The Milan shows: To boldly keep going

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

In Milan, labels celebrated their pasts while looking forward with confidence. The results were beautiful, says Harriet Walker

At the Louis Vuitton store opening on Milan's Via Montenapoleone last week, crowds gathered as if at a public monument.

Inside, editors – including the inimitable Anna dello Russo, clad head-to-toe in the label's autumn/winter collection – marvelled at £10,000 watches and a bespoke handbag service, where customers choose from every shade of leather, crocodile and ostrich skin. The reason why Vuitton decided to launch this service exclusively in Milan is because this is a city where luxury is, paradoxically, a necessity, a way of life.

And despite universally grim economic tidings, it is alive and well: that was the message from the Italian shows. That same evening, Gucci launched a new installation in its flagship store just down the street; later in the week, the label opened a museum in Florence devoted to the history of the brand, to honour the 90th anniversary of its founding.

Paris-based Louis Vuitton cites 19th- century roots as proof of its high-end credentials. But the shows in Milan were testament to the sort of prominent luxury empire that can be built in a rather shorter timeframe, according to a culture of aspiration and conspicuous consumption.

Other milestones celebrated during the week included 100 years of leather goods-turned-womenswear label Trussardi (which staged a flawless show in the medieval Castello Sforzesco), and the 30th birthday of the Emporio Armani line, whose collection emphasised the label's bright and glitzy take on classics, with a monochrome palette showing off sequinned dresses and jackets, and hoop-hem tunics playing with proportion.

In short, colourful and confident bombast shone through at Milan Fashion Week and labels showed their strengths by digging deep into their sartorial DNA. So much was clear at MaxMara, for example, where the label's "hero piece", the camel coat, inspired clingy, sporty separates, panelled with sheer swatches and turquoise colour-blocking.

At Gucci, Frida Giannini took its 1921 inception as her inspiration, reworking drop-waist flapper dresses according to the label's slick, urban aesthetic in shining black silk, plexiglass fringing and Metropolis-meets-Bladerunner beading. There were flashes, too, from the archives, in enamel detailing, gold and the house's signature shade of green. "Fusing elements from our DNA and making them current with a strong sense of personality," Giannini explained.

And the Twenties became something of a trend – there were bright shift dresses at Alberta Ferretti, decorated with panels and chevrons of sheer tulle, while family-run label Etro spoke of a modern Jazz Age, although fringed- skirt dresses, kimono coats and Clarice Cliff-esque swirl prints were slightly too literal to be fully up-to-date.

For Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, spring/summer 2012 was also all about personality – after applause had died down at the show for their D&G label, it was announced online that they would be closing the second line. The final hurrah for D&G was a fittingly exuberant show of silk foulard scarves – of all colours and prints, from acid pink psychedelia to pastel paisley – twisted, ruched and knotted into minidresses, trousers, handkerchief tops and even platform wedges, in a collection that celebrated the youthful essence and bold bravura of the label.

But if D&G was a character sketch, then Dolce & Gabbana was a cultural dispatch. Inspired by the 1955 film Pane, Amore e... starring Sophie Loren, the collection told the story of life in Southern Italy – onions, aubergines and pomodorini were naïvely rendered in painterly strokes on Fifties-inspired separates, including knickerbockers and sweetheart-neckline sundresses, while courgettes flowered on tailored shorts and swing jackets. "For us, this is the essence of Italian beauty," explained the designers, of clothes that drew on the label's trademarks: Forties-line corseted dresses, unadulterated sensuality and exaggerated glamour by way of rhinestone-encrusted swimsuits and bra tops.

"I didn't want to make references," said Miuccia Prada, of an automobile-inspired hyper-feminine show, that seemed to hark to mid-20th century pastels and values. "I wanted to do what I really like – it's the typically bourgeois Prada style." So much was evident in a vast collection of separates, from crop tops to swing coats of appliqué crocheted lace and leather pencil skirts emblazoned with graphic Corvettes and exhaust fumes. And the designer's quirks were clear in the juxtapositions of bold and soft. "Probably sweetness is the biggest taboo in fashion," she added, "but it's possibly the greatest quality of women."

At Jil Sander, too, there was a delicate and womanly mood, with full-skirted and clean silhouettes referencing the objectivity of beauty in an almost Kantian vein. This was born of attention to the label's intrinsic values as well as its progression. "I was thinking about the heritage of Jil Sander," designer Raf Simons said backstage, "but I don't want to use her methods anymore. I want it to be sexier, more romantic." There was certainly more of the softness of his recent couture-inspired collections, in a show that took the label's famously minimalist personality and recast it in fluid dirndl skirts and knits embellished with cubist, Picasso-esque faces.

There were artistic flourishes, too, at Bottega Veneta, where artisanal handicrafts mixed with streetwear under Tomas Maier's careful instruction. The label has been a by-word for understated elegance since the Seventies; how then to create a sense of brand identity when anonymity is at its heart? With ultra-matte silk bustier dresses, shirts coated with PVC and what must surely be the most exclusive denim pieces ever made, certainly a first for the Bottega catwalk. "There's no need to travel," said Maier of this casual opulence, "you can find inspiration all around you – inside your own neighbourhood."

But for every version of subdued luxury – such as the elegant sculpturalism and subdued brocades at Giorgio Armani – there was something rather more vampish elsewhere. Roberto Cavalli showed gold-encrusted pleats that fluttered to reveal animal-printed interior folds, while at Moschino models wore cropped Toreador jackets that came, literally, with jingling bells on. Meanwhile, exoticism ruled supreme at Emilio Pucci, designed by the acclaimed Peter Dundas, where inspiration came from gypsy travellers and dark-eyed girls, at once nodding to the house's heritage as well as the glamour for which it is known. Beading and lacing on swirling printed maxi-skirts and handkerchief hems gave the bohemian look a vital and polished edge.

Versace's collection spun the house's innate brashness with soft leather dresses in armour-like cuts that blended neoprene separates decorated with seascape prints of conch shells and mermaids. The effect was a disco version of sweetness, camped up but affectionately so, and soft enough to remain wearable in the extreme. And there was further fashionable riffing on a theme at the diffusion line Versus, where Christopher Kane presented models in sports couture – silk shifts with zip details and striped knit dresses – on a catwalk decorated as a basketball court.

Stripes are, of course, a signature at Missoni too, but key to the spring/summer collection was an exploration of shape within the tensile zig-zags so beloved by fans of this label. Flamenco ruffles were added to asymmetrical tops and dresses, layered over slim-fitting trousers, while shoes were decorated with over-sized flowers, and earrings dripping with enamel fish are sure to be hits with more light-hearted customers.

This lightness of touch is something inherent to Consuelo Castiglioni's expression at Marni, where strong femininity was again underplayed with sweetness. Tiered apron-cut dresses and Bauhaus-inspired leather lozenge prints came on dresses and skirts, layered over sheer organza. "My starting point was the innocence of a child," she commented after the show, and the eclectic sensibility of the collection showed in plastic and sequin embroidery, as well as photoprinted crochet on tailored separates.

There has been a tendency among designers to batten down the hatches in the face of the coming storm, but not in Milan. For the Italians, next season is about personality and, diverse though the visions may have been, shy and retiring types need not apply.


Pleats and ruffles: tight plissé panniers and panels at Bottega Veneta and Versace, and boxy car wash pleats at Versus.

Sheer: fine cotton layered with poplin at Jil Sander; panelled dresses and knits at MaxMara and Fendi, and at Pucci, boho skirts were daringly see-through.

Midriffs: the crop top was back at Prada, Dolce and Pucci – so get stomach-crunching.

Modern florals: digital impressionism at Sportmax, fuzzy boucle at Marni and bright tropical prints at Missoni.

Graphics: vegetables at Dolce & Gabbana, fruit at Moschino Cheap and Chic, cars at Prada and faces at Jil Sander.

There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
Arts and Entertainment
Darrell Banks’s ‘Open The Door To Your Heart’
Detective Tam Bui works for the Toronto Police force
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Receptionist

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This law firm is seeking a happy, helpful and ...

    The Jenrick Group: Production Supervisor

    £26000 - £29000 per annum + Holidays & Pension: The Jenrick Group: Production ...

    The Jenrick Group: Project Engineer

    £33000 - £35000 per annum + Pension and holidays: The Jenrick Group: Project E...

    The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Technician

    £35200 per annum + Pension and holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Engine...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'