Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Designer Lucio Vanotti, accompanied by his miniature Italian greyhound, at White Milano.Supplied

Fashion week in Milan is a somewhat obvious distinction, like a week in London devoted to pub culture or a week in Tokyo dedicated to the love of colourful anthropomorphic mascots. Give the Romans their basilicas and the Venetians their canals, Milan’s preoccupation with contemporary design – particularly fashion design– has shaped its identity for most of the past century. In addition to crowds of tourists who’ve come to check out the Fondazione Prada and the Armani museum, Milan Fashion Week draws thousands of industry professionals to see runway shows from Fendi, Versace, Marni and other legendary labels.

Despite the outsized presence of these Italian fashion juggernauts, they are far from the only locally grown brands vying for attention among international buyers and press. For designers, Milan’s abundance of skilled sewers, cutters, knitters and dyers makes it one of the best places in the world to set up shop. Last June, in a hollowed-out industrial building in Tortona, a district known for art and design, several dozen such labels showed their wares at White Milano, a trade show dedicated to emerging brands.

Open this photo in gallery:

AVAVAV is the creation of Linda and Adam Friberg, who sold their Cheap Monday label to H&M.

Seated around their laptops at a yellow formica table, Linda and Adam Friberg held court among racks of samples from their fledgling brand, AVAVAV. While AVAVAV is still relatively unknown, the Fribergs are famous in the industry as the duo behind Cheap Monday, the Swedish label whose skinny jeans and button-down shirts were ubiquitous in the aughts. After selling their brand to H&M, the couple took a few years off, moved to Italy and began thinking about what to do next. “We come from the fast-fashion side,” said Adam, who, as with many in the industry, had become disillusioned with the wastefulness of mass clothing production. “We understood where [the] mass market was going and we wanted to try to break the pattern. We were thinking, how can we take things to the next level?”

The result of their efforts is AVAVAV (spoken as it’s spelled, A-V-A-V-A-V), a brand of easy-wearing everyday pieces for women combining the clean lines of Scandinavian minimalism and the elegance of Italian design. “It’s a little bit ageless,” said Linda, dressed in a matching blouse and pants printed with a colourful bird motif. With a generous, pyjama-like cut, and a soft, flowing viscose fabric, the outfit looks both comfortable and graceful. “It allows you to live how you want to live,” she said, describing the brand’s ethos.

Open this photo in gallery:

AVAVAV combines the clean lines of Scandinavian minimalism and the elegance of Italian design

Instead of producing 80 or 90 pieces each season, AVAVAV plans to offer weekly releases of small-run, made-in-Italy capsule collections, a system that provides a constant stream of new products to customers while eliminating the waste of unsold merchandise. “It’s affordable luxury within fast fashion,” Linda said.

Elsewhere at White Milano, the offerings included woven straw hats, knitwear, swimwear, watches, hand-sewn leather goods and perfume. Despite the wide range of brands and styles, everything on display is bound by a common thread of contemporary aesthetics and attention to detail.

Much of it is also made in Italy. Bucking the trend of producing clothes overseas, many of the designers at White Milano prefer to have things made locally, citing not just the prestige of a Made in Italy label, but also the ability to produce things on a smaller scale while keeping a close eye on quality.

One such designer is Lucio Vanotti, who offered a tour of his namesake collection accompanied by his miniature Italian greyhound. His Spring-Summer 2019 creations, he said, weave together influences from Bauhaus furniture, traditional Masai clothing and 1990s hip-hop style. Such disparate elements could easily clash in less experienced hands. Vanotti, however, who trained at Milan’s renowned Marangoni Institute (as did Moschino’s Franco Moschino and Berluti designer Alessandro Sartori) is a master of his craft.

Open this photo in gallery:

Lucio Vanotti's pieces weave together influences from Bauhaus furniture, traditional Masai clothing and 1990s hip-hop style.

“My intention is to give a really relaxed and soft feeling,” he said, pulling out a bright blue blazer in a lightweight shirt fabric, with matching pants with a slim cut and an elasticated waist. “It’s not like the typical blazer,” Vanotti said. “You can be very elegant, but at the same time sporty and comfortable.” The same kind of thinking informs the rest of the collection, which balances oversized fits and cheerful colours with classic men’s-wear references like jean jackets and jumpsuits.

A few booths over, Chinese-born designer Miao Ran was stooped over a book of fabric swatches beside a rack of PVC raincoats decorated with colourful cartoon robots. “It’s something man-made, but each one has its own character,” he said of the robots in the print, which reoccurs throughout the Spring-Summer 2019 collection of Miaoran, his eponymous label.

A skilled pattern-maker, Miao creates clothes that explore the possibilities of shape and silhouette. The clothes are technically complex but imbued with a sense of humour: One lace gown, he said, required 60 hours of embroidery, but the lace is composed entirely of his robot motif. “All of my collections always have two parts,” he said. “One part is a little bit more natural, classic, with high-cost fibres. The other part is much more fun. [They’re] designed to be worn together.”

Open this photo in gallery:

Miao Ran earned a special mention in Vogue Italia's 'Who is on Next?' competition.Supplied

While Miao’s brand is only a few seasons old, the designer has accrued no shortage of accolades, including a Woolmark prize, a special mention in Vogue Italia’s “Who is on Next?” design competition and a coveted runway show at Teatro Giorgio Armani in Milan. Miao has lived in Italy for more than a decade and speaks fluent Italian and there’s no other place in the world he’d rather practise his craft.

“I never think about working in another country or another city,” he said. “I’m a Chinese guy, but I opened my atelier in Milan. For me, it’s a very important thing. It’s an industry city and that helps every kind of designer, but especially in fashion.”

Such are the benefits of living in a town where every week is fashion week.

Visit to sign up for the Globe Style e-newsletter, your weekly digital guide to the players and trends influencing fashion, design and entertaining, plus shopping tips and inspiration for living well. And follow Globe Style on Instagram @globestyle.

Interact with The Globe