Last updated: September 24, 2012 4:23 pm

Milan Fashion Week: day four

Practicality takes over from eccentric fantasy, with Giorgio Armani showing off his un-eccentric best

It is a truism that, at its best, fashion’s job is to reflect reality: that’s what calling clothes “of the moment” is really all about.

But what became increasingly clear as the Milan spring/summer shows drew to an end is that there is an inherent fault in that principle for it assumes a certain consistency. When there’s none there except uncertainty, the result is an uncertain season.

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Vanessa Friedman

Which is not the same thing as a bad season. The clothes, as a rule, were safe: designers putting their heads down and doing what they do best. While they did not provide a solution to the problem – the collections did not elicit gasps of recognition at some alchemical combination of form and fabric that made you realise, suddenly, exactly how you had not realised you needed to look in order to navigate the future – at least they acknowledged it existed.

Indeed, there was less of that “it’s the fantasy” talk than there has been in years. It’s practicality time. Mostly. Giorgio Armani even acknowledged it obliquely, opening a retrospective exhibit at his headquarters of 50 handpicked examples of his more “eccentric” works – elaborate, imaginative, worn by Lady Gaga or at a Beijing-opening – of the past 27 years, while next door on the runway he showed a collection of his most un-eccentric best.

Eschewing his me-hip-too-ism of recent seasons for a languid, sophisticated silhouette built on the straight liquid trouser, Mr Armani showed layered tone-on-tone suiting with cropped jackets, sometimes in the most supple leather, sometimes beaded like constellations, over longer shirting or simple straight dresses over sheer trousers in an agelessly cool nod to the current pyjama look.

Aside from a star-spangled wire model of the cosmos encasing the final look, it was a primer in how to marry ease with unfussy elegance, and a reminder of how Armani elevated what once upon a time was office wear to a different sphere. For all of our benefit.

While he had his feet firmly on the ground, however, Angela Missoni had her head not in the clouds – she was past that – but in some other universe. “The Missoni woman” for spring, she declared, was a “mysterious intergalactic tourist who has landed on our planet”.

To be fair, it wasn’t quite as weird as it sounds. It was, rather, the house’s signature zigzag knits digitised, rendered in degrade and sequins, and layered, literally, one piece atop the other in a holographic parade of capri suits and A-line dresses, thigh-high, or floor-length, sometimes veiled in organza, or filigree crochet. What was missing, though, was the sense of chic simplicity formerly synonymous with the brand; the idea you could just toss on a sweater and go – in style. Not to Saturn, but the supermarket.

Meanwhile, at Salvatore Ferragamo, designer Massimiliano Giornetti stuck notably closer to the heritage of the house. As the show notes said (granted in somewhat overwrought terms): “The force of modernity is constructed upon a legacy of great tradition.” The catch is that said tradition is as a leather goods house, which can be a strange starting point for spring/summer clothes.

But that apparent hurdle did not stop Mr Giornetti. Instead he sent out chic trenchcoats in leather and suede, later de- and reconstructing the garment in cotton dresses and skirts. If we have seen that before – and we have in many places – it was offset by sporty leather skirts, open weave sweaters and gold-studded dresses.

One hemisphere’s autumn, after all, is the other hemisphere’s spring and these clothes get sold in February and March anyway. There’s nothing inherently risky about ignoring what are effectively meaningless seasons to begin with. Indeed, you could argue, it is actually a more realpolitik – or “realdesign” – approach to the cycle.

As was Roberto Cavalli’s, which involved simply doing his own thing, whether or not it had anything to do with anyone else’s thing. Of course, given the confusion about what exactly will consumers’ things be, this was probably a smart thing (enough things).

And in practice it meant laser-cut leather made to look like lace and appliquéd on real lace in dresses and trousers and blouses, matching floral/animal print silk chiffon trousers and tops, crocodile cropped jackets, and all the rest of the ingredients of a rock ’n roll luxury wardrobe.

On any other catwalk it might have seemed extreme but for Cavalli it was impressively par for the course, and as such it was also a pretty effective summation of the current Milanese approach: when in doubt – or surrounded by it – dig in and distil. Come Wednesday, we’ll see if Paris agrees.

For all the FT’s online coverage of the shows www.ft.com/fashionweeks

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