MILAN, Feb 22, (Agencies): Milan Fashion Week kicks off Wednesday with luxury giants from Versace to Prada sharing the stage with hot up-and-comers from Asia. Gucci opens six days of catwalk creativity, following earlier fashion weeks which throbbed with politics — New York runways flush with anti-Donald Trump protests, and Brexit-battered London. The Florence-based company’s head of design, Alessandro Michele, is signing up to the co-ed trend and will show his men’s and women’s collections together for the first time — as will Tomas Maier for Bottega Veneta. While the spring-summer 2017 collection brought tropical island prints, ostrich feathers on sandals and jumpsuits, the autumn-winter collections from Italy are tipped to feature oversized coats and velvets and furs galore.
Newcomers to the Milan calendar include China’s Xuzhi Chen, a graduate of London’s Central Saint Martins who has been invited by Giorgio Armani to show his label Xu Zhi at the Armani theatre — a launch-pad which has shot previous emerging designers to fame.
Fellow Chinese designer Anna Yang, who studied in South Korea and France, will be presenting Annakiki for the first time here, while Japan’s Atsushi Nakashima — who showed at the Armani theatre in 2016 — settles into one of the coveted fixed slots.
Angel Chen, dubbed the baby face of China’s fashion boom, has also made it onto the official calendar after interning for gown queen Vera Wang when she was only 17 before launching her own line in 2014.
They will face fierce competition from hotly-awaited Georgian label Situationist, which was founded by Irakli Rusadze and Davit Giorgadze in 2015 and has since been sported by celebs including American model Bella Hadid.
The fabled Vionnet Paris fashion house, which was purchased by a Kazakh oligarch in 2012, is also showing here for the first time.
Some big names will be missing: the vogue for unisex collections has seen brands like DSquared2 choose to show during Milan’s men’s fashion week in January and will limit themselves to a “re-see” at the women’s this month.
The future of the system of twice-yearly menswear and womenswear shows has also been thrown into question by clothes being made available to buy immediately, rather than four months after the catwalk show.
Maliparmi has decided the frantic fashion week pace does not suit the family-run business and will hold personalised presentations off calendar from September.
Carlo Capasa, head of Italy’s national chamber of fashion, said the industry was going the extra mile to help keep Milan a global player.
While rays of sun warm the elegant marble monuments on Rome’s skyline, Milan lies under grey crowds heavy with pollution.
But beyond the blue skies the eternal city is battling crises on several fronts, while its northern rival has become the nerve centre of Italy, attracting not only record numbers of tourists but entrepreneurs and foreign capital.
“Milan is experiencing a moment of extraordinary transformation, becoming one of the most interesting hubs internationally,” says Giuliano Noci, a strategy professor at the Polytechnic School in Milan.
Visitors descend for fashion week four times a year; a design fair that takes over large parts of the city; a week-long food fair founded this year; and a book fair Milan is boldly stealing from its sister northern metropolis, Turin.
With such an array of cultural offerings, the smog lingers but the city has shrugged off the stereotype of being a sad industrial hub.
“Milan was able to capitalise on the World Expo” of 2015, which attracted 21.5 million people, including 6.5 million foreigners, Noci said.
And despite welcoming a record number of visitors in 2015, the home of the famous Gothic cathedral and La Scala opera house topped it last year, with tourists up by over 2 percent.
“One of the highlights of Milan is that it is a cosmopolitan city, it attracts many quality foreigners, it’s a centre of exchange. The universities are very international,” says Carlo Alberto Carnevale Maffe, a professor at the Bocconi University.
Noci describes it as “a gateway to business in Italy, linked to one of the most important economic development zones in Europe”.
While the national jobless rate is close to 12 percent, it is only 8.0 percent in Milan, while in Rome it nears 11 percent.
The country’s finance capital alone generates 10 percent of the country’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
A quarter of Italian banks have set up their headquarters here, and many companies have quit Rome for Milan, like television group Skytg24, which decided in January to close its headquarters in the Italian capital.
LONDON: The London catwalks may be showcasing designers’ latest trends at Fashion Week but outside the runway venues, an array of eclectic outfits are also grabbing photographers’ attention.
Posing, pouting and describing their looks, the fashion fans proudly display their wardrobe choices for bloggers and photographers snapping pictures of the Londoners’ street style.
From the luxurious to the high street and the vintage to the recycled, the mix of looks is what makes the British city stand apart from fellow fashion capitals Milan, Paris and New York, fashionistas say.
“Here you can basically create your own style and no one will bat an eyelid,” fashion blogger Zokaya Kamara, 35, said.
“No one is critical, people are appreciative of the effort that you make. This is the best place where your individuality can shine and be expressed and embraced … and give inspiration to fashionistas.”
Each season editors, bloggers and buyers descend on the four fashion capitals for the catwalk shows, but online pictures of outfits on the pavements outside have become as key to style followers as what is seen on the runways.
In London, which does not showcase as many major luxury brands as the other cities but is home to famed fashion schools, residents’ edgy sartorial looks are particularly lauded.
Bloggers, students and fashion fans mill around show venues and pose for pictures like models. On display are torn shirts worn under belted jackets, PVC coats, floral trouser suits, vintage dresses as well as plenty of quirky sunglasses.
“In Paris it is very strict, classical, glamorous … here in London you have many people throwing colours and prints,” said French fashion student Philippine Ponsar, dressed in a yellow fringed jacket, striped top and dress wrapped around her waist.
“Other fashion capitals have become very international and look the same; in London, you still see the street vibes, the punk and rock,” one Israeli fashionista, who gave her name as Cheri, said.
From colourful 1960s mini-skirts to punk, London has championed ground-breaking styles, and is particularly known for its creative talent. Fashion designers such as Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and John Galliano all studied in London.