Milan Fashion Week Review: Food for Thought

September 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Looks from Jil Sander

After the sportive looks from New York and the scattered themes from London, the runways in Milan have served up some food for thought in both runway concept and casting. We’ve also seen heftier daywear offerings, a welcome relief from the steady parade of Oscar-centric collections in the past couple of weeks.

At the Jil Sander show, designer Raf Simons widened armholes, lengthened sleeves, and cut hems at mid-calf to create some fresh and sophisticated silhouettes. He introduced a new neckline on a duo of tailored jackets, too, cutting the lapels straight down until they reached a horizontal plane of fabric, resulting in a rectangular cutout exposing the sternum and some seductive side cleavage. In a way, I felt like I was peering into the soul of the model, and more extensively the Simons’ design philosophy. I also enjoyed the crop tops layered over thin dresses and paired with long skirts. They had the sportive nature of a women’s football jersey, but the ultra white palette and smooth surfaces disabled any overt allusions to the NFL and guided the look to the calmer shores of high fashion. The paisley prints were also a boon, done in faint pastels evocative of an Easter egg hunt. They were clean and pared down – purified.

Looks from Prada

As I take it, Miuccia Prada is a feminist of sorts. She put men in skirts and braziers for fall 2008, and this season she dolled up her women in garb covered in racer flames and toy cars – a comment on objectification. She also loosened her silhouette on a series of cowboy-meets-dandy jackets decked out in retro florals. I think Prada might have been thinking of “freeing the woman” with these looks, putting her girls in wide, roomy outerwear, but I think the effect was a bit too pronounced; the models looked like South Western line backers. The sunburst pleating on some of the skirts was nice. They contrasted well with the tougher, more structured pieces and gave the collection a dose of old-school femininity. Sticking to her concept, though, Prada printed these with streamlined figures reminiscent of 50s race cars, imbuing the looks with an aggressive intellect that might have looked stronger had they been tempered.

Prada has a social conscience – I get it – but her collection could have benefited from a more relaxed attitude and abstracted interpretation of her politics. I do applaud her audacity, though, and the articulation of her somewhat controversial standpoint in an often socially deaf industry. She’s lucky she has the influence and financial stability to design with such bravado.

Looks from Dolce & Gabbana

Dolce and Gabbana served up a delicious collection of sundresses and bloomers printed with ripening vegetables: red peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, red onions. It actually made me salivate. The collection took me back to 1950s Italy, on some scantly populated island with lush gardens, sumptuous food, and a very tan Sofia Loren. There was such a strong sense of history and cinema that I couldn’t help but fall in love with the fluidity of the pleated skirts and the airy, transparent fabrics. I’m also mad for the lace items in ecru and baby blue with big, ebullient flowers scattered about. They were a nice update to their daintier, more run-of-the-mill lace from S/S 11 and gave the looks a nice, soft texture.

I could have done without the rainbow beading that closed the show; it was a bit too Claire’s for me. But at least they ended the presentation on a festive note with their joyous colors and shapes that resembled fireworks. It was definitely a show to celebrate.

Looks from Fendi

I know it’s sacrilege to criticize czar Lagerfeld, but honestly, I wasn’t too hot about his latest collection for Fendi. The color palette could have used a boost, namely the faint peaches and blues that conjured dirty dish water. There were also a number of looks in black-white combinations, like a black shift dress with white collar, that brought to mind a French maid uniform. I’m also not sure how the styling of the collection worked with the clothes. The glittery eyeshadow looked like shimmering face masks and the tousled up-dos channeled “Bride of Frankenstein.” Perhaps these were just deflectors for the clothes.

The strongest items from the collection were two sheer sweaters with thick, imposing cable knits running down the front and back like pillars. They had a strength in their visual weight, yet the transparency gave the look an overall soft, cozy quality.

Looks from Gucci

Next to some of the more cerebral designers at Milan Fashion Week, namely Prada and Raf Simons of Jil Sander, Frida Giannini doesn’t give the sense that she’s thinking too hard about deep concepts or pushing the limits of fashion. But I think that’s ok. After all, her latest show let us know that she knows how put out a collection that is glamorous, aesthetically sophisticated, and commercially appealing – and that alone is a lot to ask. I loved the deco effects on a series of gold, black, and white cocktail dresses, especially one paired with a giant feathery stole. They had a ’20s, throwback quality that made me think of Old Hollywood parties on the top floor of the Chrysler Building. The hard lines also gave a structured, architectural form to the overall easy silhouette of the dresses.

The styling was also notable. The thick eyeliner and slick hair referenced the back up girls from Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” video. All they needed were some guitars and a cold sway.

Looks from Bottega Veneta

I initially didn’t notice the first six looks from Bottega Veneta’s show; I was too focused on the black models wearing them. They later closed the show, which added even more confusion. What did it all mean? Perhaps designer Tomas Maier was making a statement on the dearth of black models on the runway these days, or perhaps he was just clawing for some headlines. Whatever the case, I was just happy to see models of color – and some new ones at that.

Once my attention switched to the clothes themselves, I realized that the model casting might be the most interesting part of the show. There were some new textures, particularly slick leather in rich aquamarine and hunter green. We also saw tie-dyed trousers in red and purple, as well as jeans with bleached-out patches at the front. The mixed-media looks recalled the Commes des Garcons F/W 11 collection, which featured a series of dresses made of vintage scarves. The effect here had the same crafty quality, but the way the textures came together (or didn’t) came across as a bit confused.

Milan has a reputation for being tough to break into, especially as a young designer. I think this season has proved as much, with the experienced fashion houses like Prada and Dolce & Gabbana putting out collections that are immense in size, intellectually complex, and fun to watch.

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