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.
Competition from Georgia
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.
Creativity and prosecco
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. "It will be a week that reflects the moment of transition we are living and privileges individual and original stories, from brands showcasing mixed-gender collections for the first time, to young brands who... here find space to express their creativity".
Organisers have laid on a host of events to run alongside the main shows, from photography and film exhibitions to underwear parties. Blumarine is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a cocktail do, French magazine Elle is having a bash to mark the 30 years since it launched in Italy, and prosecco corks will be popping at the opening of a new La Perla boutique. (AFP)
Photos: Xu Zhi, SS16, credit: Theresa Marx