It may seem like winter has just begun but, with characteristic perversity, fashion is warming up for spring – the summer pre-collections are already in store.
Leave it to Miuccia Prada, the industry's most accomplished spin doctor, to nail the mood of the new season with one word: "sweet". And sweet it is, as pretty as the proverbial picture and with all the fondant colour (pistachio, lilac, lemon and every shade of rose), uplifting print (graphic, picture postcard, paisley and floral) and delicate, shimmering fabrics (chiffon, lace, aluminium organza) to match. Meanwhile, figurative details – faces, animal and human – bring a smile to even the most po-faces.
While a homespun feel may appear whimsical, it has its roots in the elegant and often rigorous craft of haute couture. Hand-pleating, elaborate jewelled embroideries, iridescent fringing, appliquéd flowers and more decree that, when times are hard, madam will be sure to get her money's worth out of any so-called investment pieces, which are impossible to copy and come with heirloom status attached. A mid-20th century silhouette – from Dior's New Look to Saint Laurent's trapeze and from Balenciaga's sack back to Schiaparelli's pencil-thin lines – is equally prevalent. It's steeped in unashamedly feminine nostalgia but with enough technically pioneering know-how involved in its realisation to ensure any heavy underpinnings are banished in favour of lightness and ease. There's a certain frivolity here but rarely wanton sexuality. Prim collars, covered buttons, ribbons and bows are more Parisian grande dame or Left Bank coquette than Italianate vamp in spirit.
The decades most ripe for revival are the roaring Twenties – flapper dresses there are aplenty – and the 1950s – from fully fledged (and skirted) women on the verge of a nervous breakdown to bebop girls whose clothes may or may not be decorated with flames and fast cars.
Budding Olympians will be happy to know that sportswear references including neoprene knickers, micro-mini skirts, shorts and even the humble sweatshirt, have all also been given a couture makeover. This style of dress is not normally cut from fabrics including Victorian dressing-gown silks, say, or bouclé wool shot through with metal thread. This caters to those who prefer a more androgynous wardrobe but one that is suitably haute.
In the minimal corner – and a more pared down aesthetic appears here to stay – stripped-back gowns and tailoring, often in white, though at times broken up with flashes of bright colour, allows for dressing to impress in a relatively discreet and understated manner. Waists are on the high side, almost across the board, peplums are enjoying a comeback and jackets are cropped, though again, the wonders of stretch materials decree that comfort not corsetry is the story.
Of course, summer wouldn't be summer without more than a nod to travel and exotic climes. With this in mind, ethnic and folkloric detail is incorporated into Western clothing and the mysteries of the ocean are plundered for inspiration. Seashells, pearls, anemones and other watery motifs appear to be the starting point for any number of big names.
Finally, back in the mind of Italian fashion's first lady, more good news comes with the fact that sweet may also be mischievous. A mismatched abandon and almost childlike interest in handicraft alongside more noble forms of workmanship suggest that girlish may not be quite as sugar-and-spicy as it first seems.