Catwalk confidential

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 March, 2008, 12:00am

In Milan

Hi Divia, it's official: the party is over. It's goodbye to glitz and hello to a new era of austerity. Good! I've had it with muffin-top waistlines and pelmet hemlines - soooo tacky.

Next autumn is all about being prim. I'm sure the wonderful Miss Jean Brodie would love all this librarian stuff but we were shocked to see it at Dolce & Gabbana. Where were the brand's much-loved low-cut necklines, corsetry and little skirts? How will Dolce & Gabbana girl take to calf-length tweed skirts, thick-knit stockings and silk scarves? I swear I saw Lindsay Lohan squirming in the front row, trying to pull her miniskirt further down her bare thighs. Did Paris opt for glitz or grim?

In Paris

Hi Francesca, restraint is the name of the game here too; designers are going back to basics and focusing on wearable clothes, mon dieu. Everyone's talking about how John Galliano went down the commercial route at Christian Dior to keep the suits happy but I'm not sure what the bosses would have said about the scary purple cowboy hats and the models' bouffant hairdos. The collection of 1960s-inspired Jackie O boxy skirt suits was pretty (if not life changing). The second half of the show was much more lively with bright, colourful evening gowns swathed in crystals and sequins. If we are teetering on the brink of a recession, you wouldn't know it looking at the full-length chinchilla and mink coats coming off the catwalk. They'll cost more than Galliano's paycheck, I'd wager.

Speaking of fur, things took a turn for the bloodthirsty at the Jean Paul Gaultier show, which would have put Cruella De Vil to shame. It opened with Michael Jackson's Thriller overlaid by the sound of growling wolves. We soon saw why - I have never seen so much fur in my life.

He took the theme further by transposing animal prints onto everyday items, including brown chiffon dresses. Skirt suits that looked plain from the front had zebra skins sewn onto the back. Despite this, his signature pieces were all there and that's what will sell - the beautiful trenches, high-waisted trousers and some lovely swishing skirts with pearls sewn along the seams. But I am drawing the line at the fox handbags (tails and legs included)!

M Here in Milan, you can always rely on Fendi to be a fur-fest. As long as Russia has billionaires and climate change sends Hong Kong temperatures plummeting, Fendi will flog fur in cartloads to the tai-tais. I'm sure they will go wild over the new gilded furs - it seems some alchemist in a lab has coated fox fur in real gold. Karl Lagerfeld had some other clever ideas up his sleeve, including hoodies and jackets with leaf shapes laser-cut into fur, leather and organza. Those who are anti-fur can always swap the pelt for a chunky handknit. By the way, I heard a rumour that Dries Van Noten has caught the fur bug?

P Ah yes, Van Noten's colours and ethnic prints have always been a hit in Paris, but this time he added short furs in shades of magenta and blue. Fur was also used for subtle accents, such as a fox collar worn over multi-colour prints. I loved the stretched knits, layered chiffon pieces and black dresses with Japanese-inspired brushstroke flowers.

On the other side of the fur camp is punk designer-turned-activist Vivienne Westwood. She showed fake fur trousers, hoodies (that reminded me of one of the Lost Boys' suits in Peter Pan) and cosy shearling jackets. Westwood's focus this season was global warming. She asked children from a school in England to create drawings of eco-warriors, resulting in colourful hand-painted doodles on her signature pirate-sleeve jackets, capes and trousers.

Oh, we can't forget Stella McCartney - seemingly the only vegetarian in Paris. (What a waste!) She made People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) proud by dedicating her show to 'anyone who believes you do not need fur in fashion'. She took fabrics such as wool felt and worked them into oversized wraparound jackets belted at the waist. The pieces featured a grey storm motif, which reappeared in shimmering form on her evening wear. Prep-school crests and fleur de lys appeared on an off-the-shoulder long knit dress, which was more naughty than nice.

I can see 'It' girls shimmying in the cocktail dresses made from Lurex silk jacquard with pleated chiffon layered on top.

M McCartney really does have a knack for designing what women want to wear and Consuela Castiglioni is of the same school. I loved her show for Marni. First, we saw wacky-coloured resin necklaces and felt headbands, then more sophisticated colour mixes - raspberry, emerald, yellow, pale grey and taupe - worked into subtle layers of tweed, fur and silk. Thankfully, she's ditched those weird techno fabrics for this season and come up with something all the editors want to wear. Castiglioni might want to drop the bizarre little tulle hats she plonked on the models' heads, though - Christmas turkey is not a good look!

Alberta Ferretti also deserves a gold star. I think she will woo celebs desperate for a red-carpet frock. Cute purple, navy and green satin dresses looked all the more alluring for finishing just on the knee, while the bling quotient was kept to a minimum.

Bottega Veneta also produced a polished performance with dresses draped and stitched to create elegant asymmetrical shapes. Whereas Ferretti has a girlish charm, the alluring looks from Bottega are definitely for grown-ups.

P I always think fashion is at its best when it's aimed at grown-ups. Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy seems to have the same idea. Gone are the over-wrought theatrical concepts; this time he gave us a Gothic theme peppered with a sexy and mean Latino vibe.

He brought the hacienda down with beautifully ruffled blouses, some sheer with lace, others slipping off the shoulder or buttoned to the neck. A lean silhouette was created with tailored black jackets or matador styles paired with leather trousers. The trousers looked fab but I'm sure they'll be hell to get over the hips.

Also doing wonderful things with leather was Yohji Yamamoto, whose collection was sublime. Buttersoft jackets with raw edges morphed into styles that combined the material with draped jersey or featured contrasting colour panels in camel and cream leather. These were paired with full-length skirts - a Yohji signature piece - featuring thick gathered waistbands. It was the perfect combination of restraint and modernity.

M Milan seems to be embracing restraint too - it's surprising when you consider the Italian penchant for short skirts and fake tans. There were some mixed messages, though. Blumarine courted the Russian gazillionaires and the glitzy Italian TV presenters with sugary coloured furs and feminine silk-and-lace slip dresses. But Miuccia Prada showed see-through lace and big knickers. Woe betide those who laugh at the new puritans wearing this stuff. The Prada look was so buttoned-up and severe I wouldn't have the nerve to tap a model on the shoulder and say, 'Excuse me, but I think you forgot to put your petticoat on.' Prada, ever the contrarian, used the thickest couture lace and tailored it into fitted shirts and skirts. These were shown alongside clerical-looking dresses and high-neck jumpers.

P I wouldn't want to meet one of Stefano Pilati's models at Yves Saint Laurent in a dark alley either. They came out Blade Runner-style in short blunt black wigs with black lips and wraparound black shades. These chicks looked fierce and had kick-ass clothes to match. Pilati projected the brand way into the future by using rigorous tailoring and razor-sharp fabrics. Although I won't be wearing those unflattering high-waisted cropped pants, the jackets, sans buttons, were amazing. One was cut short in front, with a dramatic tail sticking out at the back, while a tweed wraparound style, which was matched with a knee-length skirt, fell in soft folds, revealing a flash of blue lining. Everything was worn over the Parisian staple - black turtlenecks - very Robert Palmer. One thing that did surprise me though - not a bag in sight! What do you make of that?

M Exchange rates, sweetie. The Americans and the Japanese aren't spending as much any more, and they've got to find something new to get women to open their wallets.

P Well, judging from the Paris shows, the focus on bags is over, thank God. I am sick of having to take out a mortgage every time I want a new one. The word on the fashion street is jewellery - the bigger, the better. Almost every designer opted for eye-popping cuffs and pieces draped on necks, rather than handbags dangling off the wrist. Nicolas Ghesquiere at Balenciaga kicked off the trend at the beginning of the week and we saw some amazing maharaja-style jewels at McQueen. The jewellery chimed with McQueen's regal theme, which had him emblazoning the queen's head and the British flag onto a fabulous taffeta dress that swirled around the body. A modern maharani princess in a red sari and a virgin queen in an ivory draped gown followed. It wasn't all fantasy - McQueen's tailored jackets had a military feel and there was some gorgeous knitwear, including a hooded grey dress studded with enlarged crystal snowflakes. It was a heady combo of romance and magic, fitting since this is the city of amour, n'est-ce pas?

But, back to the bags, were there any show-stoppers in Milan?

M Burberry is still flogging them and they seem to get bigger with the passing seasons. This time it is the suitcase-sized Lowry, which will need wheels if you want to put anything in it. The most easily copied items on the label's catwalk were the woolly hats, which accompanied a parade of signature trenchcoats - it was all rather sombre and masculine apart from a few beautiful handcrafted details.

Dolce & Gabbana had a bag for every outfit and so did Gucci. The latter's studded totes and fringed boots will be on my wish list for autumn. Frida Giannini dug that tired old double-G logo out of the archive and zapped it back to the future in a luxe-boho kind of way, with studs, suede fringing and heart-shaped charms. The whole show was 70s redux with skinny rock 'n' roll trousers, little military jackets with folkloric embroidery and lots of fur. Compared to other shows, Gucci was upbeat and glam-slam sexy - just like it used to be under Tom Ford. Giannini is really getting into her groove.

P Speaking of Gucci, former designer Alessandra Facchinetti came under serious heat when she showed her first collection at Valentino. OK, her stint at Gucci was unsuccessful, but she's learned the hard way and it's paid off. Her collection was respectful to Val's legacy but also took small steps towards modern design. She showed the usual skirt suits, now with folds at the front or military buttons.

A tailored black jacket made an appealing contrast with a sugary pink ruffled dress. The show-stopping red gowns were there but I preferred the all-black, full-length ruffled skirts matched with sheer blouses and worn with flats. (The flats were bejewelled - this is Valentino).

I liked Stuart Vevers' collection - he used to be at Mulberry but is now at Loewe, where he's been enlisted to reverse the brand's fortunes (or at least help them score an 'It' bag). Vevers put together 20 looks, which were shown on mannequins the editors could wander among. It was a relief because I was so tired of waiting 40 minutes for a show to start. Vevers incorporated masculine tailoring with big blazers and pleat-front trousers while more feminine retro polka-dot dresses had metal bows. Heavy zippers and corkscrew detailing gave the collection an industrial vibe. Loewe's heritage could be seen in a strapless leather dress gathered to one side. The bags were cool too, most in brightly coloured exotic skins and each featuring a larger-than-life padlock.

What about the Milan debuts? Wasn't poor Lars Nilssen unceremoniously dumped by Gianfranco Ferre a week before his first show?

M Yes! And the brand said that everything on the catwalk was produced by the in-house team instead. Boy! What did he do wrong?

Christina Ortiz tripped up with her first collection for Ferragamo. She cited Greta Garbo as her muse but channelled 80s designer Claude Montana with white tailoring in her opening group. The jury is still out on her. The bags are lovely, though, with polished sea snake and metalised patent leather finishes.

Matthew Williamson could teach her a lesson or two; he is finally getting a handle on Pucci. He took to the mountains with snow-bunny gear - furs, crystal icicles on bags and belts, and sporty knits. Lest we forget, Emilio Pucci was an Olympic skier, cue alpine-landscape prints and colourful snow crystal patterns, which looked great. Williamson just needs to stop skating on the surface and get his crampons dug in.

Now I know you can't describe Donatella Versace as hired help, but since she took over from Gianni, Versace gets better each season. She really has her finger on the pulse. Reflecting the current mood, her clothes are simpler. Instead of bling, she produced straight-forward tunic and pinafore dresses in purple, yellow and pink decorated with origami folds. Skyscraper heels seemed bolted on to elegant platform soles. It looks like Versace is shaking off the bad times at last.

P Unfortunately, the same can't be said for Paolo Melim Andersson at Chloe, who just doesn't get it (he's since been axed). Women flock to the brand for pretty girly separates but, although he did incorporate the much-loved chiffon, some of his sheaths seemed over-embellished with random bits and bobs from the haberdashery department. What I did like was the grungy floral print dress draped to the side (a nice combo of pretty and tough). Let's hope his replacement hits the mark.

Ivana Omazic at Celine seems to be settling in better. There was a Montana reference (why is everyone referencing him and Mugler, it's the noughties not the 80s) but with a more sporty vibe, which is Celine's thing. Omazic did some interesting things with the parka, which was worn in multiple ways. Standouts were the draped twin style (a shorter cropped version over a longer one) and a grey version that opened at the back like a flower. I still feel she has some way to go.

M If these designers really want a lesson, they should look at Raf Simons at Jil Sander. Now there is a man who has got a handle on the identity of the house. After summer's gorgeous eye-socking colours he went sombre for autumn with beautiful greys. The crafty chap also decided to mix it up and got his tailors to work on the dresses and his dressmakers to handle the tailoring, with some interesting results. However, perhaps he should get someone to redesign his shoes so the models can actually walk in them!

P What is it with the abundance of ridiculous shoes? Speaking of the ridiculous, let me tell you about Margiela. As usual there was a certain hype surrounding the show, given that he is one of the few fashion visionaries working in Paris. It opened with models wearing skintight catsuits, topped off with asymmetrically cut sheaths. Obviously this was too boring for Margiela, who decided to blow everything up to the point of absurd. Jumpers and jackets appeared with funnel collars and shoulders so large the models could barely see. Maybe Margiela was having a Star Trek moment or a Dynasty flashback? Either way, it ain't gonna work, not on Hong Kong's small streets anyway.

Also in the too-cool-for-school category was the Miu Miu show. We all know designer Miuccia Prada is way ahead of her time, but I didn't know what to make of her colour-blocked wetsuit-inspired tunics and dresses. (The padding at the hips and matching latex caps won't do much for me.) More interesting were the thin felt sheaths, some layered, featuring laser-cut square holes and cut-out chevrons. I could happily wear the cut-out dress embellished with matte sequins but I'll be leaving those underlying bodysuits behind.

M On the topic of clothes that we'd wear, MaxMara came up with some highly desirable roll-neck knits, coats and stylish trousers in a palette of silver and grey that I would wear anytime. The same goes for Moschino Cheap & Chic, with its patchwork and artsy flower-painted dresses and flared trouser suits. The white mod-style helmets, however, should have stayed backstage. Alessandro Dell'Acqua is another interesting low-key designer; his camel-wool dresses trimmed with bright orange and green silk were a lesson in sophistication.

P If we are talking sophistication, you can't get more luxe than Hermes. Luckily, for this collection, designer Jean Paul Gaultier left his furry friends safe in the forest and opted for a coat-centric show in shades of camel, brown and black, offset with a bright paisley print on trousers, scarves, bags and a fringed skirt. Patchwork appeared on a leather jacket and a knit. I loved the blankets worn as cosy wraps or skirts.

Equally chic was Chanel, which - shock, horror - only featured one bag. This was surprising considering the life-sized carousel, decorated with the house's iconic accessories, in the middle of the catwalk - maybe Karl was being ironic? It was a great show. Tweed suits were worn out at the elbows and came with long skirts with buttons up the side.

A long black jumper was worn with a distressed denim mini and finished off with tights that were flesh-coloured in the front and black at the back. (I want a pair now!) A tiered evening gown had strips of leather crossing over the front and brooches in place of buttons.

M After hearing about Lagerfeld, I can't forget Giorgio Armani. I got the feeling that Armani had poured his heart and soul into his exclusive Prive collection this season, because the ready-to-wear didn't have its usual zing. There were some super long velvet jackets and puffball or calf-length skirts that, though luxurious, fitted the new restrained mood. Gypsy scarves and glistening sweetie-wrapper dresses closed the show. It was very desirable, but didn't light my fire.

P Speaking of fires, John Galliano was burning it up at his namesake label, where he created a cinematic romp for the audience. Inspired by the Kubla Khan's pleasure dome of Xanadu (which might explain the two scantily clad men on the bed in the middle of the room), it was pure Galliano at his best - rich colours, swishing bias-cut dresses and retro coats. The studded harem pants were a bit I Dream of Jeannie but everything else will fly out of stores.

On the topic of harem pants, Louis Vuitton's came in red leather! Marc Jacobs experimented with 'sculpture', to form a hip-heavy silhouette made by gathering bunches of fabric at the side of skirts and into pleats to create balloon-shaped trousers. The icy palette of blue, sage and pink was refreshing and the drop-waist peplum coats and dresses look modern. Completely new? For LV, yes. Something to help with those fat days? I don't think so.

If you feel your figure needs all the help it can get, buy anything from Elbaz's collection at Lanvin. He is one of the few designers who make beautiful clothes women will actually wear. What appeared to be a range of gorgeous tiered dresses, blouses and skirts (which also emphasised the hip, by the way) were actually made by winding tapes of fabric and grosgrain ribbon around the body. These classic pieces were complemented with crystal-encrusted cocktail dresses and huge jewellery, including oversized cuffs - a girl's gotta have her bling after all.


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