It's a basic fact that, in the wake of Valentino's retirement, Giorgio Armani has become the de facto grand old man of Italian fashion. One question therefore inevitably abounds at a modern Armani show: after thirty-something years as the undisputed aesthetic autocrat of his raft of lines - menswear, womenswear, homewear et al - churning out hundreds, maybe thousands of designs each season, what can Giorgio Armani possibly have left to say that is new? If A/W 2010 is anything to go by, quite a lot actually. Granted, this collection was no great leap of faith for his followers - ignore the 'Futurista Romantico' tag he placed on his collection, and focus instead on the clothes themselves. What Armani did was to say something fresh and new in his own distinct language. The collection was quintessential Armani: soft tailoring, a mix of formal and casual, subtle, muted tones and that celebrated Armani ease - trousers fitting but never gripping, jackets and coats softly hugging the body. It's an odd thing to say, but Armani's variation after variation on the classic grey suit has particular resonance in a season when many seem to be scrambling around to define exactly what their label stands for. Next season, if you want a suit - nay, the suit - be it salt-and-pepper tweed, wool jersey or fine voile, the only place you need go is Armani. These examples had all the confident, understated elegance we have come to expect from the Milanese maestro. But this collection wasn't a one-note wonder - when he has an audience captive, Armani likes to throw a veritable slew of product at you, and presumably see what sticks commercially. The majority of it worked marvellously - his down-coats, shearling bombers and leather overcoats backed in neoprene for a firmer shape were some of the best of the very many seen in Milan. Armani is almost alone in proposing fitted knits for winter, and great they looked, with taut Fairisles in subtle earth tones paired with micro-pattern geometric print trousers. Geometrics cropped up again in standout patchworked suede jackets: Armani cited a photograph of couturier Paul Poiret as inspiration, and certainly his simultenous contrasts of colour in strong, almost deco patterns recalled both the vibrant output of Monsieur Poiret and also the graphic work of Sonia Delauney. On the other hand, black-and-white giraffe-print ponyskin jackets and way, way too much velvet crafted into drippy drawstring trousers and unstructured jackets were non-starters, however feverishly the Armani PRs attempted to rouse applause from the masses. But no matter. Set those minor missteps aside, and the invigorating part of this show was seeing an assured and focussed collection that could whisper rather than shout and still make its powerful voice heard.
What Armani did was to say something fresh and new in his own distinct language.