Arrival of the fittest: Milan's fashion action heroines

Lovers of strong, sexy (and very short) clothes will be thrilled by Milan’s latest shows. Make way for the new action heroines, says Carola Long
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Almost all the classic ingredients of Milan Fashion Week were in place this season – on and off the catwalk. Baroque glamour and overt sex appeal? Check. Fashion pack in glossy cocktail wear and heels almost as high as the Duomo? Yup. Much shouting and beeping of Vespa horns as a cavalcade of cars parks nonchalantly in the middle of the road to drop off Anna Wintour and Co? But of course.

With most labels going back to their roots, and Milan revelling in its short, tight, colourful and sexy side, there were just a few small surprises in store. Numero uno was probably the underwhelming celebrity wattage or celebs at incongruous shows.

Dolce & Gabbana boasted one of the best front rows with no one more A-list than Daisy Lowe (who appeared in red leopard-print knickers from the show) and Peaches Geldof (the Italian press must have been baffled at what the pouty daughter of someone in the Boomtown Rats was doing there). Janet Jackson appeared – bizarrely – at Bottega Veneta, with a beatifically appreciative expression, but probably the biggest hitter – forgive the pun – of the week was Roger Federer, who pitched up for Prada and Giorgio Armani as Anna Wintour’s date. Oh and his wife was there too.

So far, so incongruous – or perhaps not entirely – as there was a decidedly sporty influence running through the shows. At Gucci, the creative director Frida Giannini concentrated on body-conscious silhouettes and activewear details, such as mesh panels, metal clasps and harnesses, to evoke a sexy – and wealthy – Amazonian action heroine.

The show opened with Natasha Poly playing the cold-as-ice queen in a figure-hugging white bandage dress, followed by all-white (white in its many permutations proved a big trend) then grey, and black, ensembles of skinny stretch trousers, sheath dresses and clingy minis, teamed with cropped anoraks and bikers. Giannini said backstage that she wanted to “create a balance between what the house did in the past with something very innovative, so we used details from trekking, parachuting, and sailing, and the harness idea came from backpack straps”.

The sporty element at Prada was, unsurprisingly, more subtle. The show featured knee-length cycling shorts in a shiny grey techno-fabric, as well as tiny, gym-style knickers with unfinished hems and a grown-up take on schoolboy shorts – all paired with boxy Sixties-style organza jackets.

These came in grey, monochrome rose-pattern and a photographic print of a virtual beach with a darkened sky and an uneasy, apocalyptic quality. Meanwhile wall projections depicted classical palazzos with views of the beach behind them. Miuccia Prada said that the show evoked the fusion of high and low culture in modern life, and this tension gave the show its creative energy.

The final section of the show featured sporty white knickers and fitted tops worn under glacially chic dresses made of chandelier crystals, but when the high street bosses come to mull over how to copy Prada, they will probably click that these can’t be knocked out en masse. Instead, they will probably boil down the whole vision into one more easily “homaged” garment, and that’s pants.

Pants, knickers, mini-shorts and underwear as outerwear were big trends of London Fashion Week, and the theme gathered momentum in Milan. Dolce & Gabbana staged the most headline-grabbing pants-related spectacle of the week and ensured those headlines were as instantaneous as possible by rigging up laptops for the front-row bloggers.

They turned the typical ballgown finale on its head by sending out over 30 models simultaneously dressed in 1950s-style big knickers and bra tops in black lace, vintage rose-print and red and black leopard-print. This was quintessential Dolce, also evoking a Sicilian siren through neat, fitted jackets and pencil skirts in black or rose-print silk, and flirtatious little black lace dresses with fringing, bra straps, and sheer lace sleeves or décolletages. The designers went back to their trademark for contemporary line D&G, too, with a collection of cowgirl-style flounced minis and maxis, corset tops, and fringed boots in distressed denim and tan suede. Think Calamity Jane goes clubbing.

Another label going back to its super-sexy roots was the enthusiastically received Versace. Aliona Doletskaya, the editor of Russian Vogue, reflected that “Versace was a highlight; it had unmistakable soul. It was the Gianni Versace approach to expensive sexiness for a very confident Versace girl.” Tiny tight minis, small boxy jackets, and if-you’ve-got-it-flaunt-it sheath dresses came with zig-zag or psychedelic prints in shades of acid yellow, lilac, turquoise, pink and silver. Meanwhile, floor-length gowns in similar colours featured silver panels, cutaway sections, and slashed thighs.

Armani’s palette is usually muted, but this season the designer was in more flamboyant spirits. At Giorgio Armani, fluid wide-leg trousers came in electric blue, while short, hot pink and cornflower blue cocktail dresses actually looked like a particularly potent cocktail.

There will be alternatives to brights next season, however. At Marni, playful colour is always on the menu, but this season quieter shades of chocolate, putty and blush provided the basis for “pops” of colour and pattern, via stripes, spots, art-deco design knits, and bright florals. Dressing gown-like jackets and silk tunics over stripy leggings, jersey cycling shorts or hotpants all had a fluid, 1930s feel, but add pirate bandanas, prisoner/burglar stripy leggings and – eek! – kitten heeled sandals, and the quirky Marni vision was complete.

Bursts of iridescent blue and green on foil dresses provided the only flashes of strong colour at Jil Sander, where they made extra impact amongst a strict palette of white, sandstone, midnight blue and navy. Designer Raf Simons was inspired by Seventies Land Art movies (footage of al fresco installations) which were screened alongside the famous orgy scene from Zabriskie Point, but the sensuality of the clothes was far more subtle and severe. Streamlined shift dresses came decorated with floppy fabric petals, while wide-leg trouser suits and tailored jackets will keep the brand’s reputation for chic workwear intact.

While Simons’ interest in the land ultimately felt urban, Bottega Veneta and Roberto Cavalli’s take on the theme was decidedly rustic. Think peasant-luxe. Amongst the ivory cotton-canvas shift dresses, cropped trousers, shirt dresses and wrapped tops (inspired by judo outfits, and a bit sporty) there was a signature intrecciato bag in pale leather, made to look like a simple straw bag. Cavalli built a Mediterranean villa set at the end of his catwalk, complete with terrace, wooden shutters and curtains billowing in the breeze.

The scent of the perma-tanned designer’s famous cigar commingled with that of potted plants as he described his muse as a “very romantic woman”. Apron dresses in sheer floral or patchwork-print chiffon were layered with masculine jackets and trousers. This time the saucy Cavalli woman was not only covered up – she had shoved on too many clothes at once, and the overloaded styling dragged down any pretty pieces.

However, while Cavalli might have turned down the heat for once, overall, Milan had well and truly got its molto sexy mojo back. Enjoy’s autumn’s more covered-up clothes while you can, because, come spring/summer 2010, we may all be going out in our pants.