Suzy Menkes at Milan fashion week: day four

Suzy Menkes at Milan fashion week: day four
(Photo:semi formal dresses)

Tomas Maier swaps sport for sensuality.

Oh, the nobility of being a woman! One who is dressed spiffily in a tweed coat, swaddled in knits, stepping out in trousers, or swaying sensually on high heels with bars of three thin straps.

After a spell of sporty clothes at Bottega Veneta, designer Tomas Maier took a different route: a celebration of womanhood. It was neither “out there” nor timid, but just right.

“I wanted it to be sensual,” said Tomas, who opened the show with plain, mannish trouser suits and ended it with brassieres built into soft dresses. From masculine to feminine, with the pendulum of the show falling exactly right with its leopard-print calfskin coat or gilded lamb trench.

The concept was to soften firm lines, mostly by using variations of wool, until what might have been solid clothes melted over the body – never with obvious sexuality, but with a certain tenderness.

Then there were the colours: plain and creamy; then brick followed by wine and violet. There were patterns that even shocked, as in a burning orange skirt named “Vesuvius”, after the fiery volcano.

Tomas repeated the world “sensual” three times backstage, almost as if he had surprised himself with the gentleness in his collection. He also talked about knitting, explaining how it was working with wool that had made the collection look, and no doubt feel, different.

Various pieces in the collection seem to have been deliberately re- thought, like the subtle shrinking of Bottega’s much-loved handbags, which had decreased in size.

Tomas Maier has been at Bottega since 2001, during which time he has built up as far more than a brand of artisanal woven handbags. But I wondered if in this show he was reminding us of his nine previous years at Hermès. There was something of that spirit in this collection: the finest materials, the subtlety, the elegant discretion.

Of course, like any fine designer, Maier has experimented during his time at Bottega. I remember especially the featherlight, vividly coloured nylon dresses that even appeared on the red carpet. It was a surprise, even a shock; yet in fashion, change is good.

But at a time of turmoil in the industry – not to mention the entire world – a voice of sophisticated calm at this Bottega show is so right for now.

Marni: Off-kilter Romantics

Puffy sleeves, big flat sequins and curving lines offer a new compass point

“Romantic - but modern,” said Consuelo Castiglioni, as her Marni models tossed their heads to set in motion the sway of a string of circular earrings.

But that jewellery and a dress cut with deep armholes were the only pieces that seemed to fill Consuelo's description of the collection as “out of scale”.

In fact, after a couple of seasons taking fashion sculptures to the max, sometimes as awkward as they were dramatic, this autumn/winter'16/'17 show had deflated in shape - but not in imagination.

I envisaged the designer sitting at her work table among a line-up of coloured pencils, geometric tools, a set square and a compass. With one implement she would have produced arching shoulders and sleeves on a red dress; with another, a wavy pattern for a loose top and trousers.

And then the fun of working out the accessories: the leg spats with a metallic strip on the shoe heel beneath. And, of course, those earring with their swivelling geometric circles.

And what about the giant sequins - either flat and shiny or more artistically displayed across the chest?

There were still elements of oversize; especially big, regal sleeves ballooning up between elbow and wrist. They gave a touch of historical romance and also a feeling of an artist let loose, which could be a description of the designer.

Although Marni no longer focuses on furs, the family company's starting point, coloured capelets of fur were worn in an interesting, historical way, swaddling the chest.

This show offered a strong version of what Marni is today: singular, with a twisted romanticism and a quiet, but very definite, signature.

Dolce & Gabbana: A Fairy Tale is “Frozen”

Princesses can wear scarlet uniforms as well as frilly, flowery dresses.

It started with a fairy tale offering for Instagram users - a "mirror, mirror on the wall" for a Snow White photo op in the foyer.

Next at the Dolce & Gabbana show, came a line-up of dangling chandeliers in the theatre and, at the end of the fashion runway, a golden coach.

Cinderella in all her guises - except as a ragged little creature - was at the heart of the inspiration of Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce. She appeared in a sparkling dress and spiky footwear (Where was the glass slipper?). She also put on a scarlet parade uniform to prove that in today's fairy tales, the girls could kick around the boys.

Disney - and especially the hit movie Frozen - inspired the duo to take a fresh look at what it means to be a princess. Clue number one: you get to have a dress marked with images of the designer's cats.

"We wanted to give the audience a smile, dreams of happiness - we know that real life is different, but our job is to give something lighter to the people," said Domenico, while Stefano said they wanted to create a look of Frozen "because it is possible to give people a beautiful dream."

There was a touch of Alice in Wonderland madness about the show and its clothes. By the time a Disney army of models strode out in any colour as long as it was pink and sprinkled with sparkles, the show looked like a holiday outing for kids. I would go as a flower princess in a vast coat smothered with roses - rather than in an outfit that Cinderella's helpful little mice embroidered all over.

But behind the childlike expressions and on the very day of the Academy Awards in Los Angeles, Dolce & Gabbana caught a sense of innocence and charm that is mostly missing from fashion.

This collection may go down best with cutie pie Japanese shoppers. But such is the quality of the work, especially the tailoring, it could fulfil many other women's dreams. I asked Domenico and Stefano if we would see any of the pieces at the Oscars. "Too far away," they said. What! Even in a magic golden carriage?

Salvatore Ferragamo: Comfort and Joy

The colourful, angular, eye-popping, patterned runway told the story of Salvatore Ferragamo from designer Massimiliano Giornetti in one word: “art”.

Although the shoes and bags have become richer and more three-dimensional during his tenure - for example a heel lapped with fur -they remain practical, with the designer enthusiastic about his role.

"I always play with details. It’s about the freshness of shoes, about wanting to show the beautiful craftsmanship,” Giornetti said before the show, where a table of accessories had a bold position backstage.

On the fashion side, the designer said he had focused on the stirrings of contemporary art in the early 20th century in the Bauhaus and Dada eras.

The graphically patterned runway told the same story as the clothes, which often seemed like artworks, ingenious in the way that zigzags were worked around the womanly figure (although Missoni has been there before). Occasionally the geometric effects were worked into the body shape, as when a dress in the finest, silken pleats in pink, green, black and mustard lead down to a pair of green shoes.

Ah, the shoes! After looking at a black-and-white vertical-striped coat with a row of six mink pom poms, bootees with a thin geometric pattern seemed calm. The same was true of a shocking-pink buttoned skirt and an orange lined cape with furry buttons. That outfit was worn with furry metallic heels in plain black. Just occasionally the collection’s boot was on the other foot, when elegant layers of white pleats descended to blue fur shoes.

Giornetti is honest and straightforward about his approach: the clothes are for statement dressing; but the shoes are for real.

Tod’s: A Moment of Emotion

The image of model Karlie Kloss lying on a wooden workbench wearing a leather outfit as her second skin has already flashed around the world. The moment of emotion in this performance art by Vanessa Beecroft came not from the reclined figure of Karlie, nor the other models behind her, their nude bodies covered with pieces of leather. Instead it came from the artisan in his white coat, with three others stitching together the leather.

Diego Della Valle, the owner of the Tod’s empire, explained that he wanted people to understand the art and artisanship behind the label in this performance, called "VB Handmade". Following the drama of Beecroft’s staging of performance art for Kanye West to kick off the New York fashion season, Tod’s and its skills with leather were a worldwide hit.

But in spite of the celebrities in attendance, especially from Asia, the Tod’s fashion show that followed the art installation did not get nearly as much attention. Designer Alessandra Facchinetti struck the right note of sporty energy with a focus on leather, although there was also plaid wool for a trouser suit, its wine colour the better to show off a white, patterned bag and white Tod’s loafers. Another plaid coat had its red lines reflected in the scarlet boot laces, and I wondered which came first - the russet fur stole or the russet shoes.

In her show notes (where bags and shoes merited more words than the clothes), the designer said that stitching leather into the outfits, as in closures or belts, was part of her work on design identity. If Tod’s wants something sporty chic to complement its powerful accessories, the designer is getting things just right.

Trussardi: Hello, Dolly!

I am not sure that Dolly Parton would have recognised herself in Trussardi’s vision of Country and Western clothes: a cream cape with orange leather trim to match the boots; or an orange shearling jacket with variation of the same shade for sunglasses, shirt, trousers and suede boots.

The denim in this line-up of “country” clothes consisted of a jean jacket with a chiffon skirt trailing the catwalk or a shapely jacket and skinny jeans. But Gaia Trussardi had gathered a bunch of songsters to get us into an American mood by singing Elvis Presley’s greatest hits.

Predominant on the runway were Trussardi leather goods: the boots and especially the bags, with handles pushed up to the elbow for a better display. They looked good, whether as a tufty orange furry tote to match the model’s fiery hair; a scarlet leather tote to match with plaid; or a small, flat-bottomed, hardwear-decorated handbag.

A bag for all seasons and reasons is what Trussardi is about. They could not have been better made or displayed. But as with so many leather houses, there is no sense that the clothes came first – or that they have much purpose other than as a backdrop to the accessories.Read more at:formal dresses melbourne