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Sci-fi, starlet, or just a nice summer dress? All three were shown on the catwalks of Milan


The Italians have a leg up on the rest of the fashion industry, in that they understand – and experience – a real summer. Italian factories grind to a halt for the entirety of August, barely gearing up to finish the designers' samples in time for Milan's spring fashion week. That sounds lax, but it probably keeps them all sane. And it gives them a healthy idea of what people want to wear come summer.

The temperature in Milan is still balmy, which made Tomas Maier's crisp cottons even more enticing. Almost every outfit was cotton, starchy and crisp, sometimes rumpled, mixed with a copper thread to hold the shape. The billowing opening looks, sweeping full skirts or princess-line dresses, were airy. There was space between the body and the fabric, space to breathe.

It was the sort of collection you long for in a packed Milan schedule: no messiness, no fussiness, just beautiful garments. Material manipulation created quiet impact, pleats and gathers played out in neutral shades with terracotta highlights.

A series of dresses with hanging threads managed to be hairy, but not scary. There was, perhaps, too much black. But it will age and weather well – and, for once, you don't want these clothes to look box-fresh, however expensive they will be. They looked like garments to live in, not stand-offish party frocks for magazine pages.

Jil Sander evoked something similar. At least, the crispness and papery cotton textures were there: one outfit looked like it was made from laminated paper, crinkling like a crisp-packet. Most stood proud of the body, jackets pulled into fullness at the back, dropping longer at the front, sleeves wide at the shoulder. Dresses were often scissored open to bare a midriff, a back, the plunge from neck to navel.

She also used great terminology to inflate her colours – arctic sun (yellow), blossom (peach), copper oxidisation (that'll be green). Sander intellectualised – throwing in prints derived from the art of Alighiero Boetti, references to "currents of energy" and a slick sci-fi Plexiglass set that resembled something out of Dr Who. They were interesting distractions, but ultimately clothes we'd seen before, shorn of the excitement of the new. They were practical additions to a woman's wardrobe, especially for summer. Hence they will move off the shop floor. But they won't move Sander or her fashion forward.

Moving forward isn't Roberto Cavalli's thing either. His collection seemed like a lunge into a distant past, strangled with embroidery, lit by klieg lights, slung with fur. Slinky bias-cut evening dresses were silver-screen ready in the Thirties starlet mould. Or were they old Galliano? The kaftans were fit for Liz Taylor. Or maybe Emilio Pucci? The rest was pure Liberace. Relevance to today? Slim to none. As he emerged at the end between the cinematic spotlights, perhaps he was stabbing for Cecil B DeMille. The whole offering ended up more Tinto Brass.