When it comes to ideals of physical beauty, no place has impacted art history more than Florence. This city is home to both Michelangelo’s David statue and Botticelli’s iconic painting The Birth of Venus. What had originated here, continues to resonate everywhere else. While Milan takes its semiannual spotlight on the fashion weeks circuit, Florence shines throughout the year thanks to the Pitti Immagine series of influential tradeshows and one industry’s top fashion schools. Since 1986, Polimoda has been attracting global talent to the riverbanks of Arno. Its graduate showcase gathers brand headhunters, style scouts and influencers for a glimpse of what the future of fashion could look like. This year, the audience needed reassurance that there would be a fashion future, after all.
The 2019 theme, Supernature, examined the relationship between nature and technology. Twenty students were selected to present their six-piece collections in front of a jury of experts, ranging from director of Vogue Italia and L’Uomo Vogue Emanuele Farneti and A Shaded View on Fashion Film Festival founder Diane Pernet to Alexander McQueen’s communications and marketing director Paolo Cigognini and “dangerously creative” German photographer Sven Marquardt. Sustainability was a common theme in many of the collections, as the emerging designers no longer see a career path in fashion and protecting the environment contradictory. From the incorporation of eco-friendly materials to taking a stand on environmental issues, many participants expressed nature’s beauty through efforts to preserve it.
Inspired by the island of Favignana off the coast of Sicily and its ancient tradition of sustainable red tuna fishing, Claudia Novara made her collection from broken kitesurf tails. Meanwhile, Valentine Tinchantdrew inspiration from the Ethopian Daasanach tribe and worked with Resinovo, an eco-friendly material made from 95% recycled resin used in car windshields. About 15,000 recyclable metal rings, pictures of babies holding guns and phones were worked into the garments to ironically bring awareness to several social issues. Multifunctionality was important for Ketty Lin whose collection of interchangeable garments and detachable pieces criticizes the inundation of disposable products and obsolete technology that is harming the environment. Firmly believing that designers need to be mindful of their impact on the environment, Violetta Bretschneider turned to alternative leather made from fruit scraps: kiwi, peach and persimmons. “I wanted to create new fabrics because I think we cannot go forward like this,” she said. “I think we have to study how to produce clothes faster with sustainable fabrics.”
The jury was impressed by the creative way the students conveyed their ideas.
“This is the first time I went to Polimoda for a student show and I’m kind of blown away. I’ve never seen anything like this. I mean, I’ve been to a lot of shows, but I feel like the ideas here are pure and these students have a vision,” said fashion media pioneer BryanBoy.
This is high praise from the first fashion blogger to be officially seated front row next at New York Fashion Week back in 2009, heralding the arrival of the influencer era. “There was re-purposing and upcycling. I think this group of designers really imagined materials in a very interesting way, in terms of sustainability,” agreed Sara Kozlowski, CFDA Director of Education and Professional Development. Textile creativity also resonated with Simon Ungless, executive director of School of Fashion at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
“I found students really pushing three-dimensional design and interesting silhouettes. I saw them working with Kombucha leather and other sustainable concepts I really appreciated,” Ungless said.
Amid the awe-inspiring work, one graduate collection stood out. Tuscan designer Francesco Malandrini was crowned the winner for his menswear collection HERD. The designer opened the show with oversized suits and trench coats, some boxy in silhouette, others belted at the waist, made from still-life prints reworked into vibrant colors. His collection “aimed to be an inquiry about human behavior, where an archetypal menswear wardrobe is twisted around the dualism of compression and expansion”. Expansion is a guaranteed career move for Malandrini now.
“I am proud of these 22 students because they helped each other and really succeeded in making good collections. I’m sure we’ll hear about them again. I would also like to thank Sara Kozlowski from the CFDA and Alber Elbaz for helping to achieve this result. I believe that Polimoda is not only a school but also a small fashion house where it is still possible to experiment. The task of a leading fashion school is not only to represent the industry but also to anticipate it when the spirit of the time requires it,” said Danilo Venturi, director of Polimoda.
Ungless and Kozlowski also offered professional advice to future alumni and those considering to study fashion as a potential career move.
“Nobody can do anything by themselves. In school people tend to think that they have to, but I think they really don’t need to,” reflected Ungless. “I would recommend anyone to really collaborate, to find your tribe, your group of like-minded people, and work together on your thing.”
Even cultural giants are listening. Beyoncé and Adidas both experienced a significant boost in social media presence and retail numbers when they announced their collaboration. If it works for Bey and Adi, it just must work. Kozlowski believes emerging designers have a challenging and exciting opportunity to shape direction for the entire fashion industry, on their own new terms.
“The role of a designer as we knew it is already almost obsolete. Think into the future about roles that haven’t been invented yet and be a part of that ingenuity,” she encouraged the Polimoda class of 2019.
For inspiration, they can continue to stroll through the endless corridors of the Uffizi Gallery or get lost in the immense halls of Fortezza da Basso during the next Pitti edition. What happens in Florence, can still change the world.