September 19, 2013 2:13 pm

Sparse pickings for power women at Milan Fashion Week

Suits are in short supply as designers make a determined play for the youth vote

What happened to the power woman? She has, apparently, left Italy and emigrated to Germany, the United States and Brazil.

How else to explain the appearance of everything but the suit on the Milanese catwalks, despite the fact that we live in an era when women are contenders for leadership positions like never before (despite what Sheryl Sandberg might think), be it Angela Merkel, Janet Yellen, Hillary Clinton or Dilma Rousseff; despite the near-constant reports that women are increasingly playing the breadwinner role in families? Instead, we are seeing, as the spring/summer shows got under way in catwalk city number three, woman-as-cheerleader, woman-as-folkloric heroine, and woman-as-athlete. But pity the woman who wants to be admired for her brain as well as her bias-cut slipdress. Goodness knows what she will wear.

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Vanessa Friedman

Fay: inspired by Charles Schultz

Fay: inspired by Charles Schultz

A few very cool patent-and-cotton anoraks and parkas aside, for example, she probably wouldn’t wear most of the peppy sportswear pieces at Fay, where designers Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi were inspired by the cartoon character of Snoopy (yes, the Charles Schulz beagle), and splashed him out in various primary Lego-like colours on sleeveless minidresses with flippy tennis skirts, high-top sneakers and jumpers.

The combination of streamlined sportswear, especially in neoprene and quilted patent, and childhood totem was clever – handled with real finesse, successfully walking the thin line between irony and fun – but it was also an unmistakable bid for the youth vote. No skirt was below mid-thigh and most trousers looked more like leggings. Whether the girls who can actually wear the clothes will appreciate the construction (and related price tag), however, is an open question.

Not that there was anything more substantial at Alberta Ferretti. Even given the fact that the designer has made something of a signature out of delicately constructed chiffon gowns, this season was notably flyaway, based as it was on the twin poles of what looked like Peruvian folk embroidery (think brightly coloured blooms) and Maypole silk ribbons. These came, in varying degrees and in varying places (necklines, waistlines, belts, hems, all over), on white gypsy dresses and blouses in crinkle cotton, lace and eyelet; paired with glossy bright orange and raspberry or pink and red stripes; and appliqued on long floaty gowns.

Alberta Ferretti: white gypsy dresses

Alberta Ferretti: white gypsy dresses

They were great clothes for wafting around a field of waving grasses, but not so great for making a point. In fact, what was Ferretti’s point? It was hard to tell, but perhaps she was thinking of the industry truism that fashion is for the young (see: models and celebrities in the front row). Still, it is equally true that it is largely bought by the less-young (the ones with jobs that can afford it), and neither situation means the clothes themselves have to skew so childlike.

At least at Brunello Cucinelli, who dubbed his collection of earthen-coloured sports-detailed separates “active couture” there might not have been a shoulder pad in sight, but the looks took their understatement seriously, from the easy gravitas of the tailored cropped trousers with track pant sides and colour-blocked cashmeres to the silk jumpsuits with motorcycle quilting and the supple ostrich-skin vests. Still, you know something is up when the sight of a jacket with matching pencil skirt and top, as seen on the MaxMara runway, looks radical.

Fendi: clothes to rise up the ranks

Not that they were going for that. They were going for, “metropolitan, neo-minimalist elegance,” via New York’s Soho art gallery scene, Robert Ryman, and . . . neon signs. Sounds eclectic, and was, a bit: aside from a consistently monochrome approach in shades of cream, sand, and Crayola orange, grape and green (presumably the Ryman influence), the collection veered between subtly adult cashmere or linen slipdresses – cut straight and to just below the knee – paired with matching car coats on the one hand, and tailored playsuits (yes, it’s an oxymoron) on the other; tunics and matching pencil skirts over here and sheer metallic knits dresses atop said playsuits over there.

As women negotiate their way through the world and up the ranks, however, it would be nice if they had the clothes to match, and it wasn’t until Fendi that they really got some, instead of what amounts to different versions of accepted, and slightly reductive, role-play.

Material World

Material World

Dressed up: Vanessa Friedman blogs on the fashion/luxury industry from both a corporate and consumer point of view

Riffing on (or as he said, “hyperlinking”) the ideas of layers, handwork and the digital world, designer Karl Lagerfeld sent out clear-eyed, intelligent looks in streamlined shapes: sleeveless dresses in tiers of graduated organza, the colours moving from deep red or blue through to white; car coats over wide cropped trousers printed with shadowy, circuit board geometrics; and shells and skirts with shaved black and white and red fur appliqued on nude chiffon like a sartorial brain-twister (and a display of virtuoso technique).

They were clothes with content, a viable alternative to ye olde trouser suit. You could see it as well on the catwalk as you could on a podium, or behind a desk.

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