Five Emerging Brands That Stood Out at MFW

While Milan Fashion Week had the usual stalwarts of Italian fashion, there also were plenty of new names breaking onto the scene. Here, WWD highlights five designers worth noting.

HAUS OF HONEY 

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Rick Owens RTW Fall 2021

Focusing on a precise market segment, Miele centered his brand on one idea: developing luxurious cork wedges with special details.

“I love wedges because they are never on trend, they are timeless,” said Miele, who looked at Salvatore Ferragamo’s eccentric creations in the ’40s as examples. “In my childhood I’ve always been strongly fascinated by the women populating my home town in the summers…with their wedges they were intriguing men, showing their feminine appeal.”

Haus of Honey’s lacquered wedges. Courtesy of Haus of Honey

For his eye-catching, glamorous wedges, which are handcrafted in Italy, Miele uses only Tuscan cork, giving the shoes lightness, and durability.

Haus of Honey’s wedged sandals are decorated with elegant, multicolor beaded patterns, thermo-stitched irregular Swarovski crystals, or are fully lacquered in tones spanning from black and powder pink to bright orange. In addition, for fall 2021, the designer combined the wedged soles with new uppers to create distinctive Mary Janes, booties and boots with an extra chunky rubber sole adding an urban attitude.

The collection, which retails from 590 euros to 2,000 euros, offers a wide size range from 4.5 to 12.5. “I took this decision because I want that everyone who has the desire to wear my wedges can just do that,” said Miele. “I didn’t want to associate my shoes to a specific gender, I really believe in the importance of freedom and self-expression.”

The brand, whose collections are now distributed for the wholesale channel by the Massimo Bonini showroom in Milan, will also start selling its summer styles beginning this spring through its online store. — Alessandra Turra

DES PHEMMES

Salvo Rizza Courtesy of Des Phemmes

Salvo Rizza’s ’90s aesthetics earned his brand Des Phemmes a special mention among the emerging names in Milan this season.

Launched 18 months ago, the label presented a collection that referenced Kurt Cobain, but diverted from the usual grunge approach toward a feminine reinterpretation of the style.

Cue tie-dye knits in acid tones embellished with crystals and styled with pencil skirts with deep side slits, as well as oversize cardigans worn over slipdresses crafted from gray wool gabardine and adorned with geometrical crystal motifs.

In a less literal approach, Rizza enhanced the sensual appeal of the lineup, layering body-hugging knit pieces, tucking crisp white shirts into draped tulle pencil skirts and sequined mini options and having ostrich feathers to charmingly pop here and there on garments.

Everything contributed to conveying the strong, feminine vision of the designer. This seems to have been influenced by his professional beginnings at Giambattista Valli in Paris, which he joined after graduating in fashion design from Milan’s Istituto Marangoni in 2011.

Starting as an intern in the design team, he climbed the ranks over the span of five years to oversee ready-to-wear and haute couture collections. Then Rizza returned to Milan to freelance for brands including Agnona, Max Mara and Emilio Pucci.

A look from Des Phemmes fall 2021 collection. Courtesy of Des Phemmes

Under his own label, he gradually drew the industry’s attention. Last year Des Phemmes also took part in the “Who Is on Next?” talent search contest organized by AltaRoma in collaboration with Vogue Italia.

While the pandemic impacted the designer’s development of his brand and his fall 2021 collection, which hinged on hand-made finishes and was completed with the support of suppliers spread across the country. But the digital presentations eventually resulted in the best opportunity for Rizza to gain momentum.

“I must admit that the switch to a digital version of fashion week has given much more visibility to lesser-known brands, giving them creative space,” said the designer. “A real, physical presentation has time and logistics limits that usually don’t help, but that the digitalization of the fashion shows have torn down, thus giving the possibility to better [communicate] the message of each individual creative to each observer.”

Rizza’s goal for the label is to increase its brand awareness globally, banking not only on his designs and wearability but also on the appealing price points, as retail prices range from 200 euros to 1,500 euros.

In the longer term, the designer would like Des Phemmes to become “a channel to support female figures in all areas, from art and sculpture to literature. [The goal is] to transform it into a sort of incubator and use its visibility to bring attention on other female talents that are not necessarily linked to fashion, celebrating the feminine genius overall.” — Sandra Salibian

AC9

Alfredo Cortese, founder and designer of the AC9 brand. Courtesy of AC9.

Former publicist-turned-designer Alfredo Cortese is part of a legion of up-and-coming Italian designers who are resurrecting sensual femininity via clothes that expose the flesh.

After dropping out of PR in 2018 when he was working at No. 21, Cortese established his AC9 fashion brand, leveraging his expertise in communications, which he said was a “mixed blessing” that often pushed him to think first about marketing his brand than about his fashions.

But for fall 2021, Cortese presented his most mature and straightforward collection so far, filled with ladylike pieces, both minimal and languid. Cue see-through chiffon frocks with plunging V-necks, or prom dresses stripped out of their exuberance in wet-look black silk. Knitwear pieces, the back left entirely exposed, were intriguing, while Cortese allowed himself some fun via feather-embellished pink pencil skirts paired with off-the-shoulder fluid shirts.

“Since the inception, I wanted to build the brand on a solid rock basis rather than on sand, meaning I’ve never tried to tap into ‘hype’ that easily draws the attention of the press and social media, but maybe lacks commercial strength,” Cortese said. “My journey has been more contorted but truer to myself,” he added. In his view this commercially savvy approach is more in sync with buyers’ needs for salable clothes rather than experimental fashion.

Offering a full look, the spring collection “marked an evolution both in creativity and operations,” said Cortese, noting he’s introduced footwear and further expanded product categories. Among the things that changed compared to past seasons were the financial means to source more luxurious fabrics, including bespoke ones, which translated into higher quality.

The brand has sealed a partnership with showroom Tomorrow London for the last three seasons and is looking to expand its footprint globally. AC9 was also one of the two brands selected by Alessandro Dell’Acqua and Tomorrow for design and production development, marketing and distribution consultancy services as part of the two companies’ mentorship program for emerging designers.

A look from the AC9 fall 2021 collection. Piotr Niepsuj/Courtesy of AC9.

Retailing between 350 euros and 1,100 euros, the brand is through 17 stores worldwide and, according to Cortese, it is favored by international buyers, although the designer acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic influenced buyers to be more skeptical in embracing young designer brands.

“Despite all of this, we’re compiling a list of target doors and markets,” he said. “With travel bans in place, it’s harder to reach far-flung regions, including Asia, which is a focus for me.” — Martino Carrera

DHRUV KAPOOR 

Dhruv Kapoor Courtesy of Dhruv Kapoor

For the past few seasons, Indian designer Dhruv Kapoor has been guided in the creation of his collections by a very universal, intangible yet highly valuable inspiration: empathy.

The designer, who was born in 1988, is part of a new generation of creatives that cannot ignore what’s happening around them, especially in these unsettling times.

“The Black Lives Matter movement, then the increasing hate against Asians, but also the issues that the religious minorities in my country have to face…we cannot turn the head,” said the designer. “But I think what can cure us is empathy, bringing relief to one another.”

In the fall 2021 collection he presented at Milan Fashion Week, Kapoor stressed the message by embellishing some of the garments with prints or detachable patches featuring words such as “Non regimental” and “Numinous.” Freedom of expression, inclusivity and a multicultural point of view define the designs of Kapoor, who lets himself be inspired by the aesthetic of India, which he mixes with global inspirations.

In particular, the designer, who looks at the bright colors of the clothes worn by women in the desert regions of Rajasthan and Jaipur, is also deeply influenced by the modern minimalism of Milan, a city where he lived for a while. After graduating from the National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi and a brief working experience as digital editor at Vogue India, Kapoor in 2011 moved to Milan to attend the Istituto Marangoni fashion school. In 2013, he joined the women’s wear design team of Etro, but in 2014 moved back to India, and in Mumbai he presented his first capsule collection.

One of the most promising designers on the Indian fashion scene, where he received many awards, Kapoor made his debut in Milan with the women’s spring 2021 collection.

Ara Lumiere & Dhurv Kapoor RTW Fal 2021 Courtesy of Ara Lumiere & Dhurv Kapoor

“I’m still very connected to the city and Camera Nazionale della Moda is really taking care of us, so I think that Milan is our place to showcase the collections,” said the designer. “As soon as there is the opportunity to return to physical showcases, I’ll jump on that. I think we all miss the energy of the physical events and I miss meeting with people, discussing ideas and sharing points of view.”

Dhruv Kapoor collections are entirely made in India, leveraging the country’s heritage in textile and garment making. “I want to celebrate our tradition, especially the hand looming and embroideries,” said the designer, who added that he would like to establish production in Italy, especially for accessories. “Because of the export duties imposed by India, we are also setting up a logistics center in Italy to handle international shipments.”

Retailing from 350 euros to 850 euros, the brand’s collections are mainly conceived as wardrobes with cool, eye-catching items, mainly injected with a genderless spirit, to be mixed and matched. “It’s really fun when the collection is done and I can start putting together the pieces to create the looks,” said the designer, who continues to collaborate with his friend and designer Kulsum Shadab Wahab, founder of Ara Lumiere, a brand of creative, high-end headpieces handcrafted by Indian women who have been victims of acid attacks. “We kicked off the collaboration only styling some pieces for my collection, but then we started creating pieces with fabrics and embellishments that I use. I’m so inspired by the energy that Kulsum puts in the project and we will continue working together to help the women she greatly supports.”

The brand is becoming popular in India, but it’s also quickly expanding its presence in the United States, where it is distributed by Anthropologie, and in Japan, where it’s available at prestigious stores, including Isetan. “The next step is boosting the business in Europe,” said the designer. — A.T.

VÌEN

Vincenzo Palazzo Courtesy of Vìen

Italian emerging label Vìen is not new to the Milan scene, but this season it presented a more mature and convincing effort with a collection that blended tailoring with sportswear. The launch of men’s wear played a big role in this step up, as it helped designer Vincenzo Palazzo to show his aesthetics across a cohesive, well-rounded offering.

“Men’s wear has been part of Vìen since the beginning, especially in the construction of women’s outerwear and pants, but we never launched a proper, dedicated line,” said Palazzo. “It was a couple of seasons that I was thinking about it and given the situation this year and that I was at home all day, I thought it was a good moment. I needed to keep my mind busy,” he added with a smile during a Zoom call.

For fall 2021, Palazzo crafted men’s wear classics — including coats, blazers and pleated pants — from a Japanese fabric looking like fresco wool but with a fluid, jersey-like touch that heightens functionality and comfort. Logoed hoodies, acetate tracksuits, puffer jackets and technical parkas with reflective details complemented the sartorial pieces, which for women included oversized blazers styled with pleated skirts in different lengths as well as pants zipped open on the front to nod to technical sport gear. Cropped varsity jackets and cutout knit dresses were also part of the range, accessorized with macro pouches, backpacks and gym bags to add to Palazzo’s overall inspiration of traveling.

For the designer, the men’s line further helped him “to create my idea of a uniform and try to get two distant worlds collide in one.”

Looks from Vìen fall 2021 coed collection. Courtesy of Vìen

“If I were to describe Vìen with a word, I would say ‘crossover.’ We live in times defined by crossovers since 2000. Everything has been done, what needed to be invented was invented, now newness comes from mixing, from a clash,” noted Palazzo.

He perfects his mixing skills on a daily basis by simply opening his closet. “I collect vintage stuff and If you see my wardrobe, it’s divided in two parts. On one side, there are all these vintage tailoring, like old Kiton and Brioni [suits]. And on the other, all streetwear pieces from the ’80s and ’90s.”

Growing up in the Italian region of Puglia, Palazzo has always been surrounded by clothes, as his grandmother was a seamstress. From his aunts and uncles he inherited the passion for ’80s music, ranging from Duran Duran to The Smiths, which he further developed spending most of his time in a local book and music shop. “I discovered all these subcultures I loved, and each of them had a sort of uniform, so that’s when I realized how important fashion is,” he said.

After moving to Milan and traveling around the world, he returned to his hometown and opened a club, before establishing Vìen four years ago. Now the brand is available at Bernardelli in Italy and Concento Paris in Tokyo, among others, as well as at its own e-commerce. But Palazzo’s dreams for the future include launching a store in London’s Savile Row, as well as developing his brand beyond apparel, “maybe returning to clubbing or opening a restaurant, too.” — S.S.

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