In Milan six months ago when Dolce & Gabbana's D&G collection was first shown, the surprise – and even confusion – of this influential Italian label's following was almost palpable. In place of riotous floral and animal prints, hour-glass corsetry and itsy-bitsy skirts came Argyle knits, oversized kilts that fall to mid-calf, printed silk headscarves and sensible footwear. Such things are relative, of course. Knee-high boots in orange patent leather with a chunky gold heel may not be the average librarian's accessory of choice but you can actually walk in them – even stride. What more could anyone ask for?
Whichever way one chooses to look at it, the mood is something of a departure from what might otherwise be expected from a brand that has made such a success of super-charged glamour. The more po-faced fashion follower has, in the past, even gone so far as to accuse this Italian mega-brand of promoting images of sluttishness but that would be to underestimate the deep vein of humour – and indeed joyful celebration of femininity – that always runs through the work, not to mention the craftsmanship that goes into its production.
This time Dolce & Gabbana's blithe irreverence is perhaps more in evidence than ever. So what do they have to say on the matter? "The collection is comfortable and warm" declares Stefano Gabbana, one half of the design team, which might be a case of stating the obvious – this is an autumn collection, after all. Such practical considerations are rarely at the forefront of the international fashion fraternity's mind, however. There's more. "For this season, we wanted to create a solid, pure and easy-to-wear collection," Domenico Dolce confirms, something of a cause for celebration it might be argued.
More specifically: "England, with its colours and atmosphere was an important inspiration," Gabbana continues. "The tartan of Scottish kilts is the leitmotif of the collection and we reinterpreted the scarf that can be tied either on the handbags or the neck."
If the look is familiar to anyone who is British born and bred then that is no accident either. Move over Monica Bellucci, Anna Magnani, Sofia Loren, et al – for the time being at least. Dolce & Gabbana are in the throes of an Anglophile moment and it is our own dear Queen who is their muse this season. Of course, such things are rarely as straightforward as they seem. If the sartorial mood is indeed reminiscent of that associated with the British monarch – and not dressed for occasions of state but more downbeat walking her dogs at Balmoral, say – then the overall effect is, only whisper it, perhaps just a tad more obviously gorgeous than that. It is the Queen, as played by Helen Mirren in the Stephen Frears film of the same name, that Dolce & Gabbana were thinking about when they designed D&G, they state – as with Giorgio Armani, film is perhaps the most constant source of inspiration in their universe. "The scarves in particular are a clear reference to the Queen's style," says Gabbana.
It is perhaps small wonder that, given the more covered up and indeed pragmatic appearance of it all, commentators have been quick to judge this offering as a reflection of increasingly sober times. It is certainly true that bright colour and print and – over and above that – any vestige of a body-conscious silhouette is conspicuous by its absence across the board.
"If you have a beautiful body, of course you can show it," argues Gabbana. "But our idea this time was to present a new kind of femininity." As a man who has long gloried in a self-proclaimed obsession with a woman's bra this is far from what might be expected. The determinedly understated D&G autumn/winter collection is radical in its conservatism and indeed powerful – such a lovely play on tradition is soothing in the extreme.
If economic downturn is at least part of the story, though, it may also be true that our love affair with celebrity seems somewhat jaded for now and this has led to fashion leaders searching for increasingly unpredictable role models. This seems resonant coming from this stable above all others. Dolce & Gabbana has long been beloved by any superstar one might care to mention – from Madonna to Scarlett Johansson – and with good reason. There is nothing much more high octane or flattering than the ultra-structured Dolce & Gabbana aesthetic after all.
"Celebrities are icons of beauty," Dolce concludes, "but our fashion message is for women in general. We think every woman has the ability to interpret the fashion messages and she doesn't need to be inspired by a famous model to be beautiful and admired."