The theatre of fashion - specifically, of the fashion show - is very difficult to get right. It's like walking a tightrope, where you risk falling off into sartorial extremity, or allowing catwalk histrionics to overshadow the clothing on show.
Miuccia Prada walks that fine line better than anyone. She's Italian fashion's most consistent performer. Her autumn/winter 2014 show was a paean to performance, models mounting raised podiums atop an already towering catwalk, circling the audience and a live woodwind ensemble. Spotlights and oompah band music (including snippets of Kurt Weil) conspired to a Cabaret mood. More divine decadence and a touch of decay than all-singing, all dancing.
That was reflected in the garb of Mrs Prada's cast of fashion characters, rakish men slinking in lightweight wool suiting, shoulder-tossed scarves, stockingette knits and fur, a smattering of female models turning tricks in taut leathers and chiffon negligees with a hint of Saint Laurent circa 1972, underlining the oft-androgynous air of her menswear offerings. But there was also sportswear with the suiting, quilted utility vests and nylon bags buckled against the models bodies. In a sense, a tailored suit and a track-suit are both forms of costume, as extreme to some as the full-length furs and fox tippets Prada fastened around her male and female models alike. In the theatre, dressing the part is half of the performance itself. Look like a businessman, act like a businessman, and who's to say you're not? Prada was a celebration of the transformative theatre of fashion and the performative power of clothing.
Enough obfuscating cant: ultimately what matters is that this was a virtuoso showing, a cap to a strong second day of the Italian winter menswear shows. Some were unexpected, like the subtle pinstriped suiting in delicious shades of blueberry, grape and lychee ochre in Massimiliano Giornetti's Salvatore Ferragamo collection. Giornetti turned away from last season's trite sports and mired his clothes in pure luxury. They were superb.
As was Tomas Maier's Bottega Veneta collection which opened the day, soft clothes for hard times with hyper-luxurious thermals worn beneath - or sometimes instead of - slimline suiting. The idea was country and city combining, which is shaping up to be something if a seasonal theme, justifying outfits that fuse the formal with the sporting, or perhaps just juxtapose the two. Calvin Klein's Italo Zucchelli coloured sporty bombers and quilted nylon gilets in suiting shades of camel and slate-blue, overcoats cut on swaggering Linebacker lines. The testosterone in the air was pungent, as pungent as Klein's still-best selling stable of scents. Their names - Obsession, Eternity and Escape - were emblazoned across sweatshirts. And really that trio of iconic slogans epitomises what fashion should aim to elicit in, and evoke, to its audience.