Fashion can be frivolous or essential, depending on one’s focus. This year’s major fashion shows happened in concert with the beginnings of war in Ukraine, revealing the gamut of attitudes at play, from inside as well as from outside. This has served to clarify some of the more salient issues at stake, opening our eyes to the hitherto hidden, rather ambiguous facets of the industry.

Until this year, the last time Fashion Week events were held IRL was in February 2020, when the first signs of the pandemic were beginning to emerge. I remember the front-rowers not being too happy about sitting so close to one another, the nervous looks whenever someone coughed, and the rush to leave the room as soon as the show finished – a quick clap of the hands and then out into the open air. I remember phoning my boyfriend and telling him there was a weird vibe in the city. The rest is history.

In 2022, the one-month-long series of fashion shows was supposed to be all about joy and rebirth, but two days after the Milanese kermesse began, Russia invaded Ukraine. Protests in the city centre made it virtually impossible to reach the venues, and Instagram stories featuring clothes and models were soon replaced with images of bombs and destruction. The fashion industry was once again forced to question itself. There was no time for the Milanese brands to coordinate any form of collective action. Personally, I would have appreciated at least someone taking an individual stand, but I understand that when you have a company to run, your decisions cannot always be your own.

Still, echoes of the protests managed to reach some of the shows; while Italy was sending planes to the Romanian border, Giorgio Armani was sending his models onto the catwalk in complete silence. Paola Tavella from Il Foglio later commented: “As soon as photographers started shooting, what everyone heard was the sound of machine guns.” And on the last day of the Milan show, as a 60km column of tanks made its way to Kyiv, Jezabelle Cormio — inspired by the activist spirit of kids today — had a choir of Wes Andersonian teenagers stage a concert dressed in clothes inspired by memories of the Scouts and summer camp, decorated with the motto “Take the Lead”, a call to both young people and institutions to work towards collective progress. The harmonious voices of youngsters nearly as old as the soldiers we now see on tv, were met with a standing ovation.

Diplomatic talks between Russia and Ukraine were failing once again as the shows moved to Paris. Here the fashion community had had more time to calibrate a response, and Ralph Toledano, president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, invited people to experience the shows with sobriety while reflecting on the dark times. Some brands, for example Rick Owens and Valentino, stuck to their creative vision, deliberately offering beauty as a response to the latest horrors. However, Pierpaolo Piccioli opened with a statement regarding the difficulties of putting together a show while the fear of war looms, and Owens changed the soundtrack at the last moment, switching from Eprom’s artillery-like percussions to Mahler’s 5th symphony, whose dulcifying, kitsch, manipulatory melody hit precisely the right note...

...I don’t know how things will be by the time this article is published. I cannot say I feel too optimistic, but it helps to realise that there is always something you can do. And to anyone mentioned in this article, from Ukraine and from Russia, DAMNo would love to know that you’re safe.


Russian girls protesting with clothes, 2022

Russian girls protesting with clothes, 2022

Russian girls protesting with clothes, 2022

Botter, FW22