White Milano Offers Fresh View on Emerging Fashion Brands

MILAN — Italian trade show White Milano has pledged to be the point of reference for Italy’s small and medium-sized fashion companies, which are viewed as emblematic of the country’s fashion expertise despite being the most severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For its latest digital-only show, held Feb. 25 to 28 in conjunction with Milan Fashion Week, the fair hosted talks and webinars combined with a business-to-business platform and consumer-facing initiatives in hopes of supporting and preserving the country’s smallest fashion enterprises.

Massimiliano Bizzi, the founder of White Milano, noted that these firms often lack the financial and operational strength for marketing and communication activities, which the trade show aims to compensate for.

White Milano has always showcased up-and-coming brands, often in the contemporary sector. For its latest edition, among the more than 200 brands on show, the event picked several small and local businesses working with Italian artisans and family-owned suppliers. Some brands were even established last year in the midst of the pandemic, proving the resilience of the sector during the tumultuous year.

Here, WWD highlights the key trends and brands seen at the digital show.

KNITWEAR TOUCH: A strong trend seen on the Milan digital catwalks, knitwear was also on full display at the trade show. Highlighting the manufacturing techniques and luxury fabrics seemed to be the mantra for companies showing at White Milano, which skewed toward unfussy and everyday pieces perfect for layering.

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A standout among knitwear brands, Of Handmade designer Simona Guaini, who’s been creating one-of-a-kind handcrafted oversized sweaters, offered a collection of arty and tactile pieces embellished with floral and macramé-inspired patterns, as in a cozy camel turtleneck knitted in garter stitch with contrasting white and black decorations. While Guaini has been relying on Italian manufacturers, she is worried about losing her suppliers due to the pandemic and, in case demand increases, is planning to move part of the production to Peru.

A look from the Of Handmade fall 2021 collection presented at White Milano. Courtesy of White Milano.

Blending influences from Northern European minimalism and traditional knit handicraft from Peru, Aymare was founded in 2007 by life and business partners Sven Van Gucht and Yannina Esquivias, who both left their previous jobs to fully commit to the fashion project. Their fall collection of everyday, unfussy knit crew necks, cable-knit turtlenecks and cardigans was crafted from baby alpaca, highlighting manufacturing techniques developed by local artisans in Arequipa, in the southern region of the Latin American country.

The story behind Verona, Italy-based Chiara Bertani is also one of reinvention: A storied knitwear company led by the namesake designer, which used to supply Italian luxury brands, the company decided to establish its own brand when its clients started to move production to China. Committed to delivering a total knitwear look, the label for fall played with relaxed silhouettes in an earthy palette of ocher, terra cotta brown and blush beige for knitted vests, pencil skirts paired with turtlenecks and second-skin crew necks embellished with rhinestone beads for a minimalist and chic look.

Similarly, the Mirella De Mori brand, founded by the second generation of the De Mori family who has run a knitwear company in the outskirts of Bergamo, Italy since 1957, offered a total look, crafted from luxurious cashmere given a contemporary twist by way of neon hues, such as lime green and cobalt blue. Pleated gowns were matched to color-coordinated oversize seed stitch turtlenecks with bows at the collar for a feminine look, while a tunic ribbed knit dress was fresh and young.

A look from the Mirella De Mori fall 2021 collection presented at White Milano. Courtesy of White Milano.

FASHION FORWARD: Ready-to-wear brands took a two-pronged approach at the trade show, either showing genderless and unisex fashion or celebrating a feminine bohemian attitude.

The brainchild of Antonio Pontini and a circle of close friends and collaborators, the Vescovo brand was launched during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring. First established as a multipurpose platform, it rapidly transitioned to fashion. Offering a genderless style, the brand builds on wardrobe essentials cut in generous silhouettes with a normcore bent. For fall pants came relaxed and pleated, paired with men’s formal shirts and off-the-shoulder knit vests, while roomy suits in an eggshell tone looked cool on male models and conceptual on women. Mindful of environmental issues, the brand largely employs recycled fabrics.

Also banking on unisex fashion, designers Elisa Soldini and Lucia Padrini set up outerwear brand Kimonorain, the name saying it all about the concept, on the ashes of their former total look fashion project Tvscia. Paying homage to Japanese kimonos, the brand offers waterproof jackets and coats in a variety of roomy silhouettes marked by a distinctive shell-shaped hoodie. While originally crafted from water resistant nylon, the two designers have most recently introduced natural fabrics, including cotton and wool treated to be rainproof. With their cocooning shapes, the Kimonorain pieces were a particularly appealing alternative to performance-driven puffer jackets.

A look from the Kimonorain fall 2021 collection presented at White Milano. Courtesy of White Milano.

A retro-tinged mood ran through Vaderetro’s fall collection filled with upholstery fabrications for waist-fitted blazers boasting voluminous sleeves and cameo buttons or traditional shirting fabrics transformed into Western-inspired ruffled frocks paired with a corset featuring playful characters in the style of motifs used by alpine communities. The brand’s founder Antonio d’Andrea — who lived in the U.K. and Morocco before returning to Italy, where his brand became popular after showcasing at last year’s edition of Alta Roma — said the fall collection was inspired by the Rom population, an Indo-Aryan, traditionally nomadic community living in Europe, hence the melting pot of references seen in this arty and experimental lineup.

A look from the Vaderetro fall 2021 collection presented at White Milano. Courtesy of White Milano.

MINIMALIST BAGS: Handbags for fall were sleek and timeless, inspired by architectural and design shapes, often featuring unexpected details such as the combination of contrasting materials and the use of resin peppering the subdued styles.

Inspired by Danish architecture following a trip to Copenhagen, designer Caterina Zulian established her namesake brand in 2020 aiming to offer luxurious bags with a contemporary feel. For fall she introduced two styles, both oversize and crafted from glossy leather, nodding to everyday carryover and business briefcases without compromising their feminine touch. While the carryover style with its round shapes and longer handles is a practical everyday option, the business bag boasts an off-kilter rectangular shape making it unconventional.

A bag from Caterina Zulian’s fall 2021 collection presented at White Milano. Courtesy of White Milano.

Leveraging the expertise of Naples-based leather goods artisans, designer Anna Maria Mongillo established her Aim/Handmade in Italy brand last year despite the pandemic. Boasting experience consulting for fashion brands including the late Kate Spade’s Frances Valentine label, Mongillo started her solo fashion project with just four styles exuding a ’70s flavor imbued with geometrical details, cue a doctor bag crafted from supple leather featuring trapezoidal handles that make it practical to carry and sleek.

Domiziana Bertelli and Nicola Massardi took a similar approach for their Ni-Do brand’s fall handbag collection filled with stripped-back and retro-tinged styles, including a trapeze bag with a rounded resin grip and a cute mini baguette option with a chain handle, both crafted from leather the couple sources from leftovers of a Tuscany-based tannery that works with luxury brands.

A bag from the Ni-Do fall 2021 collection presented at White Milano. Courtesy of White Milano.

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