MILAN — “I tell the truth; it’s the best defense,” said Domenico De Sole, ahead of the premiere on Sunday evening of the “Milano: The Inside Story of Italian Fashion” documentary. “How Milan reached great prominence is a great story to tell, one that I felt had never been told.”
Gildo Zegna, chairman and chief executive officer of the Ermenegildo Zegna Group, said before seeing the film that he believed it would be informative to show how “fashion in Milan rose to prominence and how it evolved, why it has been so successful in the world and the importance of the family businesses.”
Indeed, the film focuses on the rise of Italian ready-to-wear fashion designers, and De Sole, with the other half of Gucci’s Tom and Dom dream team — Tom Ford — is one of the main interviewees, spilling out some details that may be known to fashion insiders but not to the general public. (Much time is also devoted to the murder of Maurizio Gucci.)
Cases in point: the twice-failed merger of Gucci and the house of Versace. The first time the agreement never materialized due to the murder of Gianni Versace in 1997 and the second time, orchestrated by Luxottica founder Leonardo Del Vecchio, because Donatella Versace wished to stay on as the brand’s designer and not relinquish her role to Ford.
Santo Versace, who is interviewed in the film, believes it was relevant to go back to those moments. “I wanted to discuss this because people always say there are no Italian poles, but we were ahead of the others with this idea,” he said before the screening.
Gianni Versace is at the heart of the story, as is Giorgio Armani, who opens up about his annus horribilis following the death of his partner Sergio Galeotti. Armani, who had shown his namesake brand’s fall 2023 collection earlier in the day, attended the premiere with Marisa Berenson. At the end of the documentary, he is seen responding to the question that has been on everyone’s mind for years now, reiterating he is staying put and has no intention of giving up his role at the company he has built since 1975.
Alan Friedman, a foreign correspondent for The Financial Times in Milan from 1983 to 1989, served as the writer and producer of the documentary, which was directed by Emmy-winning U.S. director and producer John Maggio.
“I first got the idea of the film in December 2018 and worked on it for three years,” said Friedman. “I was impressed by John’s documentary ‘Panic: The Untold Story of the 2008 Financial Crisis,’ and thought that if I could get Giorgio Armani to cooperate, I could do a documentary on the rise of Italian fashion in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I remember my wife told me, ‘why not?’”
Noting that the film is “not aimed at the fashion people” but at a more general public, he was proud to say that it was an independent production. “We did not get a dollar from the fashion industry,” revealing that it cost 2.5 million euros.
The documentary is chockablock with archival images — 837, to be precise, he said — and 57 musical tracks. “It was important to get content, we were going for honesty, warts and all,” continued Friedman.
“Finding out there was a precise moment in time when fashion took off here and changed the world was a surprise for me,” said Maggio. “As was learning about the family dramas, the passion, the capitalism; there’s something operatic about it.”
The film is divided into 10 chapters because “it’s such a broad topic and I wanted the audience to understand and digest the content,” he explained.
However, some could argue that, while lasting an hour and a half, the content overlooked some of the cornerstones of Italian fashion.
“The history of Italian fashion is a complex phenomenon, regrouping together so many human and professional stories, in a multifaceted historical, political, social and cultural context,” said Carlo Capasa, president of Italy’s Camera della Moda. “It’s a history made of genius, creativity and engagement, of much hard work, pragmatism and positive energy. It’s a story of an industry whose roots stretch back to before the Renaissance. This film, due to a narrative and directorial choice, reflects in one hour and a half only a part of this story and of its protagonists, skipping over important [designers and brands] and treating others in a marginal way.
“We hope that it will stimulate the younger generation to go deeper and that it will be followed by new additional productions that can recount in a more specific way the many stories that have contributed to making Milan’s early days extraordinary and the energy and creative talents of the new millennium, who, supported by an industry that is unique in the world, make the city one of the most important fashion capitals now more than ever.”
The house of Valentino was also unimpressed. “We are deeply sorry for the final output of the documentary, which is very well directed, but slightly different from what we have been told and what we had expected,” said a company spokesperson. “Unfortunately we did not have the chance to see any preview of the movie, as we were offered to. In our own personal opinion, Made in Italy portrayal is misinterpreted from a contemporary perspective and from the viewpoint of its history. Distinctive characters such as [Walter] Albini, Krizia, [Gianfranco] Ferré, Fiorucci and others are marginalized or not referenced, such as our founders Valentino Garavani and Giancarlo Giammetti, who played a pivotal role which affirmed the city of Milan into a fashion capital in the ’80s.”
To be sure, the main Garavani footage relates to his reaction at the time to the death of Gianni Versace.
The documentary will be distributed by Submarine Entertainment in cinemas and then streamed.