©Pietro D'aprano/Getty Images

There is no doubt as to the most powerful image during Milan Fashion Week. Not Italy’s world-famous designers showing their wares; nor models on the runway in a state of undress; nor the inevitable celebrities posing for pictures.

It was that picture of activist Greta Thunberg holding a placard and imploring fellow young citizens to believe that there is no “No Planet B”- and that there is something they can do to save the climate. The vision jerked to attention people surfing the net or glancing at a newspaper front page.

#SuzyMFW: Missoni and Marni Focus On The Future Of Planet Earth-1
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“Fashion” – although that word is never clearly defined – is foremost in the current struggle to stop waste and pollution. The big picture is the textile industry and factories churning out gas and filth across the world may be a major danger to the planet. But fashion has become symbolic of wasteful frivolity in a serious situation.

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©Pietro D’aprano/Getty Images

What to do when millennials have been fed throw away garments at indecently low prices, raising suspicion that exploitation of workers on dirt-cheap payments is another area in which fashion is shameful?

Some designers themselves have cried mea culpa (‘I am to blame’) although Italy itself is a world hub of skills and handcraft that serves the highest echelons of fashion across the globe.

But Greta Thunberg’s manifesto cannot – and must not – be ignored. Here is a look at designers in Milan who are facing up to the possible destruction of Planet Earth.

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Missoni: Let There Be Light!

The models at Missoni, in their colourfully woven outfits, carrying baskets of flowers and walking around the blue waters of a giant Milanese swimming pool, gave the impression that this show was “business as usual”. There was the familiar exuberance due to what Angela Missoni called “clothes inspired by a long summer”.

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“I started with the idea of men and women swapping clothes as a couple,” she explained. “And when I was a young kid, my dream was of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin exchanging clothes from one another’s wardrobe. I tried to keep the men very masculine and the girls either feminine or with jackets and little ties as accessories.”

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Could anything seem more idyllic? Pretty prints, easy clothes, and an attitude of ‘life’s a beach’ – and the joy of a country life where the designer said she had “grabbed the flowers from the garden this morning”.

“We are an optimistic family – and I am optimistic by nature,” she said.

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But there was more to this Missoni show than family happiness. On each guest’s place – and in each model’s hand – were 1,000 lamps, powered by the sun, representing the same number of Little Sun solar lamps from artist Olafur Eliasson gifted by Missoni to deliver to parts of rural Africa where there is no electricity.

Taking a practical step to help others seems a very Missoni family thing to do.

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Marni: A Vibrant Message

The colours were dizzyingly bright – wild patterns of flowers in hot-as-hell colours, with tops and tie-around skirts in contrasts or sunshine yellow and shocking pink. As the Marni show started, the background of totems and benches built with recycled paper were challenged by the jungle of the clothes and eerie music.

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“I was thinking about being sick from a tropical malady and the symptoms of it: the hallucinations, the shivering, and the fine line between the beautiful vertigoes and wondering what’s happening,” said designer Francesco Risso, claiming that the experience with nature “is reconnecting us with our own tribe.”

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It could also be claimed to be going back to Marni’s roots since the brand was founded on a bias towards the natural. But Risso’s style is much more flamboyant. From upstanding floral headpieces to flat sandals, the effect was powerful yet almost violent.

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But the designer has joined the cause, focusing on the waste found in the waters and thinking of artist Judith Hopf who transformed plastic into palm trees.

“It affects me in a beautiful way because I discovered so many things, and that there’s a world of young people ready for it,” said the designer. “So that is our joyous protest.”

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Fine words, but can you turn such vibrant and colourful clothes into a buck given that your customers cannot always understand what is behind the seams?

Yet Renzo Rosso, who owns Marni and many other brands from Diesel to Maison Margiela, said backstage that he was 100 per cent behind recycling and Francesco’s message.

“If you want to be a brand for the future,” the executive said, “sustainability is the only way.”