Fashion Week: A la mode in Milan

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Colourful, retro and skittish shows challenge the traditionally understated elegance of Italian labels

Coats are to the Italian label MaxMara what tweed jackets are to Chanel: signature pieces. The label's autumn/winter 2010 collection in Milan yesterday was billed as a return to tradition, and the tone was classic. During this round of shows, however, the Italian fashion house's speciality has faced some serious competition, as many designers in New York, London and Milan have taken a turn for the practical and produced an array of coats made with warmth and wearability as well as aesthetics in mind.

A key quality of MaxMara's coats is timelessness, a persuasive selling point during troubled economic times. Yesterday's show had a romantic edge with floor-length coats with flared skirts and high necks, while double rows of gold buttons, patch pockets and epaulettes gave long khaki and navy coats with drop waists a military feel. Wrap coats came in tan cord and camel hair, fastened with masculine belts, while a chunky "coatigan" came in a grey and navy pattern. Other pieces included a maxidress, clingy sheath dress and harem trousers in liquid-metal-look gold fabric, black knickerbockers tucked into knee-high boots, and black and gold tapestry knits.

Bottega Veneta is another classic label synonymous with understated luxury, but its show yesterday made a bolder statement than usual. With its heritage as a leather goods house, Bottega Veneta's collections invariably feature leather clothes, but this time they had a sexier, more graphic edge in black and hot pink rather than natural colours. Little silk dresses in coffee and red came with leather breastplates harnessed on with ribbons. Leather trousers have been on the catwalk for several seasons now, and Tomas Maier moved on from the type of spray-on rock-chick styles that have been embraced on the high street, to looser tailored leather trousers teamed with voluminous leather shirts.

The Fifties-style full skirts that the label generally creates appeared in the form of black dresses with wool tulle skirts and scrunched fabric shoulders, making the silhouette cleaner and less innocent. There was a Seventies undercurrent running through the show, and draped silk jersey dresses, one of which came in bright iris, flowing maxidresses in pink and black acetate, flared trouser suits and metallic gold wedge shoes all felt like a luxurious take on disco shapes. Other accessories included satin platform wedge knee boots, bug-shaped pendants and crocodile clutch bags.

Later in the day, the Giorgio Armani show had a playful feel to it with shots of Tibetan orange and coral red. Short culottes came in green silk and velvet, and red silk with sequinned roses. The rose motif was also on a sequinned jacket which resembled one of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's designs. Billed as "a new concept of chic: an indefinable attitude that is not limited to the eternally reliable black skirt and white shirt", the collection offered Armani customers who like their wardrobes tailored the chance to lighten and brighten up without sacrificing smartness.

Jackets were short and fitted and came with asymmetric fastenings and sharp shoulders, and these were teamed with short, kick-flared, puffball and wrap-shaped skirts. Armani is a popular choice for the red carpet, and the show ended with black velvet evening dresses with fishtail skirts.

Milan Fashion Week by numbers

10 minutes, the average length of a show

86 catwalk shows

200 collections shown

7 days of shows condensed to fit Anna Wintour's schedule

38 countries sent buyers and journalists

8,000 people involved in Milan Fashion Week

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