Prada stands out by turning to elegance, lace and minimalism

It didn’t come as a surprise that last night’s Prada show was the stand-out collection of Milan Fashion Week so far, or that it was a radical departure from last season.

Miuccia Prada is so influential that what she puts on the catwalk tends to pop up everywhere else the following season, but her past two collections have been stimulating rather than immediately accessible, featuring furry orange coats and checked flares.

This autumn/winter 2008 show had its challenging elements, but the overwhelming impression was of seductively beautiful clothes.

“Very Italian, very dignified and very elegant, but also very serious,” was how Miuccia Prada described the clothes, which featured lace as their main fabric. She played with lace’s traditional associations with different aspects of a woman’s life and character, from a christening, to a wedding, to a “femme fatale”, as Miuccia Prada put it. She added that she wanted to focus on, “minimalism and simple shapes”, for which she needed to use a fabric with an interesting surface.

Fitted, knee-length dresses, and skirts in large patterned lace, formed the basis of the collection, and evoked a Forties film noir silhouette. Many of the dresses and tops came with strict, high necklines, and plain fronts, while the only concession to decoration on prim, bib-fronted coats was a lace panel, and severe vertical ruffles. Black was the dominant colour, along with pale nude, orange, rust brown, and powder blue. These rigid ruffles were echoed on bags, and clumpy tan shoes that looked like Boccioni’s futurist sculptures.

Some of the more subversive elements – such as cropped tops worn over shirts – were directly related to pieces in Prada’s autumn/winter menswear show. Quirkier looks included lace skirts worn with nothing underneath, cropped tops revealing tight nude coloured panels that confused the boundaries between flesh and fabric, and sheer dresses.

Prada’s new direction might be a form of minimalism, but numerous designers are still working with the maximalist Seventies shapes and colours she used last season. If anyone at Milan was still in any doubt that the decade that style forgot is back, then the Salvatore Ferragamo drove the message home. With shiny jumpsuits, flared trousers and shaggy coats aplenty, references to the decade were about as subtle as a light-up dance floor.

This was the first collection by Christina Ortiz, who joined Ferragamo in August, and she was keen to come up with a big statement for the company’s 80th anniversary this year. The show screamed disco diva, with a touch of glam rock attitude thrown in courtesy of a bronze leather trench coat and sequinned cape.

Jumpsuits came in wool and satin, flared trousers in velvet and silk jersey and with matching jackets. Dresses were either short and crafted in chain mail or floor length in suitably slinky silk.