Fashion, even in Milan, is loosening up. Volume, looser A-line silhouettes and boxy tops were big runway hits at Fashion Week. Asian aesthetics were another major influence on designers in the Italian fashion capital for the spring-summer 2013 shows.
Could we be also witnessing the end of the dress? The thought will send unpleasant shivers down the spines of those who like to flaunt their pins each spring but, judging from the goings-on in New York, London and Milan, separates are set for a revival, with designers thinking outside the box to give them new appeal.
The trouser suit, of course, expresses the very essence of Giorgio Armani, who, for Milan, has layered it, kurta-style, with dresses and waistcoats over loose trousers in liquid greys and navy. It's a style he has worked before. Mannish suits in matt cosmetic tones featured in Emporio Armani with a looser and easier silhouette. But not everything is covered up - sweet satin shorts and minis play to a leggy, youthful audience.
Naturally, MaxMara majors in separates - safari shirts and cargo skirts in biscuit and duck-egg blue where proportions are straight, lean and super chic. Sister brand Sportmax highlights the sportier side of separates with mesh detailing, zips and techno fabrics for blousons - and it does make room for loose graphic dresses.
Tomas Maier bucks the trend at Bottega Veneta with his retro-1940s-style all-dress (no trousers!) collection. It feels vintage-y but fabric details are a masterpiece in modern sartorial wizardry.
There are a few long gowns at Gucci to please the faithful but Frida Giannini's feminine tunics with exaggerated ruffles and lavish neck decorations over trousers hark back to the brand's 70s heyday. Some labels are sparing with colours, considering this is for summer, but not Gucci; vibrant saturated hues dominate its full looks.
From left: Giorgio Armani, Gucci and Jil Sander
Jil Sander's comeback collection for her eponymous label shows she wants to reclaim her title as fashion's premier minimalist from Céline. After the debacle over the hasty exit of Raf Simons to make way for her return, the designer has been understandably on tenterhooks about the response she'll get in Milan. She lays her cards on the table with pristine coats and white shirts (one of her signatures). Her skirts and dresses illustrate a new silhouette, which has volume: soft shoulders, slender on the body, then full over the hips.
Volume is being used to make separates look modern. Karl Lagerfeld loosens up the Fendi silhouette, puffing up skirts and coats in leather, and adds bold colours to frame the body in a very linear way. Volume at Marni means boxy trapeze-line tops in cotton and bonded fabrics that seemingly float "weightlessly" around the body and over A-line skirts. Square-cut tops are teamed with flared skirts, and dresses look like fabric has been folded, rather than cut, into shape - a sculptor gently moulding a new silhouette.
Echoing the monochrome theme this spring will be Moschino's cute short dresses and coats in graphic black and white, reminiscent of Mary Quant in the 60s. The same clean-edged Japanese theme is evident at Prada, further proof that styles are loosening up.
Even Donatella Versace and Dolce & Gabbana, known for their clingy dresses, are relaxing their hold on la bella figura and making easier clothes that will look great on slender Asian figures, for example.
Versace's trippy, hippy look in crushed silks and tie-dye is organic, with outfits and gladiator boots destined for Glastonbury or Coachella rather than the red carpet, which the brand likes to think of as home territory.
Actresses attending premieres will have to look instead to Pucci, Roberto Cavalli, Blumarine and Alberta Ferretti for their almost sheer, "dissolving" slip dresses, designed to capture the paparazzi's attention. Pucci's come with Eastern motifs in white-on-white embroidery and Blumarine's skirts are dip-dyed in pastels. Cavalli, meanwhile, melds his signature animal prints with intricate art-nouveau graphics and lace on long slip dresses so fragile they seem to deliciously melt away …
DOLCE & GABBANA
The designers bring sunshine to the catwalk with the perfect wardrobe checklist for a holiday in Sicily. Deckchair stripe playsuits, printed silk skirts and blouses, rattan woven sandals, tick. Capri pants, souvenir print bandanas, cheery Chianti baskets, tick. This is retro pastiche and fun wrapped up in one. "We are doing it our own way: we are not looking to be trendy," says Stefano Gabbana.
Destination Asia has been a huge influence; designers are looking East for inspiration as well as business. Japan's influence can be seen nowhere more so than at Prada, where Miuccia has folded fabrics like origami. Obi sash tops and flat kimono dark satin dresses and coats are punctuated with giant daisy print motifs. Minimal yet sensual.
Has Roberto Cavalli ever considered following Dolce & Gabbana into couture? Who knows, but the level of craftsmanship here is sublime. Swirling art-nouveau prints frame the body. Jackets over tunics over trousers cover up revealing lace inserts and slinky slashed leather plays peek-a-boo with the flesh beneath. "I designed around the form of the woman's body. I try to make a beautiful frame," says Cavalli.
From left: Prada, Roberto Cavalli and Marni
New beginnings Raf Simons' debut ready-to-wear at Dior and Hedi Slimane's debut at Yves Saint Laurent were the talk of Paris. Slimane's predecessor, Stefano Pilati, had the fashion folk of Milan curious to see how he would amp up Zegna's womenswear line, Agnona, as well as the men's labels next season. "We want to create a daytime wardrobe for the luxury woman," said Pilati.
Sonia Rykiel, now owned by Fung Brands, announced a new creative director, Geraldo da Conceicao from Louis Vuitton, when it cancelled its show at the last minute.
Upping its profile after near meltdown was Ungaro, which has brought in Fausto Puglisi, a renowned colourist, and a new contract with Aeffe (the family business behind Alberta Ferretti) to rekindle the flame.
A heartfelt adieu Fashion bid farewell to veteran Italian journalist Anna Piaggi, who passed away in August. Piaggi was as famed for her eccentric outfits, love of hats and wavy blue fringe, as for her views on fashion. Manolo Blahnik described his friend and muse as "the visual aristocracy of Italy".
The big birthdays French label Chloé hit 60 this year, and launched a wonderful archival exhibition titled "Chloé: Attitudes" at the Palais de Tokyo, in Paris, with a big bash. Present were creative director Clare Waight Keller, founder Gaby Aghion and Karl Lagerfeld (who previously helmed the label).
Vionnet celebrated its 100th anniversary by launching a stunning demi-couture label at a gala dinner attended by supermodels Karlie Kloss and Natalia Vodianova.
More than meets the eye Giorgio Armani set out to prove in a small pop-up exhibition called "Eccentrico" that there was more to him than trouser suits and twinkly red-carpet dresses - witness a 2010 Lady Gaga outfit, space-age hats and metal dresses.
Busy Della Valles The Tod's group knows how to do a fashion week. In Paris, its party each season at the Italian embassy is one hot ticket, with Scarlett Johansson the belle of this year's ball. In Milan, its Hogan brand partied in a palazzo to mark a new partnership with super-stylist Katie Grand.
Tod's president Diego Della Valle has acquired the great fashion house of the late Elsa Schiaparelli - and that includes the name and the Parisian mansion in which the label was launched. Schiaparelli was famed for her collaborations with surrealist Salvador Dali and for her bitter rivalry with Coco Chanel, until business ceased during the second world war. A designer is yet to be named, but the mansion has had a makeover that reflects her passion for the colour she invented - shocking pink.
Brand Carine Former French Vogue head honcho Carine Roitfeld hosted a fun bash with Mac Cosmetics to mark the start of a new chapter for the style guru. It was shoulder-to-shoulder designers, models and fashion insiders. Jing Zhang and Francesca Fearon
ALL THE RAGE
Armani vs Cavalli
Roberto Cavalli took to his blog to call Giorgio Armani a "little king" for hogging the best show slots of the week. Armani suggested Cavalli be quiet lest the little king "gets angry".
Cathy Horyn vs Hedi Slimane
The big feud of the season broke out between New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn and Yves Saint Laurent's new creative director, Hedi Slimane. It followed Oscar de la Renta's open letter to the writer - after a review of his show - in which he called her a "three-day-old hamburger".
After not being allocated a ticket to the YSL show (an obvious slight), Horyn's critical review of the collection accused Slimane of "refusing to interpret the YSL style beyond updating proportions" and suggested he was out of touch.
Slimane, in turn, lashed out at Horyn on Twitter, calling her "a schoolyard bully" and "a publicist in disguise", and saying her agenda was "seriously thick and perfectly predictable".
In conclusion, Slimane raged: "As far as I'm concerned, she will never get a seat at Saint Laurent, but might get a two for one at Dior."
Zadig & Voltaire vs the Chinese
Perhaps the biggest faux pas of the season, and potentially the most costly, came from Thierry Gillier, founder of French label Zadig & Voltaire.
Quoted in Women's Wear Daily, Gillier was discussing his boutique Paris hotel, which will open in 2014. "We are going to select guests. It won't be open to Chinese tourists, for example," he said. "There is a lot of demand in Paris - many people are looking for quiet with a certain privacy."
The internet has been ablaze with criticism, especially in China, where users vented their fury on Weibo. Do we smell a brand boycott? Jing Zhang
African tribal is the dominant theme of Louboutin's new shoe collection, with tie-dye and raffia also hitting high notes. Feisty neons, see-through plastic and animal prints are joined by ever more additions to the brand's studs-and-spikes staples.
What a relief to see creative director Francesco Russo move on from his fetish fascination, with shoes in black leather to glorious metallic colours and dizzy geometric patterns inspired by the 1980s Memphis-Milano movement - molto bella.
The haute-bohemian world of the late 60s and early 70s is the starting point for dreamy, flower-power-print python bags and shoes trimmed with gypsy coins and fringes. In its first celebrity-branded collection, the label has designed a range for Taiwanese actress Shu Qi. No prizes for guessing which market the label is looking at.
It's like looking into a lagoon with all the blues and greens rippling over its iconic D-Bags, loafers and zipped evening purses in reptilian leathers.
Creative director Bruno Frisoni, the man credited with inventing the stiletto heel, has updated the Prismick collection with some luminous additions in brightly saturated colours with patent effects. Sparkly Vivier buckles and sequinned satin wedges have been included to put a spring in your step.
An ode to the City of Lights, this season the shoes and bags are all about Paris: showgirl fringing, the Eiffel Tower, croissants and French words. The pièce de résistance is the amazing see-through perfume-bottle bag.
It looks like a bag, but is it? A satin pouch inside keeps belongings secure in the Papillon bag, which is loosely woven with ribbons of python. In fact, ribbons thread their way through the entire accessories collection.
Founded in 1829, this Belgian label is possibly the oldest luxury leather brand in the world. The new season sees a brave update of its boxy style, especially in the Madame line. This time, the gorgeous patinas even come in fluorescent hues.
After a few seasons with Karl Lagerfeld, the luxury accessories brand has hooked up with British uber-stylist Katie Grand and has been given cheery eye-popping pink and green high-tops, and hearts dotted over ballerinas, sunglasses and purses.
Along with the rainbow of colours in suede or metallics, its cuffed ankle sandal is right on trend, but sexier still are crystal-studded acrylic collars on high-heeled pumps. Jing Zhang and Francesca Fearon