A flash of trash
There is a malaise which has settled over fashion in Milan at the moment. This has little to do with the constant haze of pollution hovering like a miasma over the grimy tower blocks and decaying palazzi. Clearer evidence of what ails Milan comes from Dolce & Gabbana's threat to retire in the next two years; the duo say they are tired of the fashion system and the constant need to perform each season to an increasingly sceptical audience. The catwalk photographers are exhausted after already covering New York and London (and they still have to face Paris) and even the most efficiently-managed teams are finding it impossible to cover up to 17 shows a day.
Meanwhile, members of the press, when not squabbling over ticket allocations and indulging in covert shopping expeditions to Prada and Gucci on Via Montenapoleone, are for the most part bewildered. There is so much to absorb in this fashion-preoccupied city that even the most assiduous journalist has difficulty assessing what is the most important information. What makes this task all the more difficult is the widespread feeling that everything is beginning to look the same, as if designers are discreetly letting each other know what they are producing for the season ahead. Of course, for the consumer, this must be good news. That funnel-necked sweater you bought last winter is set to be wearable (and fashionable) for another 12 months. The pleated skirt that seemed suitable for a single season need not go to the local charity shop just yet. And sportswear-inspired blousons and parkas look set to run and run.
As for the shows, despite Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana's threat of retirement, their latest collection proved to be one of the week's most exuberant. Its radical "bad" taste and un-PC use of fur is sure to have a considerable impact on the market through innumerable commercial interpretations which will flood chainstores next autumn. Set in a pastoral village square (complete with fountains, a handcart and table spread with wine and cheese) the traditional demurely sexy Dolce & Gabbana Sicilian madonna was replaced this time by her Las Vegas streetwalker cousin, clad in a fluorescent pink mini dress, rhinestone Elvis Presley hipster belt and leopard-print winkle picker boots with mirrored block heels. And as every competent hooker knows, no ensemble is complete without a fur coat; in this instance, the coats were full-length red and black or else lime and chocolate mink boleros.
Fur turned up, too, at Gucci, where the house's ongoing preoccupation with rock 'n' roll was demonstrated by mink-trimmed bell bottoms and ruched satin skirts owing more to the American midwest than northern Italy. After seasons of bulky architectural shapes and dull matt fabrics, this was a collection guaranteed to appeal to the sleek 'n' shiny set thanks to wet-look satins, bodyhugging leather and, in the same material, appliqued roses that looked like a wry take on the Chanel camellia.
For those who like their fashion embellished in this manner, the Gucci single rose withered into insignificance next to the forest adorning Prada's latest collection. Inspired by a walk in the English countryside, barely any item escaped being sprinkled with leather leaves, flowers and insects. Wild life apart, this was a messy affair which tended to follow rather than lead current Italian trends. Inevitably, the reception for both the Gucci and Prada clothing collections is just secondary to the companies' accessory lines - diamante stilettos at the former, high-heeled sandals for the latter. As for fashion, American Narciso Rodriguez continues to consolidate his reputation as king of career-wear, thanks to a range of simple modernist pieces which had the effect of making Armani's collection later in the week seem sadly dated. Both these designers are consummate master tailors (Armani's credentials are wellknown and Rodriguez trained with Calvin Klein and Cerutti). However, the younger man's hourglass jackets and kimono-sleeved silk boleros looked just the thing for today's boardroom battles. Armani's jackets - to pick merely one example - were marred by green lapels that in no way reflect how women dress today, except perhaps air hostesses.
Milan has a well-deserved reputation for slick tailoring but sometimes it can become just too slick for comfort. The sharp edge of modernism is best represented by Jil Sander, whose collections have become so hard and unforgiving that only the most utilitarian-minded of her devotees could feel easy in pieces such as copper-mercerised cotton surgical shifts or tailored coats, the inspiration for which seemed to come from the science laboratory.
The complete antithesis of this ascetic aesthetic is the work of Alberta Ferretti, both in her main line and Philosophy diffusion range. They manage to maintain a rough edge that evokes the homespun, yet remain covetable because of their execution in luxurious fabrics. In every Ferretti collection, elements of familiar ethnicity soften the silhouette; with the main range, this took the form of Pocohontas-like beading and Navaho-inspired blanket motifs in plain blocks of patchwork. Devore was given an update here through colour blocking and matt finishes. Over at Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti, the offerings included fluffy fur-trimmed mules, bright ponyskin tunics and jackets, plus bulky tweed skirts and light felted shell tops.
Finally this week saw the first collection in Milan of Antonio Berardi, hitherto one of London Fashion Week's stars, who chose the title "Never mind the Borgias" for his Italian debut. Although what was shown leaned too heavily towards the theatrical (Elizabeth-style hair and tapestry-painted sheepskins), it showed an understanding of the difference between Milanese and British fashion. So, while many of the other shows during the week were strong on good taste and weak on innovation, Berardi gave the occasion a welcome injection of London-like excitement. Multi-zipped tunics and slashed leathers may not be everyone's first choice, but they were a refreshing change from yet another funnel-necked sweater. Consistency remains Milan's problem. All too often, fashion in the city is like the menu in an Italian restaurant; at first glance there may seem to be lots of choice, but in the end it's all pasta.
Milan trends for autumn/winter
Green: olive, loden, mint. Orange: marmalade, tangerine. Purple: royal, burgundy. Brown: taupe, coffee, tobacco.
Fur: Rabbit, pony, cowskin, mink, Mongolian lamb. Felt, boiled wool, cashmere, tweed. Tulle, net, chiffon. Thick knits, fringing, patchwork. Tartan, kitsch florals.
Funnel necks, zip-fronted jackets. Long skirts, minis and pleated kilts. Tunics and shell tops. Vests, wide trousers, Capri pants, flares. Blanket coats.
Ruching, wide belts, moon belts, mocassins, shoulder bags, scarves with pockets, rhinestones, fur trims.