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Italian fashion is defined by high-quality textiles and top-notch tailoring. Milan is home to some of the most famous luxury fashion brands in the world: the city prides itself on having a centuries-old sartorial heritage, and the locals definitely know their way around couture. Check out our guide to the best of Milanese fashion, from King George – aka Giorgio Armani – to young talents such as Marco Rambaldi and the Attico.
Giorgio Armani was actually born in Piacenza, but (as he declared in the 1990 documentary Made in Milan) Milan is the city where he truly felt himself. He moved to Milan at a young age, doing all sorts of fashion-related jobs before launching his eponymous brand in 1975. The label rose to prominence with its line of deconstructed suits that challenged traditional tailoring: the Armani jacket became both a staple for style-conscious men and the go-to garment for the new generation of working women seeking a more powerful image after the feminist revolution of the 1960s. Armani is much loved and respected by the Milanese, who fondly call him King George. Every fashion week, as well as showcasing his own collections, he offers his venue – the prestigious Armani Teatro – free of charge to a young designer of his choice.
The Attico (Italian for penthouse) is the brainchild of street-style icons Gilda Ambrosio and Giorgia Tordini, born out of a shared love for glamour and sparkle. In 2016, the two it-girls were both studying fashion (one at IED Istituto Europeo di Design and one at Istituto Marangoni) when they decided to launch their own brand. The label soon became a favourite of both seasoned fashion editors and cool party girls, stocked on Net-a-Porter and in international concept stores. By using luxurious, richly patterned silks and elaborate embroidery, the brand infuses opulence into the urban wardrobe. Signature items include ultra-feminine mini-dresses, sparkling ’80s-inspired blazers, tank tops and sensual silky loungewear.
Sicilian Domenico Dolce and Milanese Stefano Gabbana debuted as a designer-duo (and as a couple) at Milan Fashion Week in 1985 with a striking ‘Sicilian widow’ collection. Over the years, they’ve displayed collections that channel different narratives and characters of the Mediterranean: slick pinstripe suits, bombastic Baroque evening wear, gauche Neapolitan streetwear or romantic fairytale gowns. Today no longer a couple, they still mesmerise the crowd as business partners. Brocade, floral embroideries, lace, animalier prints and all things decadent are among the brand’s signature elements. Their ad campaigns are usually crowded shots of Sicilian lifestyle scenes, often featuring the brand’s all-time muse Monica Bellucci. Despite being one of Italy’s most well-known brands, Dolce & Gabbana isn’t registered to the Italian Chamber of Fashion and carries out its promotional activities as an independent. For this reason, their show doesn’t appear on official Fashion Week calendars.
Marta Ferri crafts bespoke and made-to-measure clothing and is known as one of Milan’s most sought-after wedding dress ateliers among the city’s upper crust. By marriage, the designer is a member of the House of Borromeo, an old Italian noble family. Before settling down in Milan, she lived in New York and in Argentina, modelling for jewellery campaigns and working for Prada. Inspired by vintage fabrics and tapestries, her 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 silhouettes. Ferri’s studio is located in the city centre and is by appointment only. Besides her namesake brand, Ferri is also a textile consultant for the Italian furniture brand Molteni.
As Vogue UK contributor Scarlett Conlon remarked on the enduring appeal of Missoni fashion: “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, after being launched in the 1950s, Missoni is still a family-run business, and the Missonis are listed among the city’s most notable tribes. Their signature zigzag, intricate silk and woollen knits have transcended time and remain forever desirable. Recently, the brand has appointed supermodel Gigi Hadid as brand ambassador.
Moschino was launched in 1983, embodying the ’80s love for all things eccentric and over the top. Franco Moschino was an artist and an intellectual; before his untimely death in 1994, he led his brand with a punk attitude and satirical wit. His eccentric designs often satirised the fashion establishment and its victims: garbage-bag dresses, ‘waist of money’ belts stitched onto Chanel-like suits, hats shaped like light-bulbs, beautifully cut jackets with a giant pair of eyes on the back, and a very heavy use of prints and logos were all part of Moschino’s radical vision and pop aesthetic. The brand’s creative director is now Jeremy Scott, who has perpetuated Franco Moschino’s spirit, gaining the reputation of “most irreverent designer” and “fashion’s last rebel”. From Barbie dolls to The Wizard of Oz, his collections are still inspired by pop elements, often carrying bold political statements.
Prada started off in 1913 as a luxury leather atelier, but it wasn’t until Miuccia Prada, granddaughter of the founder, took over the company in 1978, that it achieved the global reputation it has now. Miuccia ignored the glittery zeitgeist of the ’80s by designing bold and elegant statement pieces. She then moved on to using utilitarian fabrics for ready-to-wear and, together with her husband Patrizio Bertelli, she produced upscale totes and backpacks out of a tough military spec black nylon that her grandfather had used as coverings for steamer trunks, radically changing the world’s idea of luxury. Thirty years later, Miuccia is still dictating trends. Her pioneering approach includes being the first major label to commission leading architects such as Rem Koolhaas and Herzog & de Meuron to design the brand’s flagship stores. The opening of Milan’s leading contemporary art space, Fondazione Prada, also designed by Koolhaas, stands as a testament to Prada’s undying cool.
Born in Bologna in 1990, Marco Rambaldi is one of Milan’s (few) fresh, young design talents. After presenting his first womenswear collection during Milan Fashion Week in 2014, he was awarded the Next Generation prize and since then has earned several prestigious accolades for emerging designers, including the Vogue Talents award. 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. His collections range from simple everyday garments with a pop vibe to more intricate evening wear with a sartorial cut.
Versace was founded in Milan in 1978 by Gianni Versace, who grew up in the south of Italy, learning his trade from his seamstress mother. 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. In 1997, Versace was shot and killed outside his Miami Beach mansion. In his New York Times obituary, Anna Wintour paid tribute to his strategic courtship with the media by 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”. Following Gianni’s death, his sister Donatella took the helm as artistic director and has been leading and expanding the brand ever since.
Founded in Milan in 1994 by Consuelo Castiglioni, Marni soon became internationally renowned for its innovative prints and colours and experimental collections. When Castiglioni stepped down in 2016, Marni appointed Francesco Risso as creative director, opening a new chapter for the brand. Risso managed to keep Castiglioni’s fans happy by upholding the label’s reputation of mixing eccentricity with intellectualism, while at the same bringing in his own ideas. Risso draws inspiration from the art world, from social matters and from the people around him. His creations are exceptionally narrative, with every piece telling a story and infused with a visionary aesthetic. His attention to sustainability has been applauded by critics worldwide. Instagram is a good place to get acquainted with Risso’s world: using the – slightly pulp – name @asliceofbambi, the designer charms his followers with his daily inspo and subversive muses.
Lucio Vanotti was born in 1975, and he studied fashion design at Milan’s prestigious fashion school Istituto Marangoni. After becoming one of the finalists at Who Is On Next? during the international menswear event Pitti Immagine Uomo (June 2012, Florence), he decided to launch his own eponymous brand, designing and producing both male and female collections. His way of conceiving fashion is rational and essential. The design process is clear, fast and efficient, as if ruled by a mathematical formula, and aims to achieve a perfect simplicity. Lucio Vanotti fuses beauty and utility, dry forms and delicate shapes. Garments are stripped clean of all fuss, leaving only the essential. His conceptual approach is shared by several other contemporary Italian and international designers, who react with minimalism to an overwhelming society.
Gabriele Colangelo won the Who Is On Next? competition – organised by Vogue Italia – in 2008. He then launched his brand in Milan, which reinvented the concept of timeless elegance and luxury. Young Italian designers often make a point of using only the best materials for their creations, and they frequently adopt old-school weaving, knitting and draping techniques: this is mostly a reaction to fast-fashion and its poor quality products. Colangelo personally researches the highest quality fabrics and textiles that contribute to his collections. His work is inspired by contemporary art and architecture, and his clothes are the go-to items of the intellectual, educated, art-savvy (moneyed) woman. In 2014, Colangelo was the only Italian designer that was named finalist at the prestigious LVMH prize, and in February 2015, luxury brand Giada tapped him as its new creative director.
Albino Teodoro is another winner of Who Is On Next (2005) and another proud member of the conceptual/minimal fashion movement. He collaborated with basically all the important brands in the industry both before and after having launched his own label – Emmanuel Ungaro, Guy Laroche, Emilio Pucci, Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Karl Lagerfeld, Les Copains, Trussardi and Vionnet. These prestigious collaborations contributed to his multifaceted background and helped him shape his own style, as well as making him a well-known and appreciated name in the fashion world – which certainly helped to speed up the process of his own brand’s launch. If he hadn’t chosen a career in fashion, Albino Teodoro would have become an architect; this explains his love for sculpted, neat shapes with a couture-ish flair. His style is sober and polished, so polished that it becomes almost ironic, mocking the contemporary obsession for excesses and over-exposed skin.
Born and raised in Vienna, Arthur Arbesser was deeply immersed in the city’s history and culture during his upbringing. In particular, he showed interest in the artistic and architectural works of the Vienna Secession, whose graphic elements can be recognised in Arbesser’s collections today. After graduating from London’s Central Saint Martins College, he moved to Milan to work for a leading fashion house for several years. Subsequent to launching his label in 2014 and being a finalist for the 2015 LVMH prize, he quickly became recognised for his modern aesthetics, refined style and personal design language. The press often describes him as one of the most cultural and cutting-edge designers of his generation, and his show is one of the most anticipated of the Milanese kermesse. Arbesser is an eclectic personality: aside from his namesake label, he is the creative director of the Italian brand Fay, he works on numerous collaborations from furniture to product design, and he designs costumes for ballet and opera.
This article is an updated version of a story created by Raphaele Varley.