In conversation with Mariella Milani, who talks about the lights and shadows of fashion in her latest book
Interview by: Gianmarco Gronchi
Editing by: Domenico Costantini
The fashion shows, the photographers’ flashes, the flights from Paris to London, from one fashion week to another. But fashion is not only what social networks show us, and the book Fashion Confidential (Sperling & Kupfer, 2021) reveals everything that lies behind the work of the greatest designers of the last twenty years. Divided into short chapters, each named after a movie, Fashion Confidential is not just an account of what has happened in fashion since the 1990s, but aims to convey the emotions and feelings experienced during those unique and unrepeatable times. Mariella Milani, the author of the book, worked for over twenty years as a correspondent for the Italian TV news Tg2. Today, every Monday she holds a successful podcast on a fashion personality and “Forbes” has included her in the “100 Italian Wonder Women of 2021”.
I called Mariella to ask her about the genesis of her book. The result is an all-round talk about the past, the present and, perhaps, even the future of fashion.
Gianmarco Gronchi: First of all, I would ask you: how did you enter the magical world of fashion, after years of marginalised people and court reporting?
Mariella Milani: Fashion is an experience that came about by chance. It just happened. It was 1994 and the then director of Tg2, Clemente Mimun, wanted to change the newscast, dedicating more space to cinema and fashion. I have always believed in the importance of clothes, they communicate who we are. When I was anchoring the news, I always wore an Armani suit, because it embodied the essence of power dressing. When Mimun proposed to me i was puzzled. I knew nothing about that sector, and I thought that fashion was frivolous. For me, who had always written about organised crime, paedophilia and violence against women, that seemed a limiting sector and I had different professional ambitions. Tg2, however, had no obligations to advertisers and this would have given me the opportunity to report on fashion in a different way, in a sincere, ironic and irreverent way, without fear of stepping on someone’s toes. This would have made me authoritative and respected and in the end I accepted this new adventure.
GG: And how did you come up with the idea of writing this book, which summarises more than twenty years of professional life spent on catwalks all over the world?
MM: When I retired from Rai TV network, I thought writing a book was pointless, because there are so many anthologies on fashion. I wanted to do something different, to offer an original point of view, describing not only the facts but also the emotions I felt. Fashion is not just what it may look like from the outside, it is much more than that. As a reporter, I was entering a world that I called “of sequins and daggers”, where there was a lot of beauty, but also a lot of falsehood and hypocrisy. That was what I wanted to tell. In the book, I have highlighted two great truths, which are as valid yesterday as they are today: in fashion, nothing is as it seems and that not all that glitters is gold. In narrating the two faces of fashion, I have also tried to convey the emotions I experienced, evoking a unique period that has ended forever, with its extraordinary events: Fendi’s fashion show on the Great Wall, John Galliano’s show for Dior at the Paris Opéra in 1998, McQueen’s women becoming ferocious beasts on the catwalk of It’s a jungle out there!. All unrepeatable events…
GG: Your first interview was with Gianni Versace, who was at the height of his success at the time. Can you tell us how that went?
MM: Gianni Versace was a much-loved character. The first time I met him, he immediately understood that I was new to the industry, but he greeted me with great humanity and courtesy. Gianni was a star at the time, recognised all over the world. He was homosexual, but unlike many he never hid it. He created also the phenomenon of top models, such as Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista. Armani did not share the myth of supermodels, he said that people should go and see his clothes, not the models. On the other hand, Armani’s fashion was very different to Versace’s, who designed goddess dresses, with crazy slits and necklines that enhanced the body. He was the prophet of beauty and female sensuality.
GG: Armani, Versace… In those days, Italian fashion was recognised and appreciated all over the world. Do you think that is still the case today?
MM: Unfortunately, over the years we’ve given up on safeguarding and protecting Italian fashion. The prestige is no longer what it once was. Because of our failure to create a system, we Italians have not been able to create a luxury pole, as the French did, and as a result many luxury brands have been sold off. Versace was sold to Kors. Gucci, Fendi, Pucci and Bulgari are no longer Italian. Only Prada, Ferragamo, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani and Cucinelli are holding out. This has led to a very serious loss of identity. Also think about of the brands that have been sold off and ended up in thin air, such as Ferré, which no longer exists.
GG: And, I would add, like Fiorucci, another great name that has disappeared….
MM: Elio Fiorucci was a precursor. He was the first to understand the need for interaction between different arts, for contamination with other sectors. His shop, for example, where he didn’t sell clothes, but emotions. He was the first to understand that people wanted what we now call a shopping experience. He realised before anyone else that when people entered a shop they didn’t just want to buy clothes, they wanted something different, they wanted to buy an experience, a feeling.
GG: Reading your book, I came across your encounter with Alexander McQueen, whom I personally consider the best creative mind of the last thirty years. Do you think there is any designer currently able to leave such a strong and personal mark on fashion?
MM: Personally, McQueen is the greatest. He was a genius, absolute and desperate. I don’t know if there are any designers who will be able to influence the future of fashion as much as McQueen. New designers are not given the chance to experiment, they are only asked to design products that are easy to sell. As long as marketing stifles creativity, we won’t have any more McQueens.
GG: What is your opinion on Alessandro Michele, who is doing a great job with Gucci? Don’t you think his could be a good proposal to follow in the future?
MM: Alessandro Michele has the great credit for clearing genderless through customs, for having given us the freedom to dress how we like. He has revolutionised a philosophy, namely that of being able to break out of the rules, saying “wear what you want”. It’s a great achievement, but it’s still marketing. Michele has a wonderful imagination, which helps him to create seemingly meaningless colour compositions for fabulous and colourful genderless fashion. However, genderless had already been proposed by Japanese designers in the 1980s, albeit in a more subdued way. Michele has reintroduced it in a different guise. I think creativity is something else. Creativity is that of Yves Saint Laurent, when he invented the nude look and put a smoking on the female body. Alessandro Michele has not invented, but only improved, re-proposed through the filter of his imagination.
GG: As a journalist, how did you manage to tell the story of a world that is so fascinating, but also ambiguous, full of grey areas?
MM: Fashion is a frivolous and corrupt world, it has to be admitted. That’s why you have to report on it without thanking anyone. Today we’re talking about haters. On my Instagram page, I’ve never encountered the phenomenon of haters, because if you’re authentic, sincere, and you say what you think, people perceive it. People are much less stupid than you think. The photoshop of images and words does not pay off in the end. You have to tell it like it is, with candour. The news has taught me to speak directly, to express my point of view, without fear of exposure. The important thing is not to compromise. I was respected as a fashion journalist because I said everything I thought without hesitation.
GG: If you had to express an opinion on the current situation, what would you say?
MM: I would say that I am not convinced that luxury and cost are always justified. People are no longer willing to spend crazy amounts of money, and they would take a fair balance between quality and price. A big problem today is fast fashion, which has spoiled us a lot. Fast fashion is one of the factors that has ruined fashion, as well as exploiting millions and millions of people in the poorest parts of the world. We citizens should also be more aware when we buy and make ethical choices. If we buy t-shirts that cost a few euros, we should ask ourselves what is behind them. We should get value for money and when we buy we should always question how a garment is produced. I think we should buy better, buy less and buy well. Shopping is also a political act.
GG: And what do you foresee for the future? What direction would you like Fashion to take in the aftermath of the pandemic?
MM: Fashion should rethink outdated models, get away from the logic of marketing. It should try to win back consumers, as should politics. Luxury is exclusivity, not homologation. That’s why I am horrified by logomania. My point of view is very critical. Covid should be used to understand the need for change, to rethink production in an ethical and sustainable way, remembering the past, but looking to the future. We need to be more team-based, open to sharing, pay more attention to price and try to produce better. The time for standardisation and large-scale production is over. People want to buy value.
I thank Mariella for her words, while I still hold Fashion Confidential in my hands as if I were holding a small treasure. I reread the names and the many stories it contains, and i think of September approaching, bringing with a new fashion week.
The curtain rises, the show goes on.