Ladies and gentlemen, there is a new Italian Renaissance. For a few years now, Milan’s menswear Fashion Week has devolved into a relative afterthought, with well-established brands like Prada, Fendi, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana drawing crowds seemingly out of habit rather than out of genuine interest. Since being handed over to Alessandro Michele, Gucci has been the outlier among the revered Italian brands, with a timely aesthetic shift and revamped marketing geared towards the conversation-steering millennial consumer. This past week, however, brought about a wind of change for more Italian brands who have—in their own ways—embraced the new face of luxury.

Prada was, perhaps the biggest winner of the week, offering up a collection that was rich on history and served as a crash course on the brand’s illustrious archives for a younger generation. Miuccia Prada revisited her first great achievement at the helm of her family’s company by offering up a multitude of looks in pocone, an industrial nylon that Prada first introduced in 1984 through a range of bags. Next came a catalogue of iconic Prada prints from years past, mashed up and applied to hats, shirts and shorts. Both the Pocone and the prints graced oversized garments, albeit ones with quite simple silhouettes that created a minimalist/maximalist duality. Miuccia’s explanation? The collection was representative of the fact that “we are living in a period which is interesting because we do not know where we are going,” per Vogue’s Luke Leitch. The most celebrated turn, though, was Miuccia’s decision to revive the cultish Prada Sport line, which had existed from 1997 until 2006, only to fall out of favor over the last decade. This season’s offering focused on monochromatic, oversized, technical outerwear—decidedly “on-trend” with the current high-street direction that menswear is taking.

The return of Linea Rossa, named for the red line that adorns Prada Sport garments, paired with the Instagram-friendly revisitation of the Prada print archives, enabled Prada to dominate the conversation surrounding Milan Fashion Week. Still, they are not the only ones who have embraced a return to the ‘90s. Fendi (another family-designed brand, albeit one owned by the Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH) luxury group) also revealed a collection designed to capture the attention of millennials. It was the house’s collaboration with Glaswegian artist Hey Reilly that most clearly indicated Fendi’s embrace of youthful exuberance over mature elegance. Reilly had drawn Silvia Venturini Fendi’s attention thanks to clever work posted to Instagram, mashing up the Fendi and Fila logos. Reilly was charged with reinterpreting the iconic logo and developing collage graphics used throughout the collection, a far cry from the lawsuit he thought was in store when Fendi came calling.

The iconic interlocking Fs dominated the collection, adorning everything from sling bags and bucket hats to fur jackets and trench coats. The logo-mania, as much as the pieces themselves, harkened back to the ‘90s and ‘00s, when Fendi was a favorite of North American rappers: an aspirational symbol of wealth and cool. “It's really a work on the Fendi identity,” Silvia Venturini Fendi told Dazed. “It’s quintessentially Fendi.” While that may be true when looking at Fendi’s illustrious history, it certainly will help to welcome those only recently acquainted with the brand.

Versace, too, went the route of paying homage to its history—a process that began with their last womenswear collection, a celebration of all things Gianni Versace commemorating the twenty years since his death. The show was filled with animal prints, bold Versace tartan and golden brand typeface logo pins on jackets—not to mention items from the iconic Versace Home collection fashioned into accessories like cutlery-based bracelets. What’s drawn the most attention from the collection, however, has been the debut the 2 Chainz “Chain Reaction” collaborative sneakers featuring an oversized sole and vibrant animal print uppers; It’s Versace’s entry into the chunky shoe game. The collection, as a whole, was more playful than garish (by Versace standards, at least) and was rounded out by the brand’s iconic silky shirts in vibrant colors.

As mentioned at the outset, in seasons past, this particular trio of shows had begun to feel like a chore—yes, Prada was, as noted here on Dry Clean Only, “the thinking man’s brand,” but the collections had come to pass relatively unnoticed.

There are a few things that changed this season. For one, the trio of Italian stalwarts are in the minority of well-established brands who have stayed the course and shown their menswear collections separate from the womenswear showcase (even as female models walk in their shows) due to start in a little over a month. In London, the likes of Burberry, Coach and Maharishi were noticeably absent from the catwalks (due in part to individual commitments to changing up their runway schedules and release dates), making way for younger brands like Liam Hodges, Craig Green, Blood Brother and A Cold Wall. In Milan, Gucci was ominously missing from the proceedings—planning on showing its men’s and women’s collection in one larger show (as it has done) during the women’s weeks. It should be noted that Michele’s Gucci has cast a supremely large shadow over the rest of the Italian heritage brands since he took the helm and famously redesigned an entire collection mere days before showing it. So, yes, the trio has benefitted from a lack of competition—to a degree.

But, to attribute the brands’ return to prominence solely to that would be to overlook the bigger trend: a concerted effort to refocus on a new, younger clientele; it’s a strategy that’s been embraced by (and paid off for) Gucci in recent seasons. For the most part, the old guard of Italian luxury labels had been reluctant to adapt to e-commerce, only to realize that falling profits were perhaps the result of a reliance on luxury fashion’s archaic retail structure and a unnecessary hesitance to embrace the shift to digital. The digital world, they realized, was the next frontier for luxury retail, with e-commerce giants like SSENSE, Mr. Porter and END. rapidly becoming this generation’s version of department stores. Slowly, they have adapted, opening new accounts and allowing customers to shop online, all while embracing the culture of the internet. Gucci was the first of the Italian houses to really leverage that in a major way, [releasing a meme-based campaign]( earlier in 2017. Fendi’s collaboration with Hey Reilly is a continuation of that trend. The aesthetic shift, too, is emblematic of the Italian rebirth. Linea Rossa caters not to the 9-to-5, suit-wearing banker who has the disposable income to spend on Prada, but to a younger client who carefully plots out how he can get his hands on one of the technical pieces when they finally hit retailers. There’s nothing more modern than a brand that lives on the line between international luxury and street-ready sportswear.

Perhaps most interestingly, what Milan Fashion Week has shown us is that the Italian houses have embraced the increased interest paid to archival designs and aesthetics—something which Dry Clean Only readers and Grailed users are all too familiar with. Delving into their respective archives, Fendi, Prada and Versace offered up nods to key elements of each family’s design history: pocone and “ugly” prints for Prada, fur and ostentatious branding for Fendi, and tartan, animal prints and gold links for Versace. By reaching back into their respective histories (with a particular emphasis on the ‘90s, naturally) the brands showed that they are unafraid of punching below their self-perceived weight. Linea Rossa is, after all, a sportswear diffusion line, all-over print Fendi is often synonymous with bootlegs and Versace’s chunky sneaker, is, ugly, chunky sneaker. But this is the reality, and perhaps the future, of a changing luxury landscape. This is a time where the valued customer is one who grew up in the ‘90s and aspired to wear these brands as they were represented in that era. SSENSE, for example, boasts a customer base that is 80 percent millennial, so it follows that the aforementioned trio of brands would double down on its efforts to entice that demographic. Luxury menswear is less focused on suiting (and, when it is, casual suiting is the way to go these days, as evidenced by all three brands’ forays into tailoring for Fall/Winter 2018) as nearly every wardrobe is touched by the wider “casualization” of daily clothing. A focus on sportswear and the high-street, while the new luxury customer is decidedly younger and well-informed, requires these labels to not just tap references to their brands’ histories, but recontextualize their runways to this newer consumer.

This week offered our first glimpse at the new Italian luxury landscape, where previously reticent brands have fully embraced a new clientele, and a new way of doing business. Gone are the days of stuffy Italian fashion, ushering in an era of subversive, introspective and interactive brands. Subversive in that they are gaming the absence of others, introspective because of their archival focus and interactive thanks to their share-friendly collections designed to spark a conversation. Fashion shows, after all, are marketing vehicles, and Fendi, Prada and Versace just showed us that they are capable of using them as such.

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Tags: milan-fashion-week, gucci, versace, fendi, prada