Milan is where things get serious. Here fashion doesn’t ask if something is a trend, but instead tells you what will be happening next Spring/Summer. This is the home of Gucci, Prada, Armani, Versace and Dolce and Gabbana. It's the city that christened the Supermodels - Linda, Naomi, Cindy, Christy - with single-name only crowns (plus $100,000 fees). Bling. It. On.
Gucci, with its heavy-weight gold lacquered logo, kicked off the week. It was ‘aristographic’ (best invented word of the season) and up-beat. With its bold colours and sharp silhouettes, the collection had a nod to Gucci in its seventies heyday. But, like Liz Taylor’s affair with Richard Burton, the ‘memory’ had been refined. Ruffles of hot azalea pink, colbalt, citrus and coral swung onstage, and everything matched head-toe-toe, from the jackets, purses, and pants to the pouts. While Milan is the home of the bag (Gucci, Prada, Fendi) it was, this season, also the city that focused on the power of the signature. There was THE dress (Bottega Veneta), THE cut (Mr. Armani), and THE glamour (Mr. Cavalli, who offered 43 ways to frame a woman). This was a season without heavy branding - that comes later, when you buy it, all wrapped in logotastic tissue.
Power brands are in the process of searching for their yin and yang to try to stand out, and nowhere more so than in Milan. Fendi meditated on the modern, playing with proportion, while Versace stripped away its tough rock chick exterior, and all the usual under-carriage-construction, to soften rather than cross the line. While Lady Gaga is championing the vintage Versace years, from the safety pin to the Gianni Versace Medussa prints, Donatella’s currently steering the family label in a different direction. For better, for worse, rather than rest on its heritage of excess this season she pushed a lighter lingerie-inspired look. Perfectly wearable for wafting around Woodstock, or more realistically on the starlets at Coachella, but, after last season's smash, everyone was all hyped up and ready for a replay of 1991 (Supermodels lip-syncing to George Michael’s Freedom and all that). No no. Spring/Summer 13 was all about a Stevie-Nicks-in-tie-dyes vibe, yes the Versace girl was still a leggy, glamorous, rock chick, but she wasn’t a one-night-stand-groupie. Instead, she was looking for love and perhaps – eck- even a relationship. But before you fret Versace wasn’t getting too grown up or sensible: this Versace girl would be grabbing one of the finale fringed evening gowns to wear with nothing other than her VIP Backstage Pass. This was glami-grunge, albeit with no mud at this festival. Versus, by contrast, was high-octane, and pumped up the volume by aiming a bulls-eye for the Versace purists’ heart. Versus had Beth Ditto belting out her hits live while Chris Kane added pink (the colour) and punk into the Versace mix. Donatella and the Kane rounded the showings off on the dance floor - exactly where Versace should be.
Dolce and Gabbana went on a jolly-day to ‘Sicilia’ to celebrate Spring/Summer. Sicily is not only Dolce’s homeland it’s also where they debuted their couture line in July. While some designers like to blur the lines of what to wear ‘when’, and in ‘what’ season, Dolce and Gabbana are very happy to pack their bucket and spade and build a castle - or in this case collection - full of sunshine memories. Sicilian heroes and motifs - the puppets, lemons, vases – were crammed onto painted silk scarves and intricately placed prints on skirts and tops. Subtle, no, but joyful, certainly. Leaving behind the pasta and peppers of last summer, this time the tourist trip to the land of Dolce and Gabbana celebrated the curves of a woman by gift-wrapping their models in raffia corsets and wicker-woven crinolines.
Jil Sander couldn’t have been more different. That said, ‘souvenir siren’ is a tricky look for anyone other than Dolce and Gabbana to pull off. Under the bright white lights at Jil Sander things were neat, pure and polished as Jil herself returned to her namesake label after an eight year absence. The silhouette was as starched as a white shirt should be and the colour palette was calm and considered: burgundy, black, white, blue and the odd electrifying shock of bright orange. Sander’s sculpted sleeveless jackets, narrow pants, and crisp shirts - part of her ‘reset to zero’ - were part monastic, part school girl. Those boots, with spiralling zip and white cuff, are already a must-have.
Then there is Prada - always a game changer. While not actually shown at the end of the week, it is a fitting finale for Milan. While some designers throw on everything and the kitchen sink, others strip back to the most minimal, and here the consequences remind me of ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’. After a lot of tasting and trying there are some times when (read ‘clothes’ not ‘porridge’ here) everything is ‘just right’. This season, as usual, that happened at Prada. Although Gucci had subtly nodded to the shapes of the Orient it wasn’t a central theme, by contrast Prada took things one step further. Miuccia Prada is sacred stuff, in fashion terms, because she designs and debates the contradictions of being a woman. Her lack of fluff and pretension freaks journalists out when they come to review her shows. This season she contrasted graphic sixties Courrèges-like silhouettes with the forbidden allure of the Geisha. Well, that’s what I saw. Heavy duchesse satin was folded and wrapped like origami, while soft sorbet pink and greens were turned into a new style of kimono. Girls walked the perimeters of a modernist tea-house in short skirts, while sporting matte stained red lips, cult flower motif glasses (want, need!) and towering platforms. Red punctuated the monotone, while naïve flower motifs broke up the strict folds and cut. Prada stripped away an old season and presented objects of desire for the next, and her live stream, shot from the shoe up, made sure the eye was focused firmly on the power of the accessory.
Armani runways can often feel chilly and emotionless, but this season the clothes felt fun, cool and, most of all, relevant.