Authority is what we look for from designers when we come to Milan - a confident, bravado statement of intent, consummate and refined. It was there in spades at Tomas Maier's latest show for Bottega Veneta. In fact, it was all there, in shorthand, in the very first outfit - the definitive black suit, broad-shouldered, tapered leg, drawn in at the waist and rendered in calfskin so tissue-thin it creased as the model marched by. It looked part boardroom part brothel, a synopsis for the collection as a whole, albeit mere subtle insinuation of the latter - more epater le bourgeoise than scare the horses.
Bottega Veneta was all about absolute power - sexual, corporate and sartorial alike - but luckily it doesn't seem to have corrupted in the slightest. What this inspiration motivated Tomas Maier to do was turn out his strongest collection yet, a fusion of his much-feted softly-softly approach with something far harder and tougher. Thus his signature sinuous draping for day came with exaggerated external shoulders bound in felt, trousers were easy and full on the hip but bound strictly into the ankle while floating movement was added through flaps of fabric to a flannel jumpsuit. There were seductive games afoot in layers of opacity and transparency, fishnets and high-heels. That seduction rapidly turned to something sharper, a delicate frisson of trussed-up sex in webbing straps cinching jewl-coloured taffeta sheaths or crossing over flesh at the back of evening dresses. But even when Maier turned to an Allen Jones palette of brilliant red and spanked-flesh pink, and sent out undeniably extreme hide body armour and laced snakeskin beastplates fastened with bondage straps, it never descended into the realms of bad taste or kitsch.
Maybe it was the impeccable workmanship of the Bottega Veneta craftsmen that kept everything just the right side of real, the same textures and techniques used for covetable bags as that buttery-soft luxe fetish gear. Leather is of course the foundation of the house, but Maier has never before crafted with such energy and assurance, qualities that evidently rubbed off on the clothing too. Witness a firm, leather-lapelled coat, drop-dead simple silk crepe evening dresses, or that pair of forceful trousersuits with endless legs in black and navy. These were seductive too - but it was the seduction to dress, rather than undress that made them and the rest of this collection so desirable.