MILAN - All of Milan plays dress up during Carnevale.
While fashionistas race from show to show to see the latest designer creations, Milan's confetti-strewn streets reverberated Saturday with a spontaneous parade of children dressed up as princesses, fairies and super heroes just for the fun of it.
Many of the looks on Milan's runways are as festive as any Carneval getup — which may or may not be a coincidence given that Milan's celebrations this year happened to fall during fashion week.
Taffeta and tulle, essentials for any proper princess and ballerina, are both staples of the season on Milan runways.
Designers have dipped into their troves of sequins and beads for next year's winter womenswear collections, and they haven't stopped there. They've added big necklaces, brooches and oversized hoop earrings for maximum pizazz.
Uniforms and hats are also mainstays — allowing women to adopt another persona, be it an officer, a warrior or a fun-loving flapper. Shoes are also costumey, from Victorian lace-up or button-up booties to comic strip Mary Janes.
Despite the standing ovation lead by Vogue America's Anna Wintour at the end of the show, Raf Simons left the Milan fashion scene quietly, just as he had come in 6 1/2 years ago.
In 2005, the 44-year-old Belgian designer took the helm at the faltering Jil Sander label, in search of a designer who could take the line further without abandoning the minimalist trademark of the founder, who had since left the company.
His first black and white womenswear collection showed he had the stuff, and collection after collection (men and women) he gained in confidence to slowly create his own vision of Jil Sander, which several seasons ago culminated in a bonanza of colour and maxi gowns that dazzled the fashion world.
The winter 2013 show, presented on the fourth day of Milan Fashion Week on Saturday, was his last as creative director for the label. It was soft, serene and very special.
Models with little makeup, their hair pulled back in straight pony tails, wound their way around six floral arrangements on the runway wearing pink, coral or beige pastel robe coats with shawl lapels and a mid-calf hemline. Underneath, they wore lingerie-like dresses with delicately knitted tops and chiffon skirts, accompanied by simple sling back footwear.
After a sudden burst of bright carnation red, the palette turned ivory white and then jet black for the finale of top-drawer evening gowns — perhaps not without a message that he was returning to the roots.
The look is measured and yet feminine — in any case feminine enough to fuel reports that have Simons on his way to Dior to replace designer John Galliano, who was fired after a drunken tirade in Paris a year ago.
Earlier in the week, the Jil Sander Group announced that the founder herself was coming back as creative designer for the company she started in 1968.
Giorgio Armani has put a fashion twist in his knickers. And that's a good thing.
Armani presents a sleek trouser that cuffs at the knee with a flourish, creating a fresh silhouette in his second line Emporio womenswear collection for next winter presented during Milan Fashion Week on Saturday.
"I would like you to write that Armani has invented new pants," Armani told reporters backstage before the show.
The pants — which Armani did not name — formed the centerpiece of the collection, worn beneath 1920s-style flapper dresses in light, flowing fabric or with belted tops that finished in tiers or a ruffled flare for a carefree, unstructured line.
While the pants bear echoes of what Americans might call knickers, and the British call plus-fours, there was nothing of the baggy golfing pants in Armani's creations. Made of silk or velvet, the Emporio pants are sleek and fitted, finishing at the knee with a flair or tiered cuff.
Paired with jackets, skirts, dresses or fanciful tops, the overall look was a potpourri of layers that allows the imagination to run wild and included other festive touches like long fringe on coats, polka dotted and striped fabric for jackets, and colorful long fur vests.
The designer paired the pants with flat slippers with floral fabric toes or shiny lace-up shoes, and always with opaque tights.
Armani said he considered high heels, but rejected the impact as too warrior-like — an effect that many of his Milan colleagues have engaged.
"Even if we fought for high heels, with these pants, the Emporio woman seemed to be a valkyrie, or a call girl," he said.
Emporio colours were mostly black and white, with touches of bold red and amethyst blue.
Shouts of "Bravo" rang out as Tomas Maier took his bow at the end of a show that was short, sweet and to the point.
The new Bottega Veneta winter collection, presented Saturday during Milan Fashion Week, had the contemporary elegance that has marked the label since creative director Maier came on board in 2001, but softened the trademark minimalist edge with such details as jeweled beading, ruching, sequining and embossed velvet embroidery.
From the early morning hours, it is clear that this lady is into luxury — the downplayed kind. She wears a simple sheath over a closely-fitting black coat, with dainty velvet collar and couture wool buttons, paired with a pair of flat equestrian style boots and a contrasting brown Bottega Veneta basket weave shoulder bag.
The Bottega woman's dark suit is double-breasted with the same chic buttons and a proper mid-calf hemline, or she might opt for a taupe blue double breasted dress that looks like a one-piece suit.
As the day wears on, the clothes get lighter-soft sweaters and winter peddle pushers replace the more formal but never rigid outerwear. These outfits are worn with ankle booties and knee socks, and accessorized by a clutch bag with crisscross leather seams, and the long gauntlet gloves that appeared throughout the collection.
Most of all, it is the evening gowns with their bare backs or strapless bodices, feathery peplums and flowing hemlines, not to mention the refined beading and embroidery, that show that deep at heart, Maier is a couturier.
The minimalist twist on the age-old luxurious styles, all worn with stocking boots or high-heeled multicolored Mary Janes, is what makes them special.
Colours for next winter range from grey, blue, wine red, flesh pink and ivory. Black, as in most of the shows seen on the current runway, is the favoured background.
To emphasize the understated feel of the collection, the models wore little makeup and their long hair was demurely pulled back and tied in a chignon.
Pucci designer Peter Dundas returned to the vast archives of fashion house founder Emilio Pucci for next winter's looks — particularly for black and white patterns.
The collection is very sensual, but not as rocker as it has been in past seasons, centring on the interplay between masculine and feminine. The man-tailored jacket is a key wardrobe item.
"There is nothing more seductive than a woman who throws her man's jacket over an evening gown," Dundas said before the show held in the frescoed halls of a central Milan palazzo.
Dundas presented a white tuxedo jacket with black lapels to wear over a simple long gown with transparent panels. He also paired the tuxedo jacket with cropped pants, a look proliferating on the current runway.
On the harder side, there was a black crocodile gown with a revealing slit up the side and long decorated sleeves.
The 40-something Dundas, who joined Pucci in 2008, referred to his Norwegian roots with Nordic evening sweaters in black, white and grey, dripping with silver crystals.