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Image courtesy of Susie Bubble

Opinion: Is this the end of eccentricity in Milan?

A year after the passing of Anna Piaggi, Susie Bubble mourns the loss of eccentricity at MFW

Cover illustration by Stephen Jones, taken from Dazed & Confused October Issue

"It is a moment, an expression. My philosophy of fashion is humour, jokes and games. I make my own rules,” said one of the last grand doyennes of fashion, Anna Piaggi in 1978, in an interview with WWD. 

As Milan Fashion Week, drew to a close, you wondered where the humour, jokes and games were. Fashion here is a serious business - big textiles mills, big companies, big advertisers. All of that bigness doesn’t leave much room for the sort of whimsicality and eccentricity that Piaggi demonstrated in her life as a fashion editor, muse and extraordinary style icon. 

One year after the passing of Piaggi, an exhibition entitled Hat-ology, feting Piaggi’s love of hats and curated by milliner Stephen Jones, opened last week at the Palazzo Morando Costume Moda Immagine. We see a recreation of her office in Milan, where she created and edited more than twenty years worth of Doppie Pagine double page spreads for Vogue Italia, typed up on a red Olivetti Valentine typewriter. Hats from all origins - Phillip Treacy, tourist caps, Chanel, Prada, vintage Schiaparelli and Jones himself - are dotted around the space, a seemingly eclectic and crazed jumble that actually speaks of consummate fashion curation and knowledge. Of her hats, Piaggi said in 2011, “My hat is personal.  It is what contains the soul, the feeling, the sensation that moves this little world around.”

Piaggi danced to the drum of her own beat in Milan, with her blue hair, and penchant for Comme mixed with vintage Poiret

Seeing Piaggi’s hats on display in the midst of a slew of Milanese shows, that were precisely the opposite of anything crazed or eclectic, was bittersweet. Piaggi danced to the beat of her own drum in Milan, with her blue hair, and penchant for Comme mixed with vintage Poiret. She stood quite alone. What she represented and believed in wasn’t necessarily being reflected in Italian fashion, with a few notable exceptions (thank you Miuccia Prada). The weird and wonderful is not the done thing in Milan. We’re here to see perfectly well-made clothes, expressing conventional notions of glamour, sexiness and femininity in big razz-ma-tazz venues.         

The cracks are starting to appear though. Piaggi’s peers in fashion have begun to recognise the failings and weaknesses of Milan Fashion Week, and with grumblings about its lagging state behind the commercial hub bub of New York, the grassroots creativity of London and the queen bee status of Paris, changes are supposedly a-coming.  Board members of the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana such as Patrizio Bertelli of Prada Group and Diego Della Valle of Tod’s Group are eager to usher in change and so we’ve had a week where young designers have been given a bigger spotlight in amongst the power brands. 

Freedom of expression on the level of Piaggi though is still sorely lacking

Marco de Vincenzo, Stella Jean and Fausto Puglisi have been touted as a “new wave” of young Italian designers. It’s hardly a wave, but it’s a start. Freedom of expression on the level of Piaggi though is still sorely lacking. 

Some might say Piaggi was a persona rooted to a particular time in fashion, when flamboyance and whimsicality were de rigueur. That’s the conundrum of fashion at present - what is left if our time in fashion is defined by profit margins, marketability and pure product?