The international spotlight on Milan continues to expand with each fashion week season. Like the other big four fashion weeks (New York, London, and Paris), Milan Fashion Week scouts the globe for emerging international talent. Dolce & Masala readers are aware of my obsession with emerging market fashion – from Alger Fashion Week to Luxembourg Fashion Days. So it was a special treat to be able to interview White Milano CEO Brenda Bellei during Milan Women’s Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2017-18 and learn about her company’s initiatives to provide a global platform and much-needed market exposure to upcoming designers.
White Milano Scouts the Globe for Emerging Talent
In addition to promoting the “Made in Italy” concept, Milan Fashion Week organizers recognize the need to attract diverse talent to maintain their competitive edge. Attracting emerging global designers allows the organizers to put cutting-edge fashion on display that speaks to an increasingly global buyer’s market. According to the Milan Chamber of Commerce, the main export markets for fashion exports from the region (valued at over $4 billion/year) are France, Hong Kong, and the United States but emerging markets in Asia are growing rapidly.
One company behind this trend in Italy is White Milano, which runs four international trade shows during Milan’s main fashion week events for both the women’s and men’s collections. CEO Bellei credited White Milano’s partnership with the Municipality of Milan and Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana for allowing the tradeshow to expand its global presence with each passing year. The partners provide support for venues and models, which allows White Milano to focus on scouting the best talent and building its global brand. Milan has no shortage of world-class exhibition spaces – from Renaissance palaces to the Leonardo da Vinci Science and Technology Museum, which served as a fitting venue for White Milano’s catwalk show.
The White Milano team has expanded the tradeshow’s footprint each year by increasing its exhibition space and media outreach to buyers from emerging markets. Designer scouting targets hot new markets that are known for showcasing diverse talent – from Dubai to Copenhagen (one of the top global fashion weeks in terms of sales). For this latest edition, the White Milano tradeshow attracted 511 brands (145 international and 189 new brands). More than 215,000 square feet of exhibition space in Milan’s trendy Tortona fashion district were dedicated to the trade show, which included special sections for new labels from China, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Belgium, and Portugal.
Irakli Rusadze – the Georgian designer behind the Situationist brand – was selected for White Milano’s catwalk show. The brand had already made a splash at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Tbilisi and went viral after its designs had captured the attention of model Bela Hadid. Rusadze’s designs are inspired by the European Situationist movement of the 1950s. The Georgian presented a collection that featured a mix of masculine designs and plunging necklines in colorful leather and fur-like wool fabrics. The aesthetics of the venue’s technology-focused exhibitions were fitting for Rusadze’s contemporary collection, which played up the strong Unisex trend seen throughout the week in Milan.
The South Asian in me could not help but be attracted to the custom-embroidered shoes (including some with gold zari work) on display at the Meher Kakalia booth. The story behind the Pakistani designer’s rise is inspirational to fashion lovers with 9 to 5 day jobs. Kakalia left a corporate finance job to pursue her career in design and decided to create shoes based on traditional Pakistani craftsmanship. Her designs utilize sustainable and recycled material and the brand has a strong women’s empowerment component.
A special section of the trade show was dedicated to White East, which highlighted cutting-edge collections from labels based in China and Hong Kong. Lantern Sense (whose collection featured luxurious fabrics designed with the aid of digital painting and photography), by Fang (whose collection included origami inspired frocks), and REINEREN (whose collection featured earth tones that played up the season’s trend of unisex silhouettes) were among the talent promoted at the White East pavillion.
Central Asian Spotlight
Other emerging market designers included Kazakstan’s Aika Jaxybai. Jaxybai’s brand Aika Alemi is inspired by contemporary nomads. The designs are hand produced in local ateliers in Astana and are distinguished by Jaxybai’s signature use of patchworks and natural fibers.
So Lucio! Tribute
In addition to providing a platform for upcoming designers, White Milano also paid tribute to Italian designer Lucio Costa with a special exhibit curated by his partner and Creative Director Roberto Pelizzoni. Roberto is spearheading the brand’s revival after Lucio’s premature death – and it’s clear from speaking with him that it is very much a labor of love intended to inspire future generations of designers. A book showcasing Lucio’s work and a new capsule collection presented updated pieces fitting to the current Fall/Winter unisex trends.
* Designer photos courtesy of White Milano PR firm Totem Fashion Paris