Of course, not every brand that showed in Milan over the weekend was choosing between sex and solemnity; there is, in fashion as in politics, a Third Way. Call it the idiosyncratic way, and see Antonio Marras and Marni, two Milanese brands that carve their own path via handwork and emotion (or, on occasion, the emotion of handwork).
Indeed, Marras spun an entire collection out of musing on an imaginary meeting between the gender-bending journalist and writer Annamarie Schwarzenbach of the first half of the last century, and an Asian shepherd, all set against the howling of wolves on the steppes – spun being the operative word. So cocooning coats in menswear tweeds were needle-punched to fade into and out of tapestry-like embroidery, elaborate knits combine jewels and wolves (which were also painted on satins) and florals, which then reappeared on truncated silk dresses and as lace appliqués on fur-collared quasi-military anoraks, which circled back to the needle-punching by seguing from loden to silvery brocade to shearling.
It was a travelogue of ideas and craft – sometimes too many ideas and too much craft, a problem that also held true at Marni, where experimentation with fabric and form led to some very good clothes, and some very weird clothes, all of which were on the runway.
There were, for example, athletic influences – sweatshirt fabrics and shapes, lots of zips – often paired with flamenco ruffles in the front of skirts and T-shirts that were left strictly plain in the back (kind of cool). There were artistic flourishes: silver squiggles on the sides of bomber jackets, matching tunics and trousers covered in painterly square (a little overwhelming). There were florals, in the form of quilted jacquards, followed by puffa silk suits, the tops belted, that must have seemed like an interesting idea but in practice will be challenging to wear; more challenging, anyway, than the same silhouette in vertical stripes of multicoloured washed felt, which was smart, in both sense of the word. There were brightly coloured mega-furs, and loden skirts with feathers and diamanté, and big paillettes for evening, and more and more and more.
It could have used a pruning. But at least it had substance, and identity, and it, like Marras, didn’t really look like anything else. You might not wear want to wear these clothes to the negotiating table, but it was impossible not to respond. And that – the ability to elicit a reaction – is a meaningful power, all its own.