The shows in Milan drew to a close amid panicked rumours of a blizzard that never came. Instead, slushy snow fell, puddling outside runways and on furs in an anticlimax that reflected the lack of excitement on the catwalks. The main topics of conversation were whether or not it would be smart to fly to Paris earlier rather than later, and whether the airports might be affected, instead of anything to do with clothes – reflecting the fact that they ranged, generally, from the very polite to the slightly silly.
In the well-mannered camp was Salvatore Ferragamo, where designer Massimiliano Giornetti created an etude in four notes: grey, black, navy and white. Tailored jackets came paired with short wrap skirts; neat suiting was tweaked out of the wholly traditional with obi-like belts and asymmetric details; and glossy ponyskin gave life to basic separates. Save for a white patent nod to the 1960s and dresses with zippers that curved provocatively around the body or sported an extra flap in the back there was not an inappropriate piece in the collection.
It was, in other words, professional, polished, accessible – and kind of boring; clothes that answer a specific wardrobe need (chic ensemble; neat coat) but don’t provoke impractical, but irrepressible, new desires.
At least at Giorgio Armani the suiting was so relaxed in its own elegance that it was hard to resist the idea it might convey the same confidence in any closet. The designer dubbed the collection “Garconne”, in reference to its male/female mix of velvet trousers and great jackets, organza polonecks and tuxedo pants with stripes replaced by zippers that could be done up (or down) at will, but no such kitschy hook was necessary. Though the clothes didn’t break new ground, aside from the occasional addition of pointless velvet suspenders, they owned their territory with integrity, from the jewelled evening jumpsuits to the series of impeccable LBDs – long black dresses – and riffs on the ET: evening tux.
Meanwhile, at Missoni some smartly functional and adult pieces, such as satin pyjama trousers and bathrobe coats in everything from the house’s trademark knits to lush calfskin, all tied at the waist by a ribbon, mixed it up with some seemingly wannabe youthful numbers: backless knit minidresses over knit bra tops; ankle-length body-hugging slipdresses with strategically placed sheer panels impossible to wear with undergarments; and halter tops cut so close to the neck it seemed unimaginable they could hold anything in.
The colour palette ranged from lime green and other neons to more sedate black, white and grey, which reflects the uneven nature of the collection as a whole. But then, this is an uneven time for the brand, which has been in a kind of limbo since chief executive Vittorio Missoni’s aircraft went missing during a vacation in early January. In this context, the sheer fact Missoni managed to put on a show was admirable, and if some of the ideas were not fully realised (or should not have been there in the first place), it’s understandable.
Besides, the bathrobe coats defined comfort dressing of the chicest kind. On the sidelines, editors muttered about wanting to curl up in the clothes, to get away from the weather.
It wasn’t until Dolce & Gabbana, however, that something happened on the catwalk startling enough to distract from the external conditions. Designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana said they had been inspired by the medieval mosaics at the Cathedral of Monreale in Sicily, as well as Catania’s patron saint, Agatha, to make – well, mosaic garments studded with crystals and Catholic iconography: some printed on silk, some achieved through painstaking hand-piecing of gold and wool and brocade, all accessorised by elaborately worked golden crowns, bags and shoes.
While the workmanship was extraordinary, so was the idea; it takes a certain gumption to decide to have fashion fun with holy imagery at a time when the biggest news in Italy – other than the election and the weather – is what is happening at the Vatican, including growing rumours about what may, or may not, have contributed to Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation. For though Mssrs Dolce and Gabbana must have started creating the collection long before the hoo-ha hit, they also made the decision to go ahead with it afterwards. Yet fun it was, as were the over-the-top red lace dresses embroidered with crystals, as well as the trademark black Sicilian sexy widow’s weeds.
Admittedly, there are probably a limited number of people in the world who want to go to a party wearing an out-there romp through religious reference (the T-shirts, which are sure to come, may work better), which is why the designers also included a subdued section of neat herringbone suiting. But their ability to make clothes that sell, which is pretty much undisputed, really wasn’t the point.
Rather, it was their ability to move the conversation back to where it should have been all along that mattered: on the power and the absurdity and the occasionally wholly unexpected nature of clothes.
Now let’s find out what people are talking about in Paris.