What Happens When We Send a Fashion Week First Timer to Milan? A Cultural Revelation

Some would say that the small, grungy alley on the side of Via Compagnoni 12 is some kind of portal to an alternate universe. A dingey, grey warehouse where hundreds can congregate to sprinkle their glitter all over the floor and then step on it confidently in their Italian leather shoes. More than the models or designers, the attendees are creatures of a different breed. On the side of the street, awaiting the show, they exist in their own world, detached from the unattractive atrocities of the universe. There is no time for ugly here, it is not a part of their daily schedule or their dictionary. They live in a world of beauty, a beauty that is constantly evolving to the pace of their very pulse. They barely notice when a swarm of photographers capture their coats– and their conversations, too. Kiss one cheek, and the other side too (“Ciao, bella!”). The air reeks of competition. Who’s pulling off the quirkiest outfit here?

Friends aware of their mutual envy: that’s art.

Guests arrive in couture: head to toe.

The net worth of the day: millions of euros.

I was raised in the A but I’m a New York chick. Draped over my shoulders, my blinding black jacket gives it away. I stand alone, both physically and figuratively, awaiting the doors to open for the Antonio Marras SS’17 show. I’m an edgy city silhouette in the sunshine, surrounded by brightly colored patterns, fur, silk, and feathers– none belong to me. I’m not one of them, not quite an eccentricity as they had expected, and they know. I feel out of place, taken by surprise, but fascinated by how good it is to feel different and out of comfort here. Photographers take a few photos of my silver, geometric eye-makeup, (the only aspect they find interesting about my ensemble), and I finally walk in and find a second-row seat.

Antonio Marras is an Italian creative, a respected designer who showcases his work each season during Milan Fashion Week. Hundreds of eyes arrive to his carefully selected venue to watch his innovative vision come to life on the catwalk. Millions feast their eyes through the computer screen when Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar publish photographs and reviews. A master of taking extra consideration to the old and putting his modern, edgy twist on it, Marras consistently creates with a backdrop of cultural significance, a testament that meaning and craft must be intertwined. His stunning collection this fall is inspired by Jazz music, the 60’s era, as well as  African culture within the context of the two.

The catwalk is reminiscent of a vintage hair salon. Models sit down the middle  under dryers, reading newspapers with their legs elegantly crossed. They don sky high beehives and a simple and unexpected eyeliner look– a clash of eras, in true Marras fashion. Fresh faces dressed in gender-bending ensembles toy around with both modern and classic fashion attitudes and constructs, the boys of the show are the real eye catchers. Excitement and revelation is buzzing in the air, encapsulated within the soundwaves of the background music. At the end of the lighting-fast show, the the models break into an explosive swing dance, Antonio joining them wearing a gigantic smile and a fabulous scarf.

When I walk out of the show I meet Federico Spinas, a rising Italian runway model, and as he smiles at me, I see his braces peek through from under his lips. He runs off with colleague Mats van Snippenberg, laughing and mumbling to the paparazzi in Italian about how he has to run– he’s late for lunch. I turn away, and from the corner of my eye I see three magical creatures, my fairy godmothers. Dressed in the most impressively insane ensembles, they look at me, hips slung back with their heads tilted high, already in a natural pose, and ask me to light their cigarette. The Alghero Boys– Mario, Fabio, and Claudio. I hail a white cab to the city center and conclude that they definitely won the competition.

The catwalk makes its way from the private showing in the warehouse all the way to Da Vinci’s Duomo di Milano public shopping area, where every man, woman, and child of the city are dressed to kill. The Basilica di Santa Maria, an ancient and iconic gothic marble cathedral, is  the perfect backdrop for the aura of this day and the people it brings out into the streets. The Milanese, a people with a light, yet drawn out Italian accent, and a passion for surrounding their world with as much beauty as possibly imaginable, are too transparent. An outsider, I pick up on these mannerisms, a translation to their way of life, in a matter of hours. I am mesmerized.

I am consumed by the oh so crystalline idea they carry with them in each stride, that  effortless collision of all the things that shouldn’t go together. And as you can imagine, this is most prominently showcased by their fashion choices. As an admirer of street-style and an avid follower of couture shows, I thought I had it all figured out– I had seen it all. But I am both pleased and surprised to find out that street style in Atlanta, Manhattan, and even LA for that matter are not anywhere near the intention of the European, let alone the Milanese. Let alone during Fashion Week.

The effortlessness is the most striking of all qualities. Used to the social media driven, American icon fads that currently involve bougie, hugging silhouettes, dark hues and Kardashian-esque makeup, I am astounded to observe that looking like the most badass bitch on the streets of Europe nearly never means getting all dolled up. Here, the dichotomy between simple and eccentric is explored in the most tasteful manner. The classic and the innovative combine as Stan Smiths and Gucci handbags rule the streets symbiotically. Hair is worn down, flowing and natural. Skin is tan, glowing and healthy. Makeup is extremely minimal, with an occasional pop of color on the lips. The silhouette is baggy for women, slimming for men. There is no gender expectation here besides for looking fabulous. Their confidence screams at me, saying that almost any wardrobe piece can be unisex if you want it to be.  

I take a 6pm train back to Florence, and I leave Milan with more than just fabulous street- style photographs and a check off my bucket list. I leave with an appreciation for difference, for culture, for travel, and what all of those mean in the context of one’s self. I leave with an understanding that in order to form a deeper relationship with a passion of yours, you must venture out and see it from all other angles. I leave with an envy for the Milanese, their life is a never ending Fashion Week.

Thank you Ari and The Chic Peak for the opportunity to be enlightened. Cheers to many more.

Xx,

B

The Chic Peak

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