Those we may have expected to tow the line for the lean, mean and clean have turned volte-face to pile it on.
The new feeling for the unadorned and unsullied has split the always molto massimo Milan into so many Montagues and Capulets this season. Old masters of excess are stripping back - check Gucci's caramel-camel coats and the remarkably slick tailoring at DSquared2 with nary a jokey-slogan in sight. Similarly, those we may have expected to tow the line for the lean, mean and clean have turned volte-face to pile it on - compare Prada's spare and sparse spring tailoring with her ruffled, embroidered and patterned offerings for winter. The big opener of fashion week (yanking herself out of line with the Anna Wintour diktat of the Milanese three-day week) Miuccia sent out an ode to Italian curves as sharp and dangerous as Monza, embellished to the hilt with beading, hand-drawn prints, frills and furbelows. The latter, in cerulean mink, were a warning that all was not as it may seem. Those heaving embonpoints were padded and frilled implants, the vinyl was actually cire (there's a blast from the past), while flirty seamed stockings were rendered as thickly cable-knit socks. All very out of character? On the contrary, coloured in the murky, sludgy palette of non-colours Prada made their own in the mid-nineties, this felt like a return to her roots - maybe the most radical proposal of all from Miu, queen of the new.
This retrospective approach is characteristic of the Italian fashion industry as a whole. When in doubt, go back to what you know - and, more importantly, what you know will sell. Check the leather-heavy Bottega Veneta collection, classic tailoring from Armani (Giorgio and Emporio alike will be suiting and booting the masses come autumn), hefty knits at Missoni and a heftier dose of satin, strapping and sex from Christopher Kane for Versus.
Dolce e Gabbana's latest offering, however, pushed the idea into a different league. It is oft overlooked that D&G are pretty spectacular tailors - just to force the point they opened and closed their show with basic black suiting, sending out a finale of seventy-something models in the same in case you didn't get the hint. All fine, if a touch prim and proper next to the bombastically corseted extravaganza they put on for spring. All the while, an emotivo cinematic homage to the workers in D&G atelier spun across the back of the catwalk, to a soundtrack of tear-jerkers. Domenico and Stefano were evidently desperately seeking substance this season, but why the sudden deep and meaningful? I couldn't help but think of the comment someone threw at me earlier in the week: 'I like Milan because it's a business here. No one pretends anything else.' It seems D&G agree: this impassioned homage to craft and craftsmanship, was, after all, in the great grand service of hawking a few hundred (thousand) black blazers and curvy cocktail frocks. Nothing more, nothing less. Perhaps that's why the moist-eyed and heavy-handed schmaltz all felt a bit hackneyed: frankly I just didn't buy it.
What I will be buying, however, is Jil Sander. Raf Simons took a basic premise - this season's seemingly constant reinterpretation of the classic suit - and reworked it into oblivion. There was no glitz and nothing even approaching evening attire in this wilfully pared-down affair, all attention focussed on intricate details of cut and finish in suit after suit. It all came back to the omnipotent Ms Wintour and her Chanel suits according to Simons, although his imagination fused her with Lara Croft to create a hybrid warrior wardrobe built for an office offensive. This was less minimalism, more reductionism - boiling a wardrobe down to the bare bones for survival, and eschewing fashion's flirtations with sexy sixties secretaries, there wasn't a retrospective glance in this short sharp shock of a definitive statement on future dressing.
Next to Simons' severe new brand of simplicity, could the wantonly maximal collection from Peter Dundas at Emilio Pucci be any more different? Their only similarity was their strength. Dundas kept his silhouettes suctioned tight as a firm basis for abstractions of decoration - print whorling across jacquard, spliced with lace and crusted with embroidery, fur and feather. Hemlines were floor-length or sky-high, nothing in-between. That was the great thing - the conviction and focus of Dundas' aesthetic, uncompromising and unflinching. It was tight, it was bright and it was unashamedly sexy. In a tentative Milan season full of wishy-washy sidewards glances at the competition, Pucci stood out a mile.