Milan shows its mojo is back with a parade of individuality
Diversity was the order of the day at Milan Fashion Week, with every show different as designers stop chasing trends and go their own way
A curious thing happened in Milan last week, a city where next season's trends are invariably aired, repeated and confirmed. Individualism and diversity is the new message - something that has emerged over the past year amid the city's conscious fashion revival. Nobody was singing from the same hymn sheet: every collection was different. The result was an intriguing and thought-provoking season that brought praise and divided opinions.
There were designers making their debuts with established brands, and designers who shifted into another direction. Could it really be that establishment designers are getting sick of chasing trends, too?
The inventive cuts and artful style of Marni's Consuelo Castiglioni still set her apart as one of the great individual designers of Milan, and if this season is anything to go by, others are taking note. Her spring-summer 2016 looks were voluminous, architectural and graphic in the way that she layered stiff, leather, apron-like slips over leather coats or polka-dot lace, or perhaps a sequinned T-shirt dress.
Versace and Bottega Veneta both surprised by veering into tougher, outdoorsy motifs. Donatella Versace drew praise for her camouflage- and combat-inspired collection - a tougher and less sassy (nonetheless still very leggy) turn with blousons, khaki tailored jackets, minis and trouser suits presented in an amazing array of bright camouflage and animal prints.
Bottega Veneta was similarly thought-provoking. Tomas Maier has a refined aesthetic, producing interesting, ladylike looks, which this season were inspired by his love of the great outdoors (he treks). That inspired an unusually casual collection, including even tracksuits (not looks you would expect to find in a Bottega Veneta collection) along with evening wear reinvented as big sailcloth gowns delicately suspended on tent strings.
Tough girls might have been having their moment in Milan, but the ultra-feminine vision offered by Ferragamo and Etro provided a contradiction, which made things so much more interesting. From the latter came a range of luxurious and romantic boho looks evoking Victoriana, folk costume and ballet dancer silhouettes in soft silky prints with haberdashery trims and embroidered blouses - sometimes enchantingly vintage looks. Ferragamo was similarly ultra-feminine, with long, finely pleated, ballerina-style dresses and laced pumps under flowing rib-knit cloaks.
Uma Wang, the only Chinese regular on the Italian womenswear circuit, also went balletic, with a group of dancers doing their warm-up stretches and exercises before the show. Known for playing with textures, Wang's voluminous dresses came in pretty sunset colours on organzas and light fabrics - an ethereal quality that is a fresh look for her.
Miuccia Prada's spring/summer 2016 collection was not a game-changer but one for the brand's aficionados, who would recognise some of her sartorial classics, such as the layering of a sheer dress over tailoring from her constructivist collection, the mannish tweeds, the drop-waist skirts and the clean silhouettes. Luxurious metallic stripes, pleats and piping emphasised the linear look, while the familiar embellishment was reduced to Christmas bauble earrings and sequinned mesh neck pieces.
Craft remains an intrinsic feature of many collections. Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana were highlights of the Milan season for their artisanal quality and vibrant mood. Dolce & Gabbana said their show was about emotions and not about trends, an attitude endorsed by many in Milan. Like Prada they paraded classics, from the '50s day dress and duster coat to the body-conscious black lingerie siren dresses - but covered them with embroidered and printed flowers and appliqués of Italy's famous landmarks.
Beautiful embroideries and an eclectic mix of glittery fabrics from metallic leather to rich brocades and chinoiserie silks summed up Alessandro Michele's second collection for Gucci. He's drummed up so much excitement for the brand, this time creating a lovely mash-up of ideas presented on 1940s and '70s silhouettes. It was more feminine than his debut collection, but what people are paying attention to is this aesthetic strikingly different to other Gucci predecessors. However, like Dolce & Gabbana, Michele emphasised emotion, with love as the underlying theme.
Giamba, Giambattista Valli's junior collection, and Vivetta tied in with Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana for their sweet, decorative qualities. Vivetta covered baby-doll and long, empire-line dresses with landscape and poppy embroideries, while the Giamba collection was all about cute baby dolls for rich teenagers decorated with comic prints, lipstick motifs and ditsy florals.
Making their debuts this season were Peter Dundas (formerly of Pucci) at Roberto Cavalli, and Massimo Giorgetti of MGSM, who took on Pucci with mixed results. Giorgetti has a vision that steers in a different direction to that of his predecessor and the jet-set lifestyles of the Pucci girl. The new Pucci girl is edgier, a little more street, using vintage scarf prints such as mermaids and starfish caught in fishnet dresses as motifs. Missing were the swirly silk prints for which the house is famed.
Peter Dundas similarly recast the Cavalli girl as a youthful and more wilful spirit - dressing her in beaded suede jackets, tie-dye taffeta skirts and leggings rather than the luxe boho of Roberto's era. Even at Missoni, the classic boho girls have taken on a sportier persona in polo shirt necklines and shockwave-patterned knits. All these designers are clearly dancing to a different tune and eschewing trends, even in colour or silhouette.
Now in his fourth season at Jil Sander, designer Rodolfo Paglialunga finally seems to have got into the groove. He opened with languid safari looks before segueing into spare, elegant navy dresses and tailoring with innovative twists and cuts in the fabric.
Last but certainly not least - this year marking 40 years in the business, Giorgio Armani, one of the giant pillars of Italian fashion, still isn't playing with trends. He does what he believes in and sticks to his instincts: an Armani design is recognisable whether it's in tones of beige or, on the rare occasion, in pops of red as it is this season's mainline. He mixed in airy silhouettes with blue gauzy fabric in outfits that conveyed an uncontrived elegance and easy. Armani's clothes are about confidence and individuality and that pretty much sums up the mood in Milan this season.