February 24, 2014 2:26 pm

Milan Fashion Week: Fairy tale designs and a touch of magic

It ended with a host of fairy tales, real and designed. After all, Italy is dreaming of a happy ending, hoping it has found a hero. Why should not fashion be part of the same story?

Dolce & Gabbana thought so anyway, setting their Once Upon a Time in Sicily (with those two, it is always Sicily) and bringing in little red riding hood, aka little red riding fur, who romped through pastoral castles in chiffon empire-waisted gowns printed with posies and woodland creatures and short brocade coats and tunics with folkloric felt owls appliquéd on gilded tree branches; who went to battle for her prince in silver brocade swing minidresses, crystal-encrusted hoods and gauntlets; and who opened the magic door with golden key (prints). And who, because this is fashion and fashion is a business, occasionally left the world of the Brothers Grimm for the real world, and monetised her story in simple forest green and burgundy heavy jersey trapeze coats, A-line dresses and black skirt suits with diamanté buttons.

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If the contrast between the two incarnations felt a bit like a dual personality, well, is not being a thriving commercial concern driven by a motor of fantasy the real fable of contemporary industry?

Missoni, meanwhile, chose as its heroine “the dynamic protagonist of city life”, which sounds a bit like an urban legend but wove a spell of its own. By not relying too heavily on the house’s signature stripes (but not rejecting them either), and instead concentrating on the brand’s heyday, the 1970s, as well as a multiplicity of trompe l’œil knitting techniques, designer Angela Missoni waved a magic wand, sending out loose cropped cashmere cargo trousers in tangerine and cream under thin knits and ribbed jackets, exploded mosaic tank dresses and skirts in shades of brown, silver, and orange, and cool padded anoraks. They were clothes that could go, if not to a ball, to pretty much any other occasion.

They highlighted the transformative promise of fashion: the idea that a garment can – abracadabra – alter the course of a day, or a job interview, or a date; can make you into a cooler, more soigné, more contemporary version of you.

See, for example, Salvatore Ferragamo, where tailored brushed autumnal tartans, Prince of Wales plaid and some cool plissé knits with the sheen and slink of oil on water were polished and slick, though the strained effort to add interest via ribbon overskirts that alternately shielded and revealed a straighter layer beneath felt technically proficient, but without any alchemy.

And see Giorgio Armani, where, among other things, “flannel was softened and treated until it becomes nearly impalpable” (their words).

What that meant in practice was not some enchanted fabric, but actually nothing more complicated than a symphony in greys – cropped slouchy trousers with a pleat at the waist under elongated jackets – and lime green, either as a detail like a tuxedo stripe down the side or a surprisingly successful contrast in the shape of evening embroideries and silk dresses topping those tux trousers. He kissed a frog (metaphorically speaking of course), and it was hard not to like it.

As it happened, Mr Armani has been something of a fairy godfather himself, launching the career of Haitian-Italian designer Stella Jean last season by lending her his show space and giving her his establishment imprimatur.

This season she was out on her own, and though her bright waxed cotton prints – giant peacock feathers and fowl – in tailored jackets over pencil skirts and menswear shirting were as appealing as ever, it was a pair of floor-length knit tapestry coats that offered real promise for the future.

Still, perhaps the most bewitching story was that of young designer Marco de Vincenzo, a thirtysomething Italian who launched his own line five years ago based on the premise of combining techno fabrics and classic silhouettes. This season that meant strips of what looked like leather but was actually waxed macramé sewn together to create vertical waves in drop-waist dresses; tiny winking “windows” cut in camel cashmere coats to reveal a silver lining over iridescent rainbow-tinted pleated skirts; and tartan shirtwaists layered over lurex under-dresses for shine and movement.

It was youthful without looking remotely naive. Perhaps as a result, as the imaginary curtain came down, it was revealed that LVMH, the world’s largest luxury goods company, had entered a joint venture with Mr de Vincenzo, with plans to help him expand. Princes, as Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (the woman who wrote Beauty and the Beast) taught us, come in all forms, even tall blonde French ones that look like Delphine Arnault.

Which brings this particular story to a close, literally and metaphorically. On the stroke of midnight – or somewhere near enough – the narrative moves to Paris. Here’s hoping the aircraft do not turn into pumpkins.

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