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Milan Fashion Week Makes a Case for Designer Denim

Whereas New York and London shows scaled back on using denim to make bold fashion statements, designers at Milan Fashion Week played up the fabric’s storied past with nostalgic silhouettes and washes.

The feeling of the ’70s permeated the fashion week. Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele continued to explore the ’70s in a collection that mixed Yves Saint Laurent-inspired safari suiting and flared trousers with nostalgic colorways and disco shirts. The look came together in denim through a patchwork safari jacket, two-tone jeans and bell-bottom jeans with Gucci branding marking the hem.

For denim, Alberta Ferretti interpreted the decade with color-blocked denim that mimicked the folksy shapes and patterns found in yarn art paintings. The retro shapes were echoed throughout the collection’s range of suede patchwork jackets, skirts and pants. The designer also applied dye effects to denim overalls, jeans and button-down shorts. Bands of indigo—strategically placed at the waist, across the shoulders and in Chevron patterns on pant legs—accentuated the orange, tan and red denim garments. The effect was also carried into a hobo handbag.

Tie-dye and laser prints were a winning combination for Laura Biagiotti’s ’80s leisure collection, which featured the treatments across its logo-branded denim pieces. Garments included ’80s-style high-waisted relaxed fit jeans (cinched with a logo belt buckle), a utility-inspired jean jacket and high-waisted jeans with an exaggerated front yoke. The line also included a washed bubblegum pink denim jacket, vest and jeans alongside ombre rainbow knits and off-the-shoulder taffeta frocks.

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There were nautical moments, too. United Colors of Benetton debuted a collaboration with Popeye the Sailor Man to celebrate the nostalgic cartoon’s 90th anniversary in 2020. Styles included men’s jeans with sailor rope drawstrings and slouchy jeans with laser-printed anchor motifs. The collection will tie into Benetton’s efforts supporting work to protect the oceans.

Elisabetta Franchi got into the sailor mood in her glammed-up, yacht club-inspired collection that seemingly walked right out of the ’80s. Along with Breton stripes, tweed sets and anchor earrings, the designer presented denim sailor pants and paired a denim snap-front shirt trimmed with red and navy piping with a silk sailor striped skirt.

The decadent lifestyles of Monaco’s Princess Caroline and Stephanie in the ’80s led Philosophy designer Lorenzo Serafini down a path of luxury denim. The collection was a true “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” moment, complete with woven denim tweed jackets, bustiers and mini dresses with ruffled sleeves. Gold sequin appliques decorated a long jean jacket cinched with a gold belt and a denim peplum top worn with a classic white tee and slouchy cowboy boots.

The collection was punctuated with accessories like braided denim belts, denim rosettes, strappy denim sandals and denim bucket bags with ’80s-era gold chain straps.

Laser printing was also prominent in Tiziano Guardini’s collection of suiting made with Isko’s organic cotton denim. The fluid garments were decorated with sketch-like laser prints of a mythical cityscape.

More styling from the ’80s and ’90s dotted the runway, mainly in the form of acid wash effects. Angel Chen combined bleached denim with splashes of neon paint and comical proportions. Acid wash mom jeans and an oversized button-down short-sleeve shirt helped neutralize the bold mix-and-match prints in Peter Pilotto’s vacation-ready collection.

Versace continued to revisit its iconic looks from decades prior, relaunching the infamous Spring/Summer 2000 jungle print in a collection of dresses, skirts, suiting and even a translucent rain coat. The fashion house stayed close to the era for its denim, too. Bleached jeans with front seaming details and a boxy jean jacket with strong shoulders and bold hardware were among the label’s most wearable looks for the season.

Meanwhile, GCDS introduced some of the boldest denim moments in Milan, including low-rise bleached flare jeans with frayed fringe that combined all the decades. Double-layer cropped jeans, pleated denim Tourister shorts and camouflage patchwork jeans—part of a collaboration with Jurassic Park nonetheless—topped off the eccentric collection.