The fashion industry lives for moments such as yesterday's Jil Sander show in Milan. After the surprise announcement last week that the current creative director, Raf Simons, would leave his position at the label once the final model had taken her bow, and the confirmation on Friday that the house's founder is set to return, expectations ran high.
Simons did not disappoint. This was a collection from a designer in his prime, one who has in recent seasons found a precise and idiosyncratic balance between the typically hard-edged sartorial purism that the brand is known for and the sort of exquisitely crafted, elegant clothing that makes its way into the history books.
Classic double-faced blanket coats opened the show, in feminine shades of candyfloss and raspberry pink, oyster, and toffee brown, and gave way to knitted dresses so delicate it was as if they had been spun from vapour. The label's signature geometrics were present in sharply cut and fluid tailored pieces, such as a structured black blazer that stood away slightly at the hips and silk bustier dresses made almost Cubist with seamed and pin-tucked planes protruding from their dirndl skirts in angular points.
Simons, 44, was born the year Jil Sander founded her eponymous label and has been at the house since 2005. He has brought a fresh vision to a brand that became famous in the Nineties for its androgynous take on masculine clothing. His past three collections have been named his "couture trilogy", in which he has reinvented classic cutting according to his own modernist sensibilities.
Again, these couture ticks were present – in clothes that recalled the iconic postwar designs of Christian Dior and the golden age of the discipline. No doubt this will only serve to intensify speculation that Simons may be about to take up the post at that French house left vacant by the dismissal of John Galliano last March. His name had been suggested for Yves Saint Laurent but, according to unconfirmed reports yesterday from AFP, Hedi Slimane, one-time designer at Dior Homme, will take that post when the incumbent Stefano Pilati reaches the end of his contract next month.
At the end of the show, the audience whooped and cheered its appreciation, with some rushing right on to the catwalk; many were visibly moved by his valedictory collection, and none more so than the designer himself, who appeared for an encore to his brief curtain call in tears. He was too emotional to speak to the press afterwards, but thanked them for the standing ovation he received.
Also showing yesterday was Bottega Veneta, where designer Tomas Maier described his collection as "powerfully physical". There was significant toughness in black wool Crombies inlaid with crepe and velvet dresses adorned with voluminous peplums in an opulent but subdued palette of maroon, green and tourmaline blue.
The shows in Milan continue today with Dolce & Gabbana and Missoni.