February 23, 2014 12:51 pm

Italy gets a grown-up attitude

Over the weekend Italy got a new prime minister – Matteo Renzi was officially sworn in on Saturday – and cabinet: one that is 50 per cent female. Can it be a coincidence that Italian fashion also seemed to get a fresh attitude?

Suddenly it was out with the sex and in with the self-assurance. When even Donatella Versace, the head of the house that created the legs-and-cleavage-baring Glamazon, declares: “This is a collection about the power of a woman, not just her inner strength, but the attitude she presents to the world,” you know something different is going on.

Of course, that difference was not literally prompted by the change in Rome – it’s a temporal impossibility – but arguably there’s a shift in the zeitgeist, a move towards taking women seriously (as opposed to simply objectifying them) that is reflected in both the political and sartorial realms. Mostly.

There were still outliers: at Emilio Pucci, Peter Dundas combined Native American clichés and Pucci classics “in search of a savage chic”, which produced an uneven collection that swung between provocative (and kind of fabulous) swirling print mini dresses, tunics and trousers covered in similarly swirling studs, plus big fur coats trimmed in Navajo-tints, and chunky fringed knits and home-on-the-range leathers that looked like they had wandered in from a Ralph Lauren show, before finishing it off with the cut down-to-here-and-up-to-there transparent gold-embroidered (this time in an Ikat pattern) gowns red carpet denizens love.

But while Roberta Pinotti, the first female defence minister, was probably not the woman Donatella Versace had in mind when she designed the long-sleeved, round-necked jersey dresses seamed around the body with military buttons and braid at the waist that opened her show, the slick single-breasted trouser suit with gold fringed epaulettes, and the neat coats with double rows of brass buttons, the clothes were both relatively no-nonsense and high-impact.

This is still Versace of course: evening dresses may have lost their goddess drapery and chainmail in favour of slithery bias columns, but seams were sliced to show a flash of skin, while cocktail numbers stopped at the thigh, and played peekaboo with transparency. Nevertheless, overall it was a more buttoned-up take on the brand’s aesthetic, and it felt like a – well, if not exactly a new beginning, at least a step out of stasis.

And if Federica Mogherini, the new 40-year-old foreign minister, was not exactly the model for Roberto Cavalli, another name oft-associated with decadent, after-dark side of style, he did set his show in a (literal) ring of fire, which arguably is not that different than the task of taking on the EU. Though admittedly Ms Mogherini might not want to do it in multi-print trouser suits in graphic black and white, trenchcoats in fur or python, and a series of very pretty 1920s beaded dresses, the hems finished in long fringe.

Does any woman really want to wear a garment that is purposefully made to fit badly, even if it does make you look twice, or even thrice, to figure out what is going on?

Even with all the animal print and pelts, however, it was more PG than R; the message focused on the artisanship of the embroidery and the piecework, which also happens to be a message Italy is trying to sell globally, as opposed to any shock value.

And so it went. At Tod’s, now in its second womenswear season, creative director Alessandra Facchinetti is building an aesthetic for the brand based entirely on understatement and decorum, though she also devotes the majority of every collection to skin – which is to say, leather (Tod’s is a leather house, after all). There were leather macs, slightly oversize, a little awkward, and leather ponchos, which were better; leather tunic dresses, nice when perforated and overly complicated when bibbed; and leather skirts and shirts that should have been less bulbous, and more buttery.

Oh, and there was a windowpane check, too, and a geometric print taken from a Venetian carpet, and sometimes it all got too tricksy, with pockets attached as flaps on the outside of skirts, and odd pannier belts. But in its resolute refusal to flirt, it’s interesting to watch, if not yet to wear – more so, in some ways, than Jil Sander, which seems in something of a holding pattern since its founder left for the third time last year. Though the brand has long been synonymous with female inner empowerment, under the current anonymous design team it feels equally anonymous: the soft-toned double-face masculine coats and boy-cut trousers elegant but predictable.

Material World

Material World

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

On the other hand, bags and wedge-heeled or chunky flat shoes were surprisingly good, while dresses and skirts that were purposefully clumped and tucked at the ribs and hips were simply surprising, and not necessarily in a good way. Does any woman really want to wear a garment that is purposefully made to fit badly, even if it does make you look twice, or even thrice, to figure out what is going on? It’s a questionable decision if one is actually thinking, as Tomas Maier said in a statement about his Bottega Veneta show, “about what clothes should do for a woman”.

For him, that meant marrying a shattered-glass geometry achieved through seam and shade to an almost Shaker-plain silhouette, and limiting the adornment to some barely visible seed pearls used to create trompe l’œil shading for the pleats of a grey skirt, a leather insert in a kick pleat, and ruching and manipulation of plissé to create integral decoration.

These were clothes that swung softly and carried a big visual punch. The grown-up women in the audience all looked as though they had just recognised the way they wanted to look. The new members of the Italian cabinet would probably understand.

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