Recapping Milan’s virtual mens fashion week

Themes of rebirth, re-emergence and reflection embodied the season's multimedia events

A man in black suit in a factory.
(Image credit: press)

Given the past four months that Italians have lived through, any ability to return to a semblance of normalcy is just cause for applause. Earlier this month, with the support of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Italian Trade Agency, Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana did more than that by facilitating its first-ever Milan Digital Fashion Week to present the latest Spring/Summer 2021 menswear and men’s and women’s pre-collections from 42 brands on a dedicated digital platform.

For all intents and purposes, it certainly came close to feeling like a traditional fashion week, with shows scheduled on a structured calendar, even if there was a significant multimedia twist.

Etro SS21

Etro S/S 2021

(Image credit: Etro)

Two labels, Dolce & Gabbana and Etro, went as far as sticking their necks out to stage the first two in-person shows since February, with social distancing rules elegantly imposed. Etro, the first label to do so, chose the outdoor garden of Milan’s treasured Four Seasons Hotel (itself closed to visitors for just as long) as the backdrop for its vibrant, pattern-centric men’s and women’s pre-Fall collection. Dolce & Gabbana also stepped away from its regular indoor venue, and instead set its runway amongst the gardens of the Humanitas University to showcase its Gio Ponti-inspired collection. With guests generously spaced out in both cases, the shows were a tantalising precursor to how a return to in-person fashion week may look like come September.

For the most part though, video continued to prove its worth as the next best option in lieu of convening in person, with many fashion houses creating alternate realities for both fashion insiders and fans to dive into.

Prada SS21

Prada Multiple Views SS21.

(Image credit: Joanna Piotrowska)

One of the week’s most resonant forays came from Prada, whose Multiple Views SS21 collection saw the house hand over the creative reins to five image-makers and artists; Terence Nance, Joanna Piotrowska, Martine Syms, Jurgen Teller and Willy Vanderperre, who each captured a different facet of the latest collection against an aspect of the Fondazione Prada. Subtitled ‘The Show That Never Happened’, the intentionally individualized five-part series opens with Vanderperre emphasising the label’s utilitarian, pared back aesthetic, which returns with prominence this season. Followed by Teller’s and Piotrowska’s contributions, which both show off the collection’s everlasting modernity, construction and abundance of quiet details, the series culiminates in Syms’ and Nance’s more stylized interpretations that highlight Prada’s quirky, intellectualized nature while still revealing an inherent whimsy.

Although seemingly discordant, the varied panoply captured Prada’s quintessence to a tee – minimalist and complex, classical and futuristic, all at once. Radical in its treatment of purity, yet also light-heartened at times, the collection and its presentation felt all the more significant given its standing as Mrs. Prada’s solo swansong before her collaboration with Raf Simmons as co-creative director commences next season.

Gucci SS21

Gucci S/S 2021

(Image credit: Gucci)

Just as captivating was Gucci’s multi-dimensional film titled ‘Epilogue: Final Act of a Fairy Tale in Three Parts’, which sees behind-the-scenes footage from the shooting of the collection’s advertising campaign at the spectacular Palazzo Sacchetti in Rome (which was also live-streamed for 12 hours) layered with audio clips of Michele and an AI voice describing the inspiration and explaining the context for the collection, and images of the newest collection, novelly modeled by members of the Gucci design team. Spliced together with a surveillance-style treatment, the film’s engaging point of view not only offers viewers behind-the-scenes access to the creative process, but also comments on the industry’s cyclical nature – an aspect that Michele continually seeks to disrupt.

In the collection’s statement, he writes, ‘My fairytale in three parts wants to generate a questioning about the rules, the roles and the functions that keeps fashion going,’ adding. ‘The epilogue that I deliver to you really feels like an overture. A watershed that closes and opens at the same time, a threshold of a new beginning from which we try to imagine our tomorrow.’

Ermenegildo Zegna SS21

Ermenegildo Zegna S/S 2021

(Image credit: Ermenegildo Zegna)

This idea of rebirth and re-emergence was particularly palpable at Ermenegildo Zegna, Ferrgamo and Santoni, who all looked back to their origins to take stock of how far they have come. Zegna marked its 110th anniversary with a video reaffirming its past, present and future. Filmed at it historic wool mill and its surrounding nature reserve, the video combines sweeping landscape views of the Oasi Zegna, where the company has planted half a million trees since it was founded in 1910, with peeks of the inner workings at Zegna HQ as models pace through both natural and man-made environments in easy, generously tailored silhouettes.

Salvatore Ferragamo S/S 2021

Salvatore Ferragamo S/S 2021

(Image credit: Salvatore Ferragamo)

Ferragamo asserted that it too had weathered the storm with a triumphant video combining snippets of its Hollywood-steeped legacy with proud demonstrations of its Tuscan heritage. Filled with highlights from over the years, its montage reiterates the house’s resilience and finishes with models donning its latest collection while basking outdoors amongst the trees and in the sea – a true luxury after living through weeks in lockdown.  

Santoni SS21

Santoni S/S 2021

(Image credit: Santoni)

Santoni shared in these feelings of liberation by tapping the natural beauty of its Le Marche home region as backdrop for its newest collection. Its signature footwear and accessories are set against stunning swaths of the glittering Adriatic sea and bucolic countryside, with the tour also including glimpses of natural stone quarries and breathtaking mountaintops – unequivocally Italian and hard to beat.

The video medium was a particularly appropriate choice for Sunnei to unveil an experimental new offering, Sunnei Canvas. Comprised of 20 signature styles realized all in white, just like blank canvases, these pieces can be subsequently customized, according to buyers’ and boutiques’ wants and needs. Debuted on digitally engineered 3D avatar models in an anonymous virtual space, produced together with the digital studio Pezzo di Studio, the inaugural video presents the shapes, fits and fabrics that are up for modification and is part of an ongoing series that will be continued in September.

Qasimi SS21

Qasimi S/S 2021

(Image credit: Qasimi)

A final honorable mention goes to the British label Qasimi, whose evocative video portrait of its new collection eloquently blends tenents of its Middle Eastern heritage with a contemporary modernity, Spring/Summer 2021 sees the introduction of womenswear alongside to its menswear line. The collection also features details inspired by the geometric Al Sadu weaving tradition of the Bedouin people that has been adapted for contemporary use. Luxurious, yet relaxed silhouettes that offer comfort with their softly sculptural forms, are teamed with woven stripes, trim and embroidered panels to poetically distill the best of both worlds - providing just that dose of fresh perspective, which the industry needs.

Pei-Ru Keh is a former US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru held various titles at Wallpaper* between 2007 and 2023. She reports on design, tech, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru took a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars, actively seeking out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.