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What is fashion Week in Milan about?   What makes it so important and relevant to fashion shows held in other major shows?

Milan Fashion Week is a clothing trade show held semi-annually in Milan, Italy. The autumn/winter event is held in February/March of each year, and the spring/summer event is held in September/October of each year.

Milan Fashion Week, established in 1958, is part of the global “Big Four fashion weeks”, the others being Paris Fashion Week, London Paris Week and New York Fashion Week. The schedule begins with New York, followed by London, and then Milan, and ending with Paris. Milan has been recognized internationally as one of the world’s most important fashion capitals. It is additionally recognized as the main sartorial hub in the country, with Rome and Florence being other major centres.

Milan has established a long history within the fields of fashion, textiles and design in general. Throughout the late 19th century, the Lombard capital was a major production centre, benefitting from its status as one of the country’s salient economic and industrial powerhouses. Milanese fashion, despite taking inspiration from the leading Parisian couture of the time, developed its own approach, which was by nature devoted to sobriety, simplicity and the quality of the fabric. Throughout the 20th century, the city expanded its role as a fashion centre, with a number of rising designers contributing to Milan’s image as a stylistic capital. Following this development, Milan emerged in the 1970s and 1980s as one of the world’s pre-eminent trendsetters, maintaining this stint well into the 1990s and 2000s and culminating with its entrenchment as one of the “big four” global fashion capitals. As of today, Milan is especially renowned for its role within the pre-a-porter category of fashion.

Milan’s fashion history has evolved greatly throughout the years. Milan began as a centre of fashion in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, as in Venice and Florence, the making of luxury goods was an industry of such importance that in the 16th century the city gave its name to the English word “milaner” or “millaner”, meaning fine wares like jeweler, cloth, hats and luxury apparel. By the 19th century, a later variant, “millinery”, had come to mean one who made or sold hats.

In the mid-19th century cheaper silk began to be imported from Asia and the pest phylloxera damaged silk and wine production. More land was subsequently given over to industrialization. Textile production was followed by metal and mechanical and furniture manufacture. In 1865, the first major department store in the country opened in Milan by the Bocconi brothers (which was called Alle Città d’Italia and later in 1921 became La Rinascente). This was regarded as a novelty at the time with regards to retailing in Italy. Though, traditionally, artisans would sell the items they made directly or to small stores, the opening of these new department stores modernized the distributions of clothes in the city.

In terms of the Milanese people, they are said to have probably been “fashion conscious” in the 1880s and late 19th century. The Milanese style was partially inspired by French fashion, which at the time was still dominant in terms of influence, yet adapted according to local tastes; this included a generally somber and simple style, which was moderate in terms of decoration and ornamentation, and put an emphasis on the quality of tailoring and the different fabrics and textiles. The general Milanese interest in styling was reflected in the number of fashion magazines which circulated in the city at the time, as well as the fact that the people were ready to follow trends; nevertheless, the Milanese style was relatively traditional. The city had several tailors and seamstresses which in 1881 amounted to 249 and in 1886 to 383 (which were listed in guides). In this period, the city was one of the biggest industrial powerhouses in Italy, and had a diversified fashion and clothing economy which was mainly based on small workshops rather than large companies (highlighted in an 1881 census). The importance of this industry continued in the city into the early 20th century, where 42,711 out of 175,871 workers were in the clothing sector in 1911. By the early-20th century, Milan became a major centre of silk and textile productions. Nevertheless, in the 1950s and 1960s, Florence was the fashion capital of Italy and home of the Italian “Alta Moda”, equivalent to the French “haute couture”.

However, in the 1970s, Milan’s fashion image became more glamorous, and as Florentine designs were usually very formal and expensive, the city became a more popular shopping destination, with numerous boutiques which sold both elegant and everyday clothes. Milanese designs were known for their practicality and simple elegance, and became more popular and affordable than Florentine and Parisian designs. The city became one of the main capitals for ready-to-wear female and male fashion in the 1970s. Milan started to become an internationally successful and famous fashion capital towards the late-1980s and early 1990s. After a brief fall of popularity in the 2000s (when, according to the Global Language Monitor Milan ranked slightly lower than its relatives, such as New York City, New York City, Paris, London and Rome), the city had been crowned 2009’s fashion capital of the world. The city left the top four in 2010 going to sixth place, yet came back up to fourth in 2011.

Milan has been home to numerous fashion designers, including Giorgio Armani, Valentino Garavani, Gianni Versace, Gianfranco Ferre Domenico Dolce, Stefano Gabbana, Miuccia Prada, Mariuccia Mandelli alias Krizia, Franco Moschino, Ginimo Etro, Mila Schon, Nicola Trussardi, Ottavio Missoni, Donatella Versace as well as Fausto Puglisi, Stella Jean and Marco De Vincenzo just to name a few among the youngest.

Most of the major Italian fashion houses and labels are based in Milan, even though many of them were founded in other cities. They include Armani, Bottega Veneta, Canali, Costi me National, Dolce & Gabbana, Dsquared2, Etro, Iceberg, Les Copains, Marni, Missoni, Miu Miu, Moncler, Frankie Morello, Moschino, MSGM, N°21, Prada, Fausto Puglisi, Tod’s, Tussardi, Valentino, Versace, Zagliani, Ermenegildo Zegna and the eyewear company Luxottica.

The many fashion agencies and institutes in Milan include Beatrice International Models Agency, Why Not Model Agency, Instituto Marangoni and Style Design College.

Milan, like most other major fashion capitals, has two fashion weeks, one in Spring and another in Autumn. The Menswear shows occur in between autumn (fall)/winter and spring/summer in the city. The penultimate fashion week is also held in Milan. The show was first established in 1979.

The city’s most important shopping streets and districts include Piazza del Duomo (with the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II) the Quadrilatero della Moda (including Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga, Corso Venezia and Via Manzoni). The latter is one of the leading shopping districts in the world; Via Monte Napoleone has been ranked as the sixth most expensive shopping street in the world, with a $770 rent per year per square foot. Streets in this district contain exclusive fashion and couture boutiques.

Nevertheless, there are other important shopping streets and locations in the city, including the Via Dante, Corso Buenos Aires, Piazza San Babila and the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. Corso Buenos Aires is one of the biggest shopping streets in Europe. The Brea district, the city’s bohemian quarter, is also a fashionable area with several boutiques. Furthermore, the Porta Ticinese quarter, which turns into Corso San Gottardo just past the porta contain more independent and also more local fashion stores.

Milan Fashion Week is owned by Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (The National Chamber for Italian Fashion), a non-profit association which disciplines, co-ordinates and promotes the development of Italian fashion and is responsible for hosting the fashion events and shows of Milan. The Camera Sindacale della Moda Italiana was set up on June 11, 1958. This was the forerunner of the body which subsequently became the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana.

Proprietors of the most important establishments in Italy, including some private establishments, which, in those days, played a crucial role in the promotion of this sector, were present at the Memorandum of Association: Roberto Capucci, Emilio Schuberth, Maria Antonelli, Princess Caracciolo Ginnetti, Alberto Fagiani, Giovanni Cesare Guidi, Germana Marucelli, Simonetta Colonna Di Cesarò, Jole Veneziani, Francesco Borrello, Giovanni Battista Giorgini, and the lawyer Pietro Parisio.

The events dedicated to women’s fashion are the most important (Womenswear / Milan SS Women Ready to Wear, and Milano Moda Donna being the major fashion shows). The summer events dedicated to men include Menswear and Milano Moda Uomo.

Milan fashion week including more than 40 shows each season transforms the city into a touristic hob by simply creating various venues for the shows selecting the most elegant and influential palaces to become the stage for design. Example of locations are Palazzo Reale, palazzo serbelloni and many others.

In 2014 Greenpeace protested to demand “toxic-free fashion” by hanging signs in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.  Chiara Campione of Greenpeace Italy said the demonstration was set up to “…ask Italian brands, especially Versace, because it has the highest level of hazardous chemicals in its products, to publicly commit to eliminate harmful substances from the various stages of production. Milan’s fashion week is just beginning, and probably there will be other protests in these days and also maybe during Paris’ fashion week, because also French brands are involved.

Kathy Kiefer


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