It's always interesting to contrast the shows of Versace and Giorgio Armani, so completely do they represent the opposing sides of Italian fashion. Versace's style has always been hot, flirty and sexy - high heels, short skirts, tight waists. The Versace woman, conversely, finds ease in herself through lack of ease in her dress. Armani, of course, is the cool, calm, Modernist counterpart to Versace's voluptuous Classicism, sensual rather than sexy, seductive rather than flirtatious.
These comparisons this season are especially drawn because Armani and Versace both, somehow, alighted on the same theme, the subterranean. But whereas Versace was all pastel seahorses and darted and seamed neoprene like bubbly fifties swimsuits, Armani looked to nacre and the iridescent sheen of mother-of-pearl to inspire his latest collection. That's another difference between these poles of Milanese style - literal versus conceptual.
Of course, there were no short skirts or corseted waists in Armani's collection. His women prefer to conceal rather than reveal their bodies, confident that men prefer them for what's inside their head rather than whats inside their dress. There's the automatic idea that that makes the Armani customer more discerning or intellectual than the Versace customer. No dice - just because your dress is small it doesn't mean your mind is too (despite the Vicrtorian aphorism, a narrowness of waist does not neccesarily betray a narrowness of mind). It does, however, mean that Armani's clothes appeal to a broader spectrum of women, especially age-wise, than most other designers in Milan focussing on the tighty-whitey line emerging for next spring.
There was much for an Armani woman, young or old, to love for 2012. Opalescent colours and fabric treatments were applied to cocktail dresses in silk that rippled around the body, subtly indicating the figure without gripping it tightly. Jackets were rendered in techno-fabrics to give them a delicate sheen. That was reminiscent of Armani's sci-fi couture of January, but this time the fabric seemed more forgiving, cut into hip-emphasising double-breasted jackets in lilac-shot shades of oyster. The colour palette in general deserves a mention: this time last year Armani pulled out a collection entirely crafted in navy blue. In case you thought he had no more love for under-the-sea shades left in him, this collection put you straight. Those pale shades of blue combined with sea-foam green, pale silvery greys and ivories, the latter sometimes a fine mesh base for crystal embroideries like water droplets. There were a few elements that didn't gel: jacquard fabrics sometimes looked heavy, skirt lengths occasionally ended up lumpen around the mid-calf, and the odd Chinoiserie detailing seemed a hangover from the last couture show. But on the whole it felt like a timely reminder of the enduring appeal of the man who kick-started Milanese Minimalism forty years ago, and is still going strong.