The Glamour of Italian Fashion exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, whilst comprehensive in its overview of Italian fashion from past to present, didn’t really give much away about the future. A video with contribution from the likes of Angela Missoni and Franca Sozzani, opining vaguely about the future of Italian fashion was about as conclusive as it got. The questions swirling around Italian fashion right now of course isn’t about the credentials of those well-established Milanese and Roman houses that the exhibition served as an overview of, but about what else is there. That old chestnut about Italy lacking in young talent has largely been dashed in recent years and in particular, a kawaii thread of designers, who are in their own way refusing those notions of Italian “glamour” (Dolce Vita va va voom, Cinecittà, etc) has emerged. Both labels assert values of Made in Italy, a major part of the Glamour of Italian Fashion exhibition, especially when it talked about Italy as a manufacturing powerhouse in the 70s and 80s. Their choice of leitmotivs however, makes you rethink pre-conceptions of Italian fashion, and whether it’s to your taste or not, at the very least look like they’re stirring up conversation about that questionable future.
These Au Jour Le Jour A/W 14 backstage images have been sitting on my desktop for far too long, distracting me every so often with their Insta-friendly cats, dogs and orthodontic-adorned lips. Designers Mirko Fontana and Diego Marquez started Au Jour Le Jour in 2010, right about the time when those questions about the lack of young Italian talent were beginning to swirl. Latching onto the power of street style (which is how I first came across their brand of quirk), their cute animal prints featuring everything from pandas to penguins started stalking the streets of Milan, delighting those (errr…guilty!) with a Peter Pan childish streak. A/W 14-5 was the first time the label had done a big show, at Giorgio Armani’s Teatro space no less but that doesn’t mean that wilful sensibility had diminished. Cats on big badges dotted all over a pinafore dress over an exaggerated ruffled shirt is hardly subtle. Ditto for photos of chihuahuas and pug dogs printed over satin coats and dresses. The moodboards skewed sixties and those silhouettes were easy as pie to comprehend. It’s the pet haven running riot, which has given Au Jour Le Jour a dare I say, a distinctly un-Italian signature. That’s to Fontana and Marquez’s advantage as Au Jour Le Jour seeks to compete with the many many contemporary labels that have sprung up in the last five years, jostling in the same forum of purse-friendly sweatshirts, caps and canvas slip-ons. Sometimes it feels like Milan could do with a dose of much-needed kook and Au Jour Le Jour, with their penchant for animal memes and deliberately LOL touches, are definitely riding a specific wave of quirk.
On the more traditionally cute/kawaii side of things is Vivetta, another label started at the turn of the 2010′s. Designer Vivetta Ponti may have started out at Roberto Cavalli, but aesthetically her label couldn’t be further away from sexually-charged glamour of that house. With increasing blogger love (those pastel hues and nostalgic elements happen to look great with an Instagram filter and accessorised with a cupcake or two), Vivetta, having thus far eschewed showing as part of Milan Fashion Week, has made its own way, with an impressive list of stockists and a devoted fanbase. The sort of bon chic bon genre aesthetic, which the likes of Guillaume Henry’s Carven has made incredibly successful, has been adopted at Vivetta, albeit with an amped up sense of girliness and with a touch of the surreal (see their signature pinched finger collar). Looking at their A/W 14-5 collection filled with silk moire cut-out dresses, polka dots a-plenty, Princess faux fur, Ladurée colour combos and more of Vivetta’s signature cutwork and embroidery, it’s definitely sweetness mixed with subversion. Without being able to explain exactly what it is, there is something stopping it all from looking too polite and just simply “cute”. Judging by pure surface though, Vivetta plays right into the hands and hearts of Lula fangirls (the Lula of yesteryear, not the sans-Leith Clark era) which is no bad thing when done well as it is here at a reasonable price point. They’re also the type of clothes that go hand in hand with Amaro and Walden filters – an increasingly important requisite of brand building.