I rather like the look. The problem is that the Italians tend to embrace retro trends rather too literally. We may welcome the return of flare (in shirt and jacket cuffs as much as trouser legs), but who wants to look like a hippie straight out of Woodstock? Ironically, the new look that the Italians are promoting has been on the streets in Britain for at least two years. British street style still rules the waves.
At least we can thank the Italians for smartening up Woodstock. The DIY spirit of the period is replaced by a designer delight in immaculate tailoring, inspired colour mixes and a dazzling array of silk print shirts (all taking their lead from Versace). Purple is everywhere, ranging from brilliant brights to plum shades. Think pink, too, and orange, red and yellow, often combined in stripes.
Dolce e Gabbana did the look best, mixing Woodstock beads and bell-bottoms with stretch pinstripe trouser suits. At Complice the same designers were inspired by a slightly earlier period: swinging Sixties London. Yesterday's show boasted a soundtrack of Beatles' hits, Union Jack prints, and high-buttoned, slimline mod trouser suits.
Byblos, designed by the British-boys-in-exile Keith Varty and Alan Cleaver, stuck with the hippy trail, using stripes, military insignia and touches of embroidery to smarten up their acid trip. Even the oft-mocked Nehru jacket looked elegant in their hands.
Genny's models started off strutting to Led Zeppelin's 'Whole Lotta Love', but the overall mood was rather more laid back: soft white crepe bell-bottomed trousers and ruffled chiffon shirts, wispy brocade tunics and dresses, with even the harder feel of leather tamed by combining it with chiffon in long slit dresses.
What else in Milan? According to the Italians, next spring everyone will wear their hair long and frizzy, or long, straight and parted in the middle. Shoulders on jackets will be slightly more accentuated, hemlines long and often slashed high, while ultra-short skirts will become a memory. Slate grey will replace black as the preferred colour for day suits, and some new trousers will be split at the sides so we don't get the idea that women only want to dress as men. At Gianfranco Ferre's show, short skirts and shiny mock croc belts and bras seemed past their sell-by date.
Rifat Ozbek, the British designer, produced a collection with exceptional sureness of touch, side-stepping hippy fever. He breezed into Milan for the third season since leaving London to enchant buyers and journalists alike with Japanese floral prints, Batik prints, Chinese brocade and Indonesian embroidery. The tunics and military jackets of his autumn collection were still there, but the colours were anything but martial: lilac, pink, turquoise and yellow.
Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace wrap up the Milan collections tonight. Versace (who showed bell-bottoms first at the couture shows in July) has already been much in evidence, displaying several of his other collections, including Versus, Signature, and Istante.
Smart designers today have to think in terms of a series of collections at a variety of price levels or they may restrict themselves out of business. They also need to offer continuity or store buyers and customers get confused. Fashion thrives on the energy of the new, of course, but in Milan, the powerhouse of big bucks fashion, (notwithstanding the problems of the Italian economy) too much of the new can be bad for business. British designers showing in London Fashion Week, which opens tomorrow, may see things differently.
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