When it comes to Italian fashion, Milan is the first city that comes to mind. This city is not only the de facto capital for Italian fashion since the late 1970s; it is also the global center for a handful of foreign designers. Let’s not forget that many non-Italian labels show there too –i.e., Jil Saunder, Burberry, Alexander McQueen (men), now Calvin Klein (men), et cetera.
But why did Milan usurp the title held by Florence since 1951? Some blame the French; others blame logistical inevitabilities. 1968 did more to change the European socio-political landscape; the student revolt moved past the Alps to Italy as well. As morals were changing, the taste for less formal clothes swept throughout large factions of society. Jeans and t-shirts were becoming mainstays for either sex.
As glamorous and elegant as the Sala Bianca was for all attending participants, the scale of the collections grew to such an extent by the mid-1970s that the beautiful Tuscan city couldn’t feasibly maintain its rhythm. As soon as 1975, Milan started to present its first official “Settimana della moda” (Fashion week) calendar of fashion shows.
As legend has it, Missoni was behind an early schism. In 1967, moments before showing their collection, the Missonis realized that, due to the lighting in the Sala Bianca, the models’ undergarments were visible from the audience seating area. Unable to find alternatives in time, they showed the collection as is –the press and buyers loved it, the Sala Bianca organizers didn’t. The Missonis were not invited for the next Fashion Week and opted to show in Milan from then on.
Hence, the growth of Milan as an international fashion center began as it became clear that it was a natural alternative. The city had an international airport, conference halls, and hotels for press ‘delegations’. Let’s not forget that Milan was also the home of some of the most important Italian fashion periodicals as well. Plus, some designers were already starting to show there and flexing their creative muscles for all to see.
Next: Milan and the rise of the supermodels
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