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In Milan, bold, even electric solids shout down neutral hues

Max Mara and Jil Sander shouted out with bold, even electric, solids and Blumarine painted leopard's spots on pink and pistachio, as Bottega Veneta toned it down at Milan Fashion Week on Saturday.

A woman's options for self-expression will be wide open in spring/summer 2011, when Emporio Armani will add a knee-hugging underskirt into the mix.

Max Mara proposed confident lemon yellow, red, orange and violet in close-fitting, long-sleeved knit tops tucked into matching mid-length shorts or slightly flared trousers ending above the ankle.

Mixing colours was allowed, but only in solid swathes or in a narrow belt.

Models' backs were much in evidence in braless cutaways or halter tops.

A couple of black-and-white creations stood out against all the colour, including a striped jacket with large lapels bearing the motif in diagonal, over matching panties offering the curvy version.

Black fur made an appearance as well in a playful two-piece consisting of a waist-high panty paired with a band around the breast, or in the front panel of a black skirt.

Trenches were flowing and fun, including a black one with oversize polka dots and an orange belt.

Then Jil Sander turned on the power, proposing shocking pink, electric blue and, by her own admission, "toxic" green, yellow and orange in a collection in which colours, not couture, were in charge.

Simple white T-shirts were the foil to fluorescent floor-length skirts or culottes with minimal tailoring, their drawstring waists sometimes topped with day-glo orange ruffles.

The body hid under "super-sized" dresses or trousers, "oversized" blousons and windbreakers.

Tailored jackets entered the scene in some layered creations alternating the fluorescent colours in raincoat, vest and shirt atop stovepipe trousers in day-glo pink or yellow.

Next to these outfits, an ensemble pairing a top alternating vertical black and transparent stripes with a skirt featuring horizontal pink and white ones looked positively tame.

Bottega Veneta achieved the opposite, with neutral colours such as grey, beige, milky white or cream, grey and blue-black underpinning a look described as "unobtrusive sophistication."

Materials were typically varied and subtly combined, such as in a silk and leather dress overlain with fine chainmail.

A black "liquid jersey" dress was embroidered with titanium, while embroidery also featured in cotton and linen silk shirts.

Blumarine meanwhile used a leopard spot motif to unify a collection full of youthful abandon.

The motif appeared on pink, turquoise, pistachio in silk jersey and chiffon crepon dresses and caftans inspired by the butterfly, with extra long sleeves or scarves trailing behind the models.

Diminutive blonde designer Anna Molinari, rather than offering the usual discreet wave from the far end of the catwalk, strutted almost the whole way down, accepting a bouquet of roses along the way.

Emporio Armani's "fancy girl", for her part, will be wearing a narrow stretch tulle skirt under her short flared dress next spring, an alternative to the more boyish leggings.

The underskirt stretching to well below the knees, gathered at the sideseams for a slight draping effect, appeared under layered frocks or classic Armani voile dresses as an extra tier, atop two-tone canvas and nappa ankle boots.

Casual bermudas came in satin; ruffles were in horizontal layers on blouses, vertical up the side seams of trousers for a fluttery look.

As with Bottega Veneta, the palette was understated: light grey and sandy beige, with flashes of metallic green, only giving way to watermelon red for "coup de theatre" evening wear.