The moment that ate Milan Fashion Week occurred at the end of the Versace show. People had been promised a special something, but no one knew what it was. The lights went down, a soundtrack crescendo began to build, and then — Jennifer Lopez! Age 50! In a new version of the jungle print dress she wore to the Grammys in 2000.
You know, the one that was cut down to her navel and up to her crotch, and set off so many digital searches back in the day that, in the myth of the Internet and fashion, it is said Google created image search because of it (a more plausible version of the story is that it was part of the reason; a big part, sure, but still — a part). The dress had been given a bit of an update, to be sure — less fabric on the sides, the sleeves were gone, there were jewels all over the matching bikini bottoms, and iridescent palm fronds bristled like epaulets on the shoulders. But those were details; the effect was the same. Bags were clutched. The whole audience rose as one. Phones came out and were wielded like knives, each one slicing off a section of her walk for the posting. Mea culpa. But if ever there was a finale that crystallized just how much fashion had moved on — or not — since the turn of the millennium, that was it. Back in the day, of course, there was no Instagram or live stream; people mostly viewed shows with their actual eyes as opposed to through the lens of their tiny cameras; designers only did two collections a year (or two we knew of); editors and glossy magazines still served as the conduits of choice for fashion information; diversity was pretty much nonexistent; and even if fashion people had read “Silent Spring” in school, they probably thought it had nothing to do with them, or their jobs. It is tempting to say: How things have changed! Except for Ms. Lopez of course; she looked exactly the same. If anything, more toned and worked out. But then, so did most of Donatella Versace’s clothes: the sharp-shouldered little black coat dresses with big gold hardware; the jersey draped to show slices of side abs; the tie-dyed Medusa tees; the cobalt-and-jade or fire opal-spinel jungle print on pretty much everything from jeans jackets to sequined evening frocks fringed at the hem and dotted with spiky, three-dimensional alien blooms. Which suggest the real takeaway is plus ça change, and all that. The fashion landscapes in New York and London may finally be in the throes of their own upheavals; the altered shapes of social and political life, a new balance of power, reflected in an evolution on the catwalk. But in Milan, the status quo — the one from 20 years ago — still rules. That’s as stultifying and frustrating as it sounds, even if it’s justified as “heritage” or “DNA.” Think about it this way: the day of the global climate strike, which also happened to be the day of the Versace show, when hundreds of thousands took to the roads of New York and Berlin and Sydney, in Milan it was just traffic as usual. “Is there going to be a protest here?” visitors asked. Locals raised their eyebrows and shrugged. Later, there was some anticipation around the fact Giorgio Armani called his show “Earth” — but it turned out to be because it was inspired by the muddy colors of the land (dank browns, midnight blues), gradually lightening to morning mists. Trousers were pleated at the hip and narrow at the calf or palazzo loose. Jackets were long or short, curving or boxy. Skirts were long and billowing, often sheer. There were some sporty references, a banana palm print and a fair amount of pastel sparkle. In the end, two models came out in glistening evening columns, torsos encased in stiff ruffled organza shells; each woman had one arm supporting her opposite elbow, which was cocked up and out to the side as if holding a cigarette en pose. Except, this being 2019, the hand was empty. That’s a metaphor, if anyone cared to contemplate it. Meanwhile, at the Missoni show, dedicated to summer and held around a giant public swimming pool, Angela Missoni gave every guest a mini Olafur Eliasson solar lamp with the message: “Join us in holding hands with the sun, we are at a crucial point for our planet and need to take action.”