We have seen multiple correspondences between the collections on the runways and interior design during the Autumn/Winter 2015 catwalk shows. But, in the last few months, there has also been an emphasis on actual buildings. This is nothing new, you could argue: indeed, it was the norm a few decades ago for Italian designers to invest in spaces that they could use to host fashion shows and private events (actually a pretty clever choice if you consider the costs of hiring a venue for catwalks).
Expo 2015 - the global fair that the Italian government hopes will relaunch the country on a worldwide level and the local economy after years of decline - seems to have inspired further investments of this kind in Milan.
The opening of the event (located six miles from the city centre) last Friday was actually overshadowed by protests from the "No Expo" movement, manifesting against the corruption scandals behind the event, but also the involvement of big corporations such as Coca-Cola and McDonald's. As anarchist groups mixed in, the protests turned violent with people torching cars and smashing shop windows. Yet, there is something that not many have noticed: while the Expo is a huge temporary themed park and the anarchists seem to be interested in mainly targeting huge corporations, the fashion industry is intent on colonising other spaces.
On the same day the Expo opened, Versace launched the Ornamental Capsule Collection on its site and at the brand's boutique in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, in Milan.
The collection includes sneakers, bags and other accessories inspired by the domed glass ceiling of the 150,695-square foot Galleria, that Versace recently helped restoring. Versace is not the only fashion house linked with this project as Prada (that first opened a show in the Galleria in 1913) was also involved.
Restoration projects funded by fashion houses are not new in Italy: Della Valle's Tod's financed works at the Colosseum; Fendi is sponsoring the restoration of the Trevi Fountain and of the Quattro Fontane, the four fountains at the intersection of Via delle Quattro Fontane and Via del Quirinale in Rome; luxury jeweler Bulgari is helping cleaning up the city's Spanish Steps, while Diesel jeans founder Renzo Rosso has invested in restoring the Rialto bridge in return for using it as advertising space. These projects help brands gaining endorsement, while thanks to the "Art Bonus" the companies also get tax benefits.
Apart from brands involved in restoring historical features there are also fashion houses opening new spaces. The night before the Expo opened, Giorgio Armani (who is also the Expo's special ambassador for fashion, whatever that means and implies...) celebrated his 40th anniversary with a grand show at the Armani Silos, a new building located in the former Nestlè factory in via Begognone 40, not far from his theatre designed by Tadao Ando.
Slightly reminiscent of Louis Khan's architectures, but modelled after a basilica, the 48,600 square feet majestic building extends on four levels and it's open to the public six days a week (tickets: 12,00 euro; reductions are available).
The new space includes an Armani exhibition featuring 600 outfits and 200 accessories from the 1980s till today, divided in various themes (daywear with emphasis on neutral shades and tailoring; evening wear and exotic inspirations; and colours plus chromatic effects, while the theme of light is explored on the top floor); the digital archives with sketches and technical drawings, an area dedicated to students and researchers; a gift shop and a cafè.
The name of the building is directly linked with its original purpose: the Silos was used as a granary of the Nestlé company, so it wa employed as a food storage space. But clothes and therefore fashion - Armani argues - feed the mind, and the designer reassures his Silos won't be a "mausoleum" but an active place with collections rotating every six months.
The Italian Post Office honoured the structure with a special limited edition stamp issued (in 800,000 pieces) on 30th April, but the Armani celebrations will continue in the next few months. The designer will turn 81 in July, and while Rizzoli is getting ready to publish his autobiography in September during Milan Fashion Week, Armani is also thinking of restoring another building complex near Silos that may be used to showcase his Privé couture collections or his the Emporio Armani line.
After organising art projects and exhibitions for quite a few years and opening four years ago in an 18th-century palazzo on the Grand Canal in Venice, the Prada Foundation will soon be establishing its new spaces in Milan (Prada S.p.A financed the entire complex).
Set in a 1910 gin distillery, the nearly 19,000 square metre complex (launched today to the press, but officially opening on 9th May to the public) based on a project led by Rem Koolhaas, Chris van Duijn and Federico Pompignoli, is a milestone in Koolhaas' OMA's long-term collaboration with Prada.
The complex, located in Largo Isarco, south of the city centre, integrates three modern buildings (in glass, white concrete and aluminum) with seven restored warehouses and brewing silos.
The Fondazione includes a ten-story tower for long-term installations (it will open later on this year); a theatre for films, live performances and lectures; an old-fashioned Milanese bar created by director Wes Anderson; a centre for children and a library.
The foundation will be open to the public seven days a week, with a general admission ticket of 10 euros.
"The Fondazione is not a preservation project and not a new architecture," Koolhaas states on the OMA site. "Two conditions that are usually kept separate here confront each other in a state of permanent interaction - offering an ensemble of fragments that will not congeal into a single image, or allow any part to dominate the others."
There are other conditions actually confronting each other in these projects - the private and the public. Some of these projects are started/funded by private entities but are indeed aimed at a larger public.
Yet there are also cases in which the private confronts itself with the private: only last year the Louis Vuitton Foundation opened its contemporary art museum and performance space - a 126,000-square-foot glass and steel structure designed by Frank Gehry - in Paris. This week (on 6th May) Bob Hope's Palm Springs Estate will instead host Louis Vuitton's upcoming cruise show.
Completed in 1979 (Hope's wife Dolores kept on changing the architect's plans and the house also burnt down in 1973), the 23,366-square-foot John Lautner-designed estate (currently on sale for $25 million) sits atop Southridge and overlooks the entire Coachella Valley, remaining one of the largest private estates in Palm Springs.
Though it looks like a Space Age home, the building was originally designed to resemble a volcano and features an undulating curved concrete roof that some say looks like a turtle shell, though others claim it resembles Darth Vader's helmet. The roof has a hole at its centre above a courtyard and the house has an indoor pool, 10 bathrooms and a boulder jutting through the living room.
According to the legend, after seeing its model Bob Hope stated: "At least when they come down from Mars, they'll know where to go." Apparently the home is best seen from a distance since in close up it looks like a monster (but this shouldn't worry us as the roughly 400 guests invited to the catwalk show will probably be too busy taking selfies to actually pay attention at the architecture surrounding them...).
All the Space Age/aliens/Darth Vader references actually go pretty well with the futuristic tastes of the current Louis Vuitton Creative Director, Nicolas Ghesquière, but the choice of this striking architectural space doesn't really surprise us much, since - as stated in a previous post - Ghesquière is also a fan of architecture and design (as proved also by his official Instagram page).
While this event doesn't really involve us directly as we are ordinary people and therefore mere spectators of this colonisation of a private residence, specific restoration or building projects involving public spaces and fashion houses/brands should make us think.
Restoring existing architectures or building new places is fine, but philanthropy often hides not a genuinely disintered attitude for cultural promotion but a great advertising opportunity. Fendi's logo is for example displayed on the Trevi Fountain during the restoration and the company will be allowed to put up a plaque near the monuments for four years after the works are completed. The fountain project Fendi is involved in consisted also in a coffee table book about Rome's fountains - The Glory of Water (published by Steidl in 2013) - shot by Karl Lagerfeld, the house's creative director. Lagerfeld will also be showcasing Chanel's Mètiers d'Arts collection in Rome in December.
Rather than setting random cars on fire or thinking that McDonald's and banks are the only monuments to capitalism, anarchists interested in discussing corporate powers should maybe start looking a bit better around themselves, as public places may soon be colonised by capitalist private powers of a strangely fashionable nature.
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