LBB’s Alex Reeves heads to the the Milan Fashion Week event featuring more artists than models
Patronage of the arts is inescapable in Milan. It’s flowed through the city’s blood ever since Leonardo da Vinci took on a brief to make some branded content demonstrating Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan’s support for the church.
On Saturday night, during Milan Fashion Week, Benetton followed in this rich tradition, launching the exhibition ‘I See Colors Everywhere’ at Milan’s Triennale Design Museum. From September 24 to 28, visitors to the exhibit will be immersed in colour, illustrated by the new Spring-Summer collection and works by Fabrica, Benetton's art and communications research centre. But this isn’t a fashion show. There’s been no great fanfare about the clothes - it’s a diverse artistic experience, open to the public, exploring the significance of colours to human existence.
The exhibition has been curated by a team of Fabrica designers, led by Sam Baron. “What [Benetton] do is for everyday people, which is very beautiful,” he says, explaining the inspiration for the works he’s curated. “They were the first to bring bright colours and fashion [to everyday people]. In Italy fashion is really important. It’s part of the culture. And they have succeeded. There were four of them a generation ago. They have 6,000 stores in countries around the world now.”
The orange zone, featuring 'The Beautiful Gene'
The room is divided into eight sections, each dedicated to a colour. These are explored and celebrated through videos, posters, music, photos, illustrations, objects, performances and interactive installations produced by Fabrica over the course of more than 20 years of activities, both work made for Benetton and independent artistic endeavours. Some of the artists featured currently reside at Fabrica (these are known as Fabricanti). Others are ex-Fabricanti - plucked from the global network of creatives that the unique research centre has built.
The project was a sort of reunion, says Sam. It was an open brief to all of the creatives who’ve ever worked at Fabrica. “We are a family. A community.” he says. “500 creatives spread all over the world. I go to London and call people I worked with five years ago, we see each other and it’s like it was yesterday. The same goes for any Fabricanti, in any country in the world.”
Fabrica Features (2001) by Jayme Hayon was originally designed for the shop window of the Fabrica Features space in Istanbul
There is pop art by American illustrator Andy Rementer and an installation by Giorgia Zanellato and Daniele Bortotto, a project on albinos by South African photographer Pieter Hugo and graphic works by Spanish designer Jaime Hayon and Ukrainian art director Anna Kulachek.
Much of the work engages with social issues, chiming with Benetton’s long-standing heritage of engaging with humanity’s various ills - a theme that well predates this age of corporate social responsibility. ‘Time… To Chew’ by George Chartier showcases Chernobyl- and Twin Towers-themed chewing gum packages and are part of a wider body of work that reminds us - with irony - of the irresponsible actions perpetrated by humans over other humans. ‘The Beautiful Gene’ by Marina Rosso explores the beauty of the underappreciated red hair gene following a surprising event: due to low demand, in September 2011 the world’s largest sperm bank stopped accepting donations from red haired donors.
Red is the most vital colour
Moving through over 50 works, visitors will also chance upon models who - in a manner inspired more by artistic performance than traditional fashion shows - will be “exhibiting” garments from the United Colors of Benetton Spring-Summer 2018 collection.
The exhibition is accompanied by a magazine-catalogue, which provides an additional level of interpretation thanks to an editorial penned by Myriam Ben Salah, writer and curator of cultural programming at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.
Marco Zanin and his extensive effects pedal board
The exhibition’s launch might have been the most eclectic display in Milan for the whole of Fashion Week. Sam is keen to highlight the diversity of disciplines exhibited. There is photography, illustration, print, writing. One piece is just four pages of black-and-white text, but speaking about various colours in provocative reference to current affairs and the dark side of human existence (e.g. Trump orange). “I wanted to include that because we have some writers at Fabrica and there are no minor or major arts,” says Sam. “What is important is throwing something. That’s also very democratic - as democratic as Benetton’s jumpers.”
Pretty in pink
The opening night featured some bold choices of musical accompaniment, too. Marco Zanin’s doom-laden sonic sludge flooded the room with an atmosphere that seemed about as far from Milan Fashion Week’s fashionista-friendly glitz as imaginable. Meanwhile, Nico Vascellari’s percussive punk rock performance made it impossible for people to ignore it while they sipped Prosecco and discussed the Spring-Summer collection.
Essentially, this is not a fashion show in any sense most people would recognise. “There is more art here than clothes,” stresses Sam, somewhat surprised himself that after a 22-year-long relationship with Fabrica, Benetton are willing to trust them to do something so unconventional. “There are more than 50 artists and a maximum of 40 models. And they’ve paid for this fucking thing! It’s fashion week. In Milan. It proves that creativity is stronger than a jacket. I think that is the future of this brand.”