While London's designers may be known for their rebellious nature, at Milan Fashion Week the Italians proved that they are able to make a statement with their collections, too. The bi-annual showcase in Italy's second city this season coincided with the country going to the polls to decide on a new leader, after a battle that had largely been fought over financial lines.
Well that was the plan, anyway. Although the inconclusive result implies that the political future of the country is uncertain, if the designers have their way a return to boom times is on the horizon.
This sense of optimism manifested itself on the catwalk primarily through the plentiful use of fur – Karl Lagerfeld led the charge for the use of the material, which remains controversial here but is far more commonplace in Italy, with his collection for Fendi where mink and fox skins were used not only on clothes but adorned bags, shoes and sunglasses, too.
By the close of the week of shows, the absence of skins became more notable than those collections in which they were used – whether pony skin, beaver, python or crocodile the wealth of such textures indicated that the Italian designers were rebelling about the austerity measures of former prime minister Mario Monti, and, as his political defeat indicates, this is a sentiment echoed by the population.
Indeed, fur was also a big part of the story at Marni – a brand which recently received an injection of cash thanks to Renzo Rosso, owner of the Diesel brand, buying a controlling stake in December last year. For a house whose signature is so intrinsically connected with prints, by showing only a few patterned pieces designer Consuelo Castiglioni seemed to be wiping the slate clean with a collection that was almost puritanical in its rigour. “Textures and fabrics as always are key,” said Castiglioni of this new direction, which also experimented with volume and proportion.
Although Dolce & Gabbana's collection did not use fur, this was by no means an exercise in austerity from the Sicilian designers. Instead they mined the riches of their Catholic heritage with Byzantine and Monreale gilded mosaics first printed and then embellished with sequins, beads and jewels. News of the Pope's surprise resignation may have broken just days before the show, but it is safe to say that this was a dedication to the artisanal and opulent foundations of worship rather than a meditation on the state of the religion at present.
At Bottega Veneta, Tomas Maier presented a noirish, ladylike collection. His use of three dimensional pleats and origami folding on shoulders created the sense of a womanly suit of armour, a motif particularly apparent throughout the collections as structured shoulders whether rounded and sculpted or pointed and pagoda-like.
“It is a challenge to look into a material that is not so appealing, and then make it into something that is quite appealing,” said Maier of his experimental use of wool, a fabric which he finished with raw edges. “We wanted to take the collection in a direction that was not as overtly feminine as last season. It is very precise, but with an edge and well suited to the confident and sophisticated Bottega Veneta woman.”
The balance between masculine and feminine teetered back and forth throughout the week. Miuccia Prada's vision of “raw elegance” was her way of going against the grain: “Generally, the feeling is it is old-fashioned to look romantic,” she said backstage of a collection that expertly counterbalanced hourglass silhouettes and feminine fabrics with more traditionally “nasty” Prada elements such as the awkward colours of tomato red and mustard yellow and chunky-soled shoes.
At Gucci meanwhile, creative director Frida Giannini's overtly sexy woman channelled Miss Whiplash with fetish aesthetics in a mission to “seduce with her dangerous femininity”. There was plenty of glossy black courtesy of patent leather, python and crocodile elements, but the rich colour palette of purple, moss green and orange helped to make those pieces sing.
Continuing a theme of the London collections was Versace's punk, or “Vunk” if you will,reimagined as if it emerged fully formed in the present day. This look was sexy, too, with shiny vinyl in red and yellow, studded and spiked leather, nails and razorblades strewn across a body-conscious silhouette. “It is sexy, strong, brave and full of energy,” said Donatella Versace. “It is the essence of Versace, heading straight into the future.”
Jil Sander was also pre-occupied with the future: bands of gold-leaf highlighted a precisely minimal collection of structured slate, black and oxblood pieces inspired by tales of people hoarding gold because they do not trust the future.
“We are optimists,” said Sander. “We believe in the future.”
Tartan at Moschino, Alberta Ferretti and Versace; gingham in powder pink and blue at Prada; window panes at Marni and Trussardi; houndstooth at Dolce & Gabbana and Gucci, graphic at Etro.
Ladylike in menswear fabrics at Dolce & Gabbana; staggered hemlines and hourglass silhouettes at Prada; pastel shades and voluminous shapes at Emporio Armani; tux-inspired at DSquared2.
A minimal stripe at Jil Sander; the crowning glory at Dolce & Gabbana; gilded leather at Prada; embossed insignias and curlicues at Moschino; finely woven in shimmering coral knits at Missoni; filigree lace minidresses at Emilio Pucci.
Black, midnight and shades of grey were highlighted with bright and bold shades. Orange came courtesy of Gucci, Jil Sander and Missoni; yellow was seen at Versace, Prada and MaxMara; while red made a statement at Bottega Veneta, Moschino and Dolce & Gabbana.
Cut into biker shapes at Marni, Trussardi and Etro; dyed red at Prada and Just Cavalli; embossed at Roberto Cavalli, and SportMax; given a high shine finish at Versace, and Salvatore Ferragamo.
Jewel-encrusted, beaded and sequined mosaics at Dolce & Gabbana; glittering ruby slippers at Emporio Armani; black on black crystal embellishment at Prada.
Fierce, origami folds at Bottega Veneta; structured and rounded at Gucci, Trussardi and Jil Sander, cape-backed at Marni.
Nails, studs and razor blades at Versace; Fendi's women modelled fur mohawks; tartan and crosses at Moschino's rock'n'roll rebellion.
Away from the catwalks
The Brits showed the Italians how to party: Katie Grand celebrated her new collection for Hogan with mates Abbey Clancy, Giles Deacon and Lulu Kennedy; Georgia May Jagger hosted a party in boutique Excelsior for Hudson Jeans; and Rita Ora – in town to support BFF model Cara Delevingne – rocked out at the Hotel Principe.
The front row had a more international flavour: Salma Hayek was supporting the family business at PPR-owned Gucci; Janet Jackson was present and correct for Versace and Roberto Cavalli; Lana Del Rey was in jet black for Versace; and as the just-announced MaxMara Woman in Film, Hailee Steinfeld found herself front row for that show.