Benetton opens Milan Fashion Week with a rainbow of colour

With its melting pot of colours, light pop energy and playful chaos of denim and knitwear, the Benetton runway show that opened Milan Fashion Week on Tuesday evening seemed to be inviting its audience to forget – if only for the short time of an upbeat parade led by the electro-pop beat of DJ Michel Gaubert – the passing of Karl Lagerfeld, announced only a few hours earlier. Even if the famous Italian brand's creative director Jean-Charles de Castelbajac took up a microphone at the beginning of proceedings in order to dedicate the show to the incomparable German designer "who inspired us all."


Benetton moves back towards its legendarily colourful style, while also updating it - AFP

With this runway show – the brand's first Fashion Week presentation – Benetton was looking to mark the start of a new chapter under the aegis of founder Luciano Benetton, who took back control of the business in January 2018, and de Castelbajac, who was named as the label's new creative director last October. Photographer Oliviero Toscani, who has also been called in by Luciano Benetton to help with the relaunch, took pride of place on the front row. 
 
From the very first looks, de Castelbajac flipped the script by savvily updating the brand's DNA for the tastes of today. The highly desirable pieces were light, fresh and wearable, but also exuded quality, humour and modernity. Their eyes hidden by round glasses attached to XXL plastic chains, girls with orange, yellow, green or blue hair paired comfy multicoloured boots in nylon and down with Harlequin tights in the same primary colours, worn under monochrome miniskirts or knitted jacquard dresses with abstract patterns. 

Others coupled baggy jeans with a green waterproof cape or a bag in coarse yellow-gold cotton worn like an apron over a deconstructed sweater, of which the different coloured pieces appeared to be simply pinned together. 

The boys sported chapkas with wide flaps, wearing chequered trousers and cape-like ponchos, multi-pocketed gilets, jackets with fur collars or camouflage ensembles in a rainbow of earth tones punctuated with fluorescent orange flashes, all topped off with windbreakers nonchalantly draped over their backs. Sable waterproofs were elevated through the use of large pockets and lapels in bright shades of red, yellow or blue. 

The designer played with the brand's recognisable green logo and the Benetton lettering which were both proudly featured on a number of pieces. Irony was also a running theme, as seen in a jumper decorated with a laughing Mickey Mouse, who also turned up on the back of a jacket, his gloved hands reappearing round the front, as though he were hugging the wearer. 
 
At 69, de Castelbajac has lost none of his verve or volcanic energy. "For me, it's a new beginning. It's like a feeling of vertigo. What I'm experiencing at Benetton is an extraordinary thing. It's a company where anything is possible, whether in terms of technology or knitting techniques. Everything is beautiful and there's a real democratic aesthetic culture. I couldn't have found a more favourable terrain for my imagination. I've never had so many ideas," he told FashionNetwork.com backstage. 


Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and Luciano Benetton - Benetton
 
As well as knitwear, which has been modernised and developed through a number of different techniques, denim was also very present in this Fall/Winter 2019-20 collection, a capsule of which is already on sale in larger Benetton stores. As the designer explained, "jeans are to Benetton what tweed is to Chanel."

"We have the savoir-faire, but we have to show it," continued de Castelbajac, who decided to showcase the Benetton factory's workshops by setting up workers and their machines in the middle of the runway among reels of rainbow-coloured threads. "The aim is to have this new modernised identity reflected throughout all of Benetton's lines, as well as its entire brand universe, within a year," he added. 

As it relaunches, the company, based in Ponzano Veneto, near Treviso in Italy's Veneto region, is seeking to reposition itself with higher-end merchandise made in Europe, where the brand has moved part of its production, while also continuing to make some fast fashion pieces.

"Today, modernity is accessibility. There needs to be the top of the pyramid, with coats for 300 euros for example, but it's also essential to have a solid accessible selection," explained de Castelbajac, before breaking into a wide smile: "next summer, we'll be launching t-shirts for 8 euros!"

In the meantime, it's the last silhouettes from the brand's runway debut which will linger most indelibly in one's mind: superb jackets made up of a flock of cheeky mini sheep with shaggy multicoloured wool. 

Translated by Robin Driver

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