SET IN LOVE – Decoding AMORE in the Post-Covid Italian Fashion Show Set Design


WORDS Vésma Kontere McQuillan
The traditional physical fashion show production was significantly disrupted for four fashion seasons due to the lockdowns brought on by the pandemic. Throughout this time, designers adapted and learned to communicate their fashion collections through digital means. As life gradually returned to normal, many fashion houses incorporated the experience gained through non-physical communications into their practices. Today, the question arises: Is there any point in going back to the physical fashion show presentations, which are expensive, exclusive, and often not very environmentally sustainable?

As Rick Owens reflected during Paris Fashion Week in Fall 2021, on the transition back to traditional runways:

“After four Covid era shows live-streamed from my home on Venezia’s Lido Beach, returning bombastically at full blast to the Palais de Tokyo Paris seemed to ignore the humbling experience we all went through together; and are still experiencing. Those Covid shows were about defiant ferocity in the face of adversity, but should returning to the Paris runways be about humility and a lesson learned? Or carpe diem?”

As an architect, who deals with physical worlds, I would argue that the reason to maintain physical shows relates to our essence as human beings. The emotion we experience and call “love” – whether it is romantic love, familial love, or love for your country – is deeply connected to our physical reality. Therefore, in the second issue of Studio XYZ, I delve into how Italian fashion designers have harnessed the theme of love – AMORE – as a potent tool to express complex emotions and identities, transcending traditional boundaries. This article will explore three distinct facets of love: safe love, timeless love and risky love.
To delve into the realm of passion and love, let’s first revisit the show that guided us out of the pandemic – the first Fendi Couture show in Paris, which was streamed live from Paris’s Palais Brongniart and served as a statement about self-love, introspection, and family as the source of love.

Fendi HC 2021 show by Bureau Betak

The Palais Brongniart, initiated by Napoleon Bonaparte and designed by architect Brongniart, was constructed with the groundbreaking idea of centralizing all stock exchange activities. In 1808, the emperor laid the foundation stone, aiming to optimize the existing system by providing a single location for these activities, which was a revolutionary concept during that era.
For Kim Jones’ debut collection for Fendi Haute Couture SS221, Palais Brongniart underwent a unique transformation by introducing a slick, glass maze, replicating Fendi’s iconic double-F monograms in its structure. As models navigated through the alluring maze of glass cases in the densely lit space, an aura of mystery and sensuality enveloped the show. The neon lighting further heightened the visual impact, adding an electrifying atmosphere to the space. Alongside this, bookshelves, wild greenery and luxurious furniture within the maze created an intimate ambiance, inviting physically non-existing guests to reflect upon and explore their desires and individuality. The gender-blurring novel Orlando inspired a runway show that symbolized the search for personal identity, love and self-discovery, intertwining the passions that touch our souls.
At the same time, it was Fendi’s first show in Paris, and it beautifully portrayed the concept of family as the fundamental unit of timeless and safe love. The importance of family – both real and chosen – is celebrated through the cast who model the collection, who each inhabit glass vitrines transformed into rooms of their own. “Fendi represents the artisanal quality of the highest order, and it is all about family,” Jones reflected, “It is in its third generation with a Fendi at its helm, and I am guest-starring while bringing in the fourth. Here, I am surrounded by strong, powerful women who I love and respect, and I want to bring their energy into what I do.”

SAFE LOVE – Diesel FW2023

At Diesel’s Fall/Winter 2023 show, the models paraded on floors flushed with vibrant red hues, encircling a mountain in the center, composed of 200,000 Durex condom boxes. This audacious display, done in collaboration with Durex condoms, a striking embodiment of safe love, demonstrates how designers are using their platforms not just to exhibit their latest collections, but also to communicate essential societal messages. Amid the playful spectacle of a mountain of condom boxes, Diesel reaffirms the crucial message of safety, respect and responsible love.
Today, the students who obtain condoms in university libraries are the target audience of Diesel, just as their parents were in the brand’s love story of the 90s. But, in this new era, love is not just about the thrill of the chase or the intensity of passion as for their parents; it’s about understanding, respect and the courage to prioritize safety above all else. With a tremendous mound of red condoms looming in the center, amidst the glamor of high fashion at Milan Fashion Week, Diesel has imprinted this powerful reminder of what safe love truly means for today’s youth.

Prada FW2023 by OMA/AMO

While Diesel targets the younger audience with their promotion of safe sex, Prada elegantly approached a different kind of safety through the timeless institution of marriage. For their Fall/Winter 2023 show, attendees stepped into the same minimalistic, dark ambiance as witnessed in the January menswear presentation, marked by a 2.7-meter-high ceiling and sculptural grey sitting blocks. As the show began, a captivating transformation unfolded as the roof ascended, revealing that the stark, brutalist columns were adorned with real lilies, invoking visions of elegant wedding decorations.
Protection of the body through clothing implies a tender regard and safekeeping, but nothing can provide security quite as profoundly as a wedding dress. At Prada, wedding dresses, those quintessential symbols of love, were transformed into everyday attire. When paired with sweaters, their skirts suggest a new form of daily dress that merges the symbolic with the practical.
Prada demonstrates how the sanctity and commitment symbolized by a wedding can be imbued into our everyday lives, encouraging a daily affirmation of love, respect and mutual understanding. Through this lens, Prada reframes the notion of safety in love, going beyond physical safety to an emotional and psychological sense of security rooted in the tradition of marital unity.

TIMELESS LOVE – GUCCI SS2023 show by Bureau Betak

Dubbed ‘Gucci Twinsburg,’ the SS23 show took place at The Gucci Hub in Milan. Creative Director Alessandro Michele based the spectacle on his personal experience of being raised by twin sisters, his two mothers. The physical set comprised two asymmetrical rooms shrouded in expanded metal and adorned with photo walls. The industrial, functional mesh structure allowed the original building to peek through underneath. The photo walls bore black-and-white close-ups of the show’s twin models – 68 pairs in total – captured by photographer Mark Peckmezian. When the walls were lifted, spectators realized they had been witnessing two separate but identical shows, challenging the traditional idea of the fashion runway as a monocentric space singularly focused on specific identities and looks. This innovative take on a fashion set not only stretched the conventional boundaries of a fashion runway, but also underscored the notion of doubling — doubling a look, doubling the love.

Gucci SS2022 Gucci Love Parade by Bureau Betak

A year prior, Gucci narrated a different type of love story on Hollywood Boulevard, again deeply connected to Michele’s mother. He recalled her saying that Los Angeles, with its enchanting, timeless magic, touches the divine, becoming the myth of the possible. The Hollywood Walk of Fame’s stars twinkling under the models’ feet, fairy lights draped around the trees, illuminated street signs and vibrant billboards – the set design employed cinematic storytelling and capitalized on a love for Los Angeles, accentuating the city’s trademark glamor and charisma. The street was transformed into a runway while celebrity guests took on the role of directors, seated in cinema director’s chairs. The set design artfully encapsulated the essence of Los Angeles, ingeniously blending its charm with the magic of cinema and the tantalizing allure of possible dream.

Versace FW2023

Versace took a similarly cinematic route with their FW2023 show, crafting a La-La-Land love story atop the Pacific Design Centre, a notable Los Angeles landmark. Creative Director Donatella Versace expressed her fondness for the city, saying, “I mean, I love this city, I love the people, the laid back vibe, the atmosphere.”
The layout of the show featured the audience seated on the roof in a square formation exposed to the expansive open sky, while the cityscape served as an alluring backdrop. The almost black and white modernistic city scenery recalled movies from the 1950s and ‘60s, when some of the biggest names of American movies decamped to Italy to make films. Now, Italian fashion is heading to LA, scripting a timeless tale of love. In both Gucci and Versace shows, love manifested in the carefully crafted ambiance and narrative, utilizing the location scouting as a strategic tool to create truly memorable and captivating fashion spaces. This was Timeless Love personified, a nod to the enduring allure of Hollywood’s glamor and magic, its ability to captivate and inspire generations, much like the timeless nature of love itself.
As the world faces various challenges and uncertainties, people find solace and strength in their deep connection to their homeland. Bottega Veneta continually embodies these sentiments, standing as a beacon of homage to Italian national heritage within the fashion realm. In 2022, Bottega Veneta underlined its dedication to these ideals through an inventive collaboration with diverse vendors specializing in traditional Italian goods to cast a spotlight on the enduring traditions of Italian craftsmanship, referred to as ‘bottegatradition.’ The brand also expanded its horizons into art and design, launching various initiatives to celebrate its hometown, Venice, during the city’s 59th Biennale. One striking demonstration of love for Italian architecture was the homage to the modernist period, when Bottega Veneta transformed the iconic Olivetti showroom, designed by Carlo Scarpa in 1958, into an exclusive gallery for a limited edition collection of fifteen exquisite bags. This artful merging of fashion and architecture underscored the brand’s deep appreciation for Italian culture and its ability to create meaningful and evocative experiences for its audience.

Bottega Veneta FW2023 by Bureau Betak

With its Spring/Summer 2023 collection, Bottega Veneta celebrated Italian postmodernism, renowned for its bold, flamboyant and colorful contributions to Italy’s cultural narrative. The esteemed designer, Gaetano Pesce, played a pivotal role in this homage, creating 400 unique show chairs. Each chair was a work of art, meticulously crafted by immersing cotton canvas in tinted resin, harmoniously synchronized with the resin ‘flood’ that formed the show floor. The vibrant and joyful spirit of postmodernist design juxtaposed with the industrial setting of Fabrica Orobia in Porta Romana, a Milan district with a historical industrial past and a future full of cultural ambitions. Bottega Veneta’s tribute exemplified the brand’s commitment to embracing Italian cultural heritage while infusing it with contemporary flair and artistic ingenuity.


Timeless love is never devoid of an element of risk. This holds true in the realm of fashion design, where emerging Italian designers, like those at Sunnei, infuse their creations with a daring love that keeps the industry vibrant and innovative. For several years now, Sunnei’s fashion shows have been among the most eagerly anticipated events during Milan Fashion Week. The brand consistently challenges the conventional understanding of performance and performance spaces within the fashion ecosystem, with their innovative shows.

Sunnei AW2023

Sunnei’s Autumn/Winter 2023 show was a collective expression of trust and love, and it was a testament to this daring spirit. Breaking away from traditional fashion protocol, Sunnei opted to have their team members – not just the atelier staff, but also accountants, marketing managers and web developers – walk as models. The setting for the AW2023 collection was the Palazzina Sunnei showroom, a space that once served as a recording studio. A white platform was erected in the room’s center, and models entered from the side doors, striding confidently onto the platform. In a surprising twist, they then spun around and plunged into the crowd in a symbolic act of crowd surfing.
Typically associated with concert performances, this maneuver symbolizes trust, unity, and shared passion. It involves a performer being passed overhead through the crowd, requiring a collective effort and trust that each individual will uphold their responsibility to keep the crowd surfer safe. In this context, it was a reflection of the shared love for fashion that binds the Sunnei team and their friends together.
Additionally, Sunnei presented the season’s most innovative runway look photo: a bird’s-eye view of a person lying in the crowd, creating a spectacular visual impression and further cementing their status as fashion’s boundary-pushers.

As we explore the post-COVID Italian fashion show sets and their diverse interpretations of love, a unifying theme that centers around it is a deep longing to embrace the physicality of love.
This physical aspect remains exceptionally powerful, even in the digital era. While the allure of digital experiences, such as Gucci’s SS23 Twinsburg presentation appearing on Tencent’s Super QQ Show – a 3D interactive space where users can dress in virtual fashion pieces, watch shows, socialize and play games in various scenarios with digital currency – is evident, the Italian fashion houses beautifully intertwine the digital with the tangible world. This demonstrates the enduring significance of real-life encounters in the realms of love and fashion.