Even relentless rain cannot dampen the spirits of the would-be street stars of Milan fashion week.
Cyprien Richiardi did not have an invitation for the Giorgio Armani catwalk show on Monday but that did not make it any less of a must-keep appointment for him on a dank, drizzly morning.
“When there is fashion you have to be on the spot, even if it is raining you have to come out,” Richiardi told AFP in a brief break from strutting his stuff up and down the closed-off road outside the Teatro Armani for the benefit of a posse of paparazzi.
With his military-style greatcoat and his gold-sprayed basketball boots, Richiardi is doing well in the attention-grabbing stakes, his electic look completed by a dandyish bowtie and a flamboyant headcovering that looks like a nod to his African heritage.
As the street sideshows to the carefully-choreographed catwalk sets assume ever more importance in the eyes of both specialist fashion and mainstream media, getting noticed is what is all about.
AFP / Gabriel Bouys
Blogger Chiara Ferragni arrives at the show for fashion house Fendi during Milan Fashion Week on February 25, 2016
For some, it is purely an end in itself. Others, like Richiardi, have fashion blogs to promote. Many dream of making the jump from the outside to the inside of a business that has long looked to street style for inspiration.
Designers readily admit they sift through thousands of photos after every fashion week looking for pointers as to how their creations are interpreted and adapted by a niche group that is closer to cutting edge trends than their well-heeled mainstream clientele.
With photographers tipped off to meet the most popular bloggers of the moment, the Milan scene has a highly-organised feel about it.
“It is not only about publicity,” confirms Richiardi.
“It is the need to meet people and network that is very important. A lot of the time we only do our PR by web and here you can do it on the street.”
– Milan’s natural elegance –
Ivan Lui, a journalist for Hong Kong-based magazine “Me” does have an invite for the Armani show, but he also showed up early and enjoys having his picture taken every bit as much as kindred spirit Richiardi.
AFP / Gabriel Bouys
As the street sideshows to the carefully-choreographed catwalk sets assume ever more importance in the eyes of both specialist fashion and mainstream media, getting noticed is what is all about
“My magazine is more interested in the official shows but I like the street style more,” he said.
“In New York and London it is more playful, here it is more classic. People are very elegant naturally — and they wear a lot of fur, which I just love.”
Richiardi agrees that the unique nature of Milanese street style comes from tailoring and upmarket textile manufacturing being woven into the city’s fabric in a way unlike any other city.
“It is very elegant here, definitely more so than Paris. Let’s say that Italian taste always remains Italian taste,” he said. “They have that leg-up compared to other countries.”
Bologna-based blogger Elisa Bersani has been coming to fashion shows for five years and provides evidence of how what may seem like a purely narcissistic activity can evolve into a career.
AFP / Gabriel Bouys
A guest poses in the street during Milan Fashion Week on February 26, 2016
“I started my blog five years ago, purely as a hobby,” she said. “Now it has become a job. It is very important to be here to keep up to date and to get new input for the people that follow me.”
As the influence of her blog has grown, marketing graduate Bersani has been able to secure work with fashion companies on one-off events and launches.
“It has allowed me to combine several passions of mine: technology, photography and fashion, plus the fact that I studied communications and marketing,” she said, explaining that her ultimate goal is to secure a role as a footwear designer.
Photographer Michael Ip says there is a reason why he is to be found splashing through puddles in search of the best image of a currently unknown fashion diva.
“In New York I do mostly just backstage and runway,” he says. “In Milan my agency want me do to more street and less presentations, I guess just because of how well dressed everyone is here.”