As fashion becomes more accessible, is Milan the last bastion of elitism?

Social media is increasingly credited with democratising the landscape of fashion in London and New York. But in Milan’s swankiest shopping street, an end to the industry’s deeply ­ingrained elitism – as ­epitomised by Milan Fashion Week, which ended last week, with its invitation-only events and cosy tribalism – still seems a long way off. […]

Social media is increasingly credited with democratising the landscape of fashion in London and New York. But in Milan’s swankiest shopping street, an end to the industry’s deeply ­ingrained elitism – as ­epitomised by Milan Fashion Week, which ended last week, with its invitation-only events and cosy tribalism – still seems a long way off.

Via Montenapoleone, home to the flagship stores of the cream of Italian design, is where the conceptual currency of the ­catwalks is converted into hard cash.

In its glittering stores, platinum credit cards will keep the cash registers ringing long after the fashionistas have decamped to the next catwalk fest which is in Paris this week.

Window-shopping with a friend, local resident Lila ­Sciacca says few in the city would ­dispute the economic benefits of ­Milan fashion week: €48 million (Dh197.7m) was City Hall’s estimate of the revenues generated by the most recent bash.

An amateur dressmaker, Sciacca is one of millions of fashion fans who stream live webcasts of the catwalk shows to digital devices – but the exclusivity of the shows still rankles.

“At the shows it is always the same cast of people,” she says. “If you are not an insider or in the business, you have to be ­connected – and let’s be frank, how many people can actually ­afford these clothes we are talking about, when every day is a struggle to survive?”

Milan’s new mayor, Giuseppe Sala, also grumbles about the ­industry’s exclusivity.

The organiser of last year’s World Expo, he recently told fashion chiefs that “in terms of participation, there is much more that can be done”.

Italy’s Chamber of Fashion hit back, citing 30 publicly accessible events running in parallel with the latest big-name shows. Among them was Outside In, an open-air exhibition of new ­images by acclaimed British photographer Rankin that lined Via Montenapoleone.

A veteran of the days when membership of the club of fashion obsessives was much smaller than it is now, Rankin says his images of models in boxes displaying different emotions was designed as a celebration rather than a critique. He adds that photo-sharing website ­Instagram has had a hugely disruptive effect on the fashion world.

The vast online followings built by models such as Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Cara ­Delevingne have made them hugely influential industry ­players, giving them the kind of commercial clout that was once the preserve of a handful of ­editors of glossy magazines.

Rankin, co-founder of ­influential 1990s style magazine Dazed & Confused, says the change is exciting, even if he has some reservations about it. “I love photography so much, I can’t not get excited by a whole new generation that maybe would never have had the ­opportunity to learn or even think you can go to college to do photography,” he says.

“At the same time, I studied for six years to become a photographer – so when somebody shows me their Instagram picture I go slightly, ‘whoah’.

“Instagram and social media and being able to buy straight from the catwalk is the antithesis of what it used to be about. It used to be a small world but it has gone from 100,000 people to maybe two to three million that are absolutely obsessed by it.”

The Rankin exhibition was the latest in a series commissioned by Guglielmo Miani, president of the Via Montenapoleone ­Association, an organisation that comprises 140 luxury brands associated with the famous street. Miani says allegations of ­snobbish exclusivity are unfair. “The truth is that this is a ­working week for professionals so it is, in a way, a closed circuit,” he says. “That is why we decided to have an open-to-everyone ­exhibition.”

Growing online sales are also part of the disruptive wave that fashion is currently surfing – but Miani is confident it is one Via Montenapoleone and its ­counterparts in London, Paris and elsewhere can ride out.

“The [brick-and-mortar store] experience is getting more enriching all the time,” he says. “We just saw the new Dolce and Gabbana store opening, Brunello Cucinelli is opening soon. The physical space of the store is still very important.

“Globally e-commerce is about 10 per cent of luxury goods. It is going to grow but at the same time there are markets such as Iran that are going to want to buy clothes and they will want to have stores there.

“Via Montenapoleone will be around for another 100 years, maybe 200 years – and hopefully it will be even more special than today.”

Source: art & life

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