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Diesel Sets a World Record

MILAN — Milan Fashion Week began with a world record, set in front of about 5,000 people. Well, it’s hard to get attention these days. Turn a corner in this city and you are liable to walk into a political rally, ahead of the country’s general election on Sunday. Open a newspaper and you are faced with news about the escalation of the war in Ukraine. There’s a lot going on.

As it happens, this particular achievement — certified by the folks at Guinness World Records — was not for most yards of fabric in a single garment or most bugle beads on a top or most models or any sort of clothing-related statistic. It was for biggest inflatable, mmmm … structure, ever made.

The installation in question was a little more than 37 meters high and 49 meters long, or a bit more than 122 feet by 161 feet. Set on the floor of the Allianz Cloud Arena, it actually looked like a giant blowup threesome (actually, it turned out, foursome), with gargantuan hands and legs so intertwined and enormous it was hard to get a handle on exactly what was going on. But something kinky.

Made by the same company that makes the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons, it loomed like a sex scene from another planet at the center of the Diesel show.

Glenn Martens, Diesel’s creative director, introduced the blowup scenario last season, when he scattered similar inflatable figures, clad in denim, around his debut show for the brand (they later made appearances at store events). This time, however, it wasn’t just fashion insiders who got to see the behemoth: The show was held before about 2,000 members of the public, plus another 1,600 students and company employees and a few hundred industry insiders.

“It’s the future, no?” said Eraldo Poletto, Diesel’s chief executive, standing in the shadow of an enormous hip.

It was a rhetorical question — and besides, he was talking about the idea of inviting consumers and fans in, rather than the gigantic set of sex dolls, but they are not unrelated. If you are going to open up a formerly exclusive experience to the world and send a message about inclusivity, an impossible-to-miss foursome is one place to start. This is not a moment when anyone is embracing subtlety. Besides, Diesel was built on the marketing of provocation.

What kept it from seeming like just a stunt was the fact that beneath the blowups, Mr. Martens is not just full of hot air. He’s doing things with denim — the fabric of democracy — that are genuinely transformative and coded for currency.

Slinging jeans to bumster levels around the hips and inserting a boned, dessicated-tulle corset rising to the waist, for example, under a faded denim bra. Turning an aluminum belt into a skirt. Dirtying it up in both attitude and surface treatment. Getting handsy. But also shredding jeans into tiers on slip dresses and suits so they resemble gorgeously ruched Austrian shades. Fraying the edges of coats into lavish fringe. Reusing and reinventing.

Playing to the rafters, and the millennial vibe currently running through fashion, as well as making what may be the ultimate in Burning Man couture. Mr. Martens sees the world not in a grain of sand but in a pair of jeans. That actually does feel like the future.

Especially because so much of fashion seems to be thinking small, and looking backward. So it was in New York and so it is continuing in Milan.

At Alberta Ferretti, for example, the designer started with a smoke machine (a smoke machine!) and then offered up a collection made for a romanticized Paul Bowles odyssey in wafting organza anoraks, disco dresses and shades of orange, pink, olive green and turquoise.

In his mess of a Roberto Cavalli show, Fausto Puglisi name-checked Alfred Hitchcock, Tony Duquette and Adrian — tent poles of old Hollywood glam — and then mix-mashed them into the Cavalli menagerie, so fruity pineapple prints and sweeping pleated overskirts atop tiny shorts and leather bandeau tops were interspersed with lizard and leopard prints, plus a little black dress sprouting a giant jeweled palm tree on the front. Also a runway so slippery that models kept losing their footing at the exit. Nothing seems as last century as putting any woman in a situation where it’s impossible for her to walk.

And at Fendi, Kim Jones delved into the archives to explore the work of its former designer Karl Lagerfeld in the period from 1996 and 2002. If Y2K met sport and they got an haute makeover, this would be the result.

There were shaved shearling jean jackets, fluid cargo pants with half-skirts belted on top, shrunken sweaters knit from old furs and layered mesh tank dresses scattered with Fendi logo prints and stylized Japanese florals (also some obi-like belts, harkening back to Mr. Jones’s recent couture show for the brand).

They had a sort of slouchy self-assurance, calculated to bridge the comfortwear divide — Mr. Jones, who made his name in men’s wear, is finding his footing with women’s wear — and the rubber wedge slide will probably be like catnip for the Hadid set. But there’s something cynical about the approach, as if Mr. Jones is milking the past. Given that Fendi just held a 25th anniversary of the Baguette bag show in New York, maybe that’s understandable. If he really wants to move the brand forward, he will have to close that book, and start one of his own. Then everyone might really have something to ogle.

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