After working as a designer in the menswear department of Nino Cerutti, the eponymous Giorgio Armani founded his own company with Sergio Galeotti. The label rose to prominence in the 1980s with its line of deconstructed or ‘softer’ suits that challenged traditional Italian tailoring, and Armani became known as the ‘King of the Blazer’. Today the brand is an umbrella company, making it one of the strongest fashion and luxury brands in the world. The signature Giorgio Armani line remains true to the label’s origins – exquisite quality and understated design; the Armani suit will forever epitomise the elegance and style of the contemporary Italian gentleman. Of course, the label quickly expanded into womenswear, and Armani suits for women are equally iconic. One of Armani’s first red carpet moments was in 1990 when Julia Roberts and Kiefer Sutherland wore matching Armani suits to the Golden Globes.
Attico is Milan’s cult cool-girl clothing line, a favourite with Vogue editors and stocked with the likes of Net-a-Porter, Saks and Browns. It was founded in 2016 by Naples-born street-style icon, Gilda Ambrosio and designer Giorgia Tordini. They use luxurious, richly-patterned silks and elaborate embroidery, bringing opulence back to the urban wardrobe. At Attico, decadence and edge combine in their signature peignoirs (a light dressing gown).
More than any other label, Dolce & Gabbana design tells a story. The designer duo debuted at Milan Fashion week in 1985 with a striking ‘Sicilian widow’ collection, and over the years we have seen collections that channel different narratives and characters of the Mediterranean: slick pinstripe mobster suits, bombastic Baroque evening wear, gauche Neapolitan streetwear or romantic fairytale gowns. The brand’s distinct, almost pastiche, magazine advertisements clearly reflect their filmic approach to each collection. It all began in Legnano, a periphery suburb of north-west Milan, when Sicilian Domenico Dolce and Milanese Stefano Gabbana left the Milan atelier they were working at as assistants to found their own business. The creative partnership launched with them as a couple, but in 2005 the romantic relationship ended and the business continued under friendship. The 1990s saw the dynamic pair ascend to global fame, developing a reputation for overtly feminine, romantic, sultry and extravagant design, which was in stark contrast to the wave of minimalism that dominated the fashion scene at the time and also appealed to the hedonistic, financial boom of the decade. Early brand trademarks include animal prints and reinterpreting lingerie / intimate items as outerwear. Like its major competitors of the period, Dolce & Gabbana expanded to become an empire with sub-labels and multiple initiatives under the eponymous name. The brand stays true to its roots, continuing to mine the founders’ Italian heritage for inspiration.
Marta Ferri tailors bespoke and made-to-measure clothing and is known as one of the Milan’s most sought-after wedding dress ateliers among the city’s upper crust. Inspired by vintage fabrics and tapestries, the 31-year-old’s designs are feminine and classic. She might not be pushing boundaries, yet her dresses and skirts are instantly recognisable for their eye-catching patterns and elegant cuts. Ferri’s studio is on Piazza Borromeo and is by appointment only, although recently she began collaborating with online retailer Yoox.
Missoni first made waves in the 1950s and 1960s with its signature zigzag, intricate silk and woollen knits, which have transcended time and remain forever desirable. It was founded in Gallarate near Varese in 1953, but the Missoni family are Milan stalwarts and the city is its spiritual home. As Scarlett Conlon remarked on the enduring appeal of Missoni fashion in Vogue: “Perhaps it’s the warmth that emanates so clearly from the family behind the brand that makes everyone want to possess a part of their collective history, or perhaps it’s the fact that their creations have the elusive duality of tapping into that wonderful holiday sensibility of Italian island life by summer and chic city living come the cold.” Indeed, there is nothing more Milanese than that. The brand remains a family-run business with daughter Angela at the helm as Creative Director since 1997 and granddaughter Margherita designing accessories.
A champion of bold patterns and fabrics, Massimo Piombo is known for striking, contemporary adaptations of old-school tailoring and historical garments. In the Autumn/Winter 2018 collection, Piombo combined heritage Scottish fabrics with shaggy mohairs, dressed with giant Moroccan blankets with pompoms functioning as wraps/scarves. His flagship, bizzare-esque boutique is in Milan’s Brera neighbourhood. The interior is a deep azure blue, and is furnished with tropical plants and collectables. Enter and get lost in the madness.
It seems that talent bred talent in the Milanese fashion world of the 1980s, because in 1983 Franco Moschino left a job at Versace and became known for his own captivating design. Before his untimely death in 1994, Franco built Moschino as a brand with punk attitude and satirical wit, his eccentric design often satirising the fashion establishment and its victims. For example, the garbage-bag dresses of Spring/Summer 1994, or the ‘waist of money’ belts he stitched onto Chanel suits. But Moschino’s designs were also radical in purely visual terms too, favouring brash colours, bold text and a cheap or cartoon-like aesthetic: a beautifully-cut jacket finished with a giant pair of eyes on the back, a model on the runway sporting an aeroplane or giant light bulb as a hat. Question marks, cow-print and Stetsons all became signature motifs. The creative directors that have continued the Moschino business have upheld the stylistic philosophy and sense of playfulness that originally brought Franco recognition. The brand now includes several labels at different levels of exclusivity and price point. And FYI, it’s likely that you’ve been saying Moschino wrong all of these years – it’s pronounced ‘Mos-kee-no’.
Established in 1913, Prada is another historic Milanese label that now dominates global fashion. It started as Fratelli Prada, a luxury leather atelier in a store in the prestigious Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II. Right from the beginning it had the most estimable of clients – in 1919 Prada became an official supplier to the Royal Italian household. But it wasn’t until Muiccia Prada, the granddaughter of its founder, Mario Prada, took over the company in 1978 that it achieved the global reputation it has now. In the 1980s, when glitter and vamp were the zeitgeist, Prada developed its reputation for cool, refined elegance. Miuccia’s pioneering approach included being the first major label to commission leading architects of the time to design its stores. She selected Pritzker Prize laureates Rem Koolhaas and Herzog & de Meuron to create Prada’s flagship locations in New York, Tokyo and Los Angeles. The opening of contemporary art space, Fondazione Prada in Milan, also designed by Koolhaas, stands in attestation to the fact that Prada is still cool and esoteric.
Born in Bologna in 1990, Marco Rambaldi represents the fresh, young design talent of Milan. After presenting his first womenswear collection during Milan Fashion Week in 2014, he was awarded the Next Generation prize (from the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana) and since then has been bestowed several prestigious accolades for emerging designers, including Vogue’s Talents (2014) and Lineapiù Talents (2018). Following his second collection, Rambaldi then spent two years designing for the Dolce & Gabbana womenswear team, which he says helped develop his commercial mindset. He is now officially established as a label, and defines his creative vision as a “clash of two worlds: the 70s Italian bourgeoisie with its everyday repetitive, reactionary codes and a radically young, emotional, transversal, new aesthetic.” This approach often includes re-appropriation of dated crafts, such as crochet or patchwork, in a quirky, modern way.
Versace is another Italian luxury fashion empire that rose to prominence in the late 20th-century economic boom. It was founded in Milan in 1978 by Gianni Versace, who grew up in Reggio di Calabria in the south of Italy, learning his trade from his mother who ran a dressmaking business. Versace became known for outlandish glamour, typically using innovative materials to produce sexy, feminine dresses. His sculpted siren dresses became his signature silhouette and the brand’s logo, the head of bewitching Medusa, is a recurring motif. It was always a family business, with his sister Donatella and brother Santo working alongside Versace from the beginning. Then, following his unforeseen death in 1997, Donatella took the helm as Artistic Director. Donatella diversified and expanded the business for a 21st-century global audience, yet Versace had long been a trailblazing label – in his New York Times obituary, Anna Wintour paid tribute Versace’s strategic courtship with the media, saying “He was the first to realise the value of the celebrity in the front row, and the value of the supermodel, and put fashion on an international media platform.”