Milan Fashion Week: Puppet models, aquatic escapism and the tentative return of runways

Updated 28th September 2020
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Milan Fashion Week: Puppet models, aquatic escapism and the tentative return of runways
Written by CNN Staff
Milan Fashion Week (MFW) came to an optimistic close Sunday, having hosted significantly more in-person runway shows than either London or New York before it.
In a city that, in February, experienced one of Europe's first coronavirus outbreaks, journalists, buyers, celebrities and fashion industry workers from around the world were permitted to sit in close proximity to one another at live events.
Max Mara, Etro, Fendi and Valentino were among more than 20 labels to stage physical shows at venues around Milan, representing over a third of the week's schedule.
The set of Prada's livestreamed show.
The set of Prada's livestreamed show. Credit: Alberto Moncada
But while Italy is currently recording far fewer new cases of Covid-19 than the UK or US, there was still an abundance of caution -- and an element of cost-cutting, too.
More than 40 showcases were held digitally, offering smaller and less solvent brands a foothold at an event known for favoring established brands over young talent.
A-Cold-Wall Spring-Summer 2021
A-Cold-Wall Spring-Summer 2021 Credit: A-Cold-Wall / Brett Dillig-Davies
To this end, young label A-Cold-Wall* premiered its collection of men's utilitywear via a striking four-minute film, marking only the second time the industry favorite has shown in Milan (the first was at men's fashion week in January).
Another new face was Tomo Koizumi, whose capsule collection for Pucci united the Japanese designer's penchant for frothy, vibrant dresses with the iconic Italian house's own colorful legacy.
Here are five other takeaways from the return of Milan Fashion Week:

Prada's first 

The debut collaboration between Miuccia Prada, who now heads up her family's namesake business, and Belgian designer Raf Simons, who joined the brand as co-creative director earlier this year, was one of the week's most hotly anticipated shows.
Designer Miuccia Prada and designer Raf Simons attend the Prada Resort 2019 fashion show on May 4, 2018 in New York City.
Designer Miuccia Prada and designer Raf Simons attend the Prada Resort 2019 fashion show on May 4, 2018 in New York City. Credit: Sean Zanni/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
This meeting of minds resulted in plenty of bright ideas, both on the runway and through the daffodil yellow set all around it. But more importantly, the audience-free showcase demonstrated the two designers' ability to cohesively work around a single concept -- in this instance, that of the everyday uniform, which they reimagined as simple, refined and wearable.
Charmingly, all of the models in the show were making their debuts too, having never previously walked a runway before.
A model walks in Prada's Spring-Summer 2021 digital show.
A model walks in Prada's Spring-Summer 2021 digital show. Credit: Alberto Moncada
Shown via livestream on Thursday, the showcase was followed by a filmed conversation between Prada and Simons. The pair answered questions sent in by fans from around the world, whetting industry appetites for what the collaboration may offer in the years to come.

Silvia Venturini Fendi's last

Just as Prada used MFW to open up a new chapter, Fendi used it to bring one to a close.
This was Silvia Venturini Fendi's last solo collection before British designer Kim Jones becomes the brand's new artistic director of womenswear. And as she prepares for the transition, the designer constructed her final solo show -- fittingly -- around the theme of family. (Her grandparents founded the label nearly a century ago.)
Paul Mescal, Rita Ora, Kim Jones attending Fendi Spring-Summer 2021
Paul Mescal, Rita Ora, Kim Jones attending Fendi Spring-Summer 2021
Invitations came in the form of Fendi-branded pasta, which was sent along with copies of co-founder Adele Fendi's lemon pesto recipe. And -- in one of the first shows of the week -- Fendi hosted a socially distant front row, featuring "Normal People" star Paul Mescal.
On the runway, the label once again demonstrated its commitment to more diverse casting. Plus-size model Ashley Graham, who recently became a mother, was among those to walk at the in-person show.
Supermodels Penelope Tree and Yasmin Le Bon, aged 70 and 55 respectively, were also used to showcase the brand's new collection, which presented a range of elegant, beautifully crafted designs in fresh and muted tones.
Ashley Graham walking for Fendi Spring-Summer 2021
Ashley Graham walking for Fendi Spring-Summer 2021 Credit: Victor Virgile
Jones, who is taking over from the late Karl Lagerfeld, will present his first collection for Fendi next year.

Underwater escapism

Rather than recreate normalcy in these surreal times, Versace instead opted for a gesture of pure escapism. While restricted to a digital showcase, there were few limits to the brand's imagination, which conjured a playful underwater-themed set and accompanying menswear and womenswear collections.
Model Precious Lee walks for Versace.
Model Precious Lee walks for Versace. Credit: Alfonso Catalano/SGPItalia/Versace
The aquatic showcase was envisaged as "a world made of popping colors and fantastic creatures," as Donatella Versace put it in a press release before describing the collection as "optimistic, dreamy, positive."
The garments themselves came in a variety of tropical shades, with decorative flourishes reminiscent of coral reefs. Elsewhere, there were casual surf stylings, beachwear-inspired looks and a combination of subtle and not-so-subtle allusions to marine life.
Model Irina Shayk wearing a starfish-adorned creation.
Model Irina Shayk wearing a starfish-adorned creation. Credit: Alfonso Catalano/SGPItalia/Versace
Russian model Irina Shayk made one of the evening's biggest splashes in a figure-hugging satin gown embroidered with starfish. But perhaps the most notable casting decision came when Versace sent three plus-size models -- namely Jill Kortleve, Precious Lee and Alva Claire -- down one of its runways for the first time in its history.

Puppets for models 

If having no guests at fashion week is old news by now, then Moschino took things a step further -- by having no models either.
Instead, creative director Jeremy Scott enlisted the help of Jim Henson's Creature Shop (the special effects company founded by the famed Muppets puppeteer) to create a miniature set populated entirely by marionettes.
All of the Italian label's latest creations -- including accessories -- were shrunk down to fit the puppets, which walked the runway in front of the lookalikes of famous figures including Anna Wintour and British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful. The show even featured a marionette of Scott himself wearing a crown and Moschino T-shirt.
Fashion designer stages show with puppets
The womenswear on display -- which will be available in human sizes -- saw the creative director dialing down his typically dramatic take on luxury kitsch. Moschino's Spring-Summer 2021 collection took the form of elegant dresses with oversized bows and tulle skirts, and eye-catching collars and capes in soft pinks and blues, pea green, gold and black.
But there was also a narrative told through the garments' inverted details. Corset boning, seams and pocket interiors were emphasized on items' exteriors, while underskirts fanned out below the hemlines.
For all the fun he brought to the week's proceedings, Scott made clear that this format isn't the new normal.
"As much as I loved working with the marionettes, and as proud as I am of this show ... I do miss working with real models and that energy and the energy of having a real audience and everyone gathered together," he said in a video interview. "And I hope very soon I can do that in person again."

A homecoming for Valentino 

It may be one of Italy's best-known labels, but Valentino has long eschewed the country's fashion capital in favor of Paris. In fact, the luxury house has never shown womenswear in Milan, and hasn't presented menswear there for 13 years.
That all changed on Sunday, as Valentino marked its homecoming in style. Perhaps lured by MFW's comparatively relaxed approach to in-person runways, creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli took full advantage of the live show format by inviting British musician Labrinth to perform in front of around 200 mask-wearing guests at an old foundry enlivened with plants and greenery.
The set's floral themes carried over to the label's Spring-Summer 2021 collection, which ranged from subtly embroidered petals to a bold flower-print gown-and-cape ensemble. Elsewhere, there were chiffon robes, crochet and lots of lace, as Piccioli contrasted his industrial setting with explorations of delicate textures and themes of romanticism.
The show also marked another welcome return: that of Valentino's signature Rockstuds.
The outsized pyramid-shaped embellishments, which have defined the label's accessories range since first appearing a decade ago, were spotted on bags and shoes throughout the early-afternoon show, with many of the biggest looks completed with a pair of Rockstud pumps.
This feature was updated throughout Milan Fashion Week.
CNN's Ananda Pellerin, Ana Rosado, Fiona Sinclair Scott, Oscar Holland and Jacqui Palumbo contributed to this story.