audience composed solely of its employees. Versace spring-summer 2021 (Versace)

At the heart of Milan, the otherwise sizzling atmosphere during fashion weeks was troubled, constantly hesitant between a burning desire to resume and the fear of new contaminations. On via Montenapoleone, there was no celebrating either. Fashion has to adjust to Covid as well: during the first quarter of 2020, the business recorded a 30% drop vs 2019 year to date.

Yet there are encouraging signs. Dolce&Gabbana chose to return to Milan after years of absence, in order to present its lively show inspired by its beloved Sicily and a patchwork atmosphere. This was something new that aimed at combining different cultures and ideas, just like the fabrics: no black pieces, yet fifty strips of fabric which the seamstresses could assemble at will, each piece becoming therefore unique.

Prada, the famous brand known for its intellectual and minimalistic fashion, chose digital for a much awaited event, as it was the first collection of the House to be co-branded with Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons.

Prada opted for digital, a much-anticipated event, as it was the first collection of the house co-signed by Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons (Prada)

Versace found its inspiration in a realm or an imaginary underwater city, offering a show with only its employees in the audience. On the runway, colors and shapes that remind of diving suits or underwater creatures, starfishes and shells, bright colors, but always in the Versace style. With their wet hair, even the models seemed to be emerging from imaginary oceans.

Valentino also chose Milan for its return, with its women and men’s collections being showcased in a sublime industrial setup of the Fonderia Macchi, decorated with 1,200 plants from eight countries, with no models but with sixty-six ordinary characters, just like an homage to life, simple and precious, where even denim was honored in a surprise collaboration with Levi’s.

Giorgio Armani chose to parade his models in prime time TV on the Italian national channel "La 7" (Armani)

Giorgio Armani managed to be surprising once more. He had been one of the first who decided to cancel his fashion show in Milan, end of February. He had yet again been the trailblazer when a few months later, he published a tribune to share his desire to resume while taking a step back and rethinking everything. End of September, Armani created aw paying tribute to his city, Milano, by showcasing his line on television on “la 7” at prime time. The show was preceded by a documentary narrating his life and his work as a designer, delighting a great audience.

New borders for Fashion

It is clear fashion is reacting with strength and ideas, yet the same question remains: during Covid times, will digital be able to solve the crisis the industry is facing? For Paolo Landi, writer and active manager in the communication and mass medias sector, author of the book "Instagram al Tramonto", published by La Nave di Teseo, “with this fashion week, we are witnessing the first steps to a real revolution. The industry in general, therefore fashion as well, will be saved if it can virtually combine online and offline. We are living a trend-setting phase in which we are experimenting new possibilities”.

For Isabella Ratti, image expert and author of "Fashion Marketing : a journey to discover new ways of shopping and the mechanisms of fashion 4.0" published by Dario Flaccovio, fashion absolutely needs to slow down. She analyzes attentively the changes in recent shows. For her “the word phygital combines offline with online, while trying to get the best of both worlds in order to create a complete and satisfying client experience.” According to the analysis of the DMR group, the first online Milan fashion week reached 105 million users on social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Weibo

The medium continues to be the message, just like McLuhan had said it. And in our case, Covid has dictated the code of conduct which Prada has transfigured. The public saw the show on their smartphones, the event was democratized

Paolo Landi, author of the book «Instagram al Tramonto»

This seems to be an excellent result. For Maria Grazia Mattei, expert in digital culture and chairwoman of the MEET, the first center for digital culture created in Milan in collaboration with la Fondazione Cariplo, these are only the first steps of a long journey which will generate great results. “We are witnessing the development of digital strategies to extend the market on an international scale.”

Knowing how to use the power of digital

Among the houses present at the Milanese fashion week, Prada is certainly the one which has used digital in the most innovative and complete way. Before the online show, the brand broadcasted a 20-minute live video on Instagram to answer the questions of its 24 million followers. Miuccia Prada, wearing what she calls her uniform, a white long wavy skirt and a blue sweater, and Raf Simon wearing his usual oversized dark sweater, addressed the public with the following words: “Hello and good evening to all ! We are really living a strange situation”. Miuccia Prada then explained the importance of technology in our lives and confessed that in the fashion show that would follow, her first desire was to represent technology as an extension of the individual, and not as an exterior presence.

Giorgio Armani's 2021 spring-summer fashion show mixed the men's and women's collections of the Italian fashion house (Armani).

This relationship between mankind and technology is a theme which is dear to media specialists, and which brings us back to the famous pioneer Marshall McLuhan whose theory in the 60s had surprised, but which has today become more current than ever. Paolo Landi explains: “It is certain that even today, the medium continues to be the message, just like McLuhan had said it. And in our case, Covid has dictated the code of conduct which Prada has transfigured. The public saw the show on their smartphones, the event was democratized even if we have to admit the charm of the live show got lost along the way”. Circling back to the way fashion and technology intertwine, Isabella Ratti mentions sartorial technology with smart fabrics that, through the medium of clothes, aim at ensuring well-being and health.

Miuccia Prada et Raf Simons didn’t stop at the clothes’ first function. They worked on it as a medium, and talked about creativity, inclusion and sustainability through it.

Isabella Ratti, image expert

Going back to Prada and to the dialogue between mankind and machine, Isabella Ratti continues: “the brand showcases a clear concept: the more you are connected to reality, the more your work makes sense. And what creates such enthusiasm between Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons is their common passion for the uniform concept, the leitmotiv of this collection. The two creators didn’t stop at the clothes’ first function. They worked on it as a medium, and talked about creativity, inclusion and sustainability through it.”

The double intervention on Instagram surpassed 100,000 views during the dialogue between creators and followers, whereas the show reached 700,000 views, high figures that delighted the fashion business but that Maria Grazia Mattei immediately puts into perspective: “We need to stop chasing numbers, it’s important to remember that connecting on social media is like connecting to a community, and not to individuals.

Do not let digital fool you

Behind the facts and figures, there are algorithms, and sometimes contacts that don’t exist. But if you work on a community concept, then you will create references and true communication.” An aspect which neither Miuccia Prada nor Raf Simons have missed, and who wanted to answer the many questions of their followers: “It was an intelligent strategy, according to Isabella Ratti, in order to humanize the brand and give people the feeling of belonging to a community”.

Giorgio Armani preferred a traditional medium such as television for his fashion show during prime time, on a Saturday night, on a national channel “la 7” from the Cairo Group. Isabella Ratti wonders : “Maybe Giorgio Armani tried to use television as a communication tool for the masses to spread his ideas..”.
These different strategies thought out by the major fashion houses are adopted to conquer a different audience, which is getting bigger and bigger, and in the case of Armani, people of all age. In fine, the result is there. The return of shy optimism: “In a report published over the last few days, Isabella Ratti explains, Goldman Sachs quantified the impact of Covid on luxury with a drop in sales of 25% instead of 30% a few months ago, projecting the recovery for the first quarter of 2021.”
Will waiting a few months be enough to see growth again? Paolo Landi moderates: “Technology works fast, human reactions are slower…”

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