MILAN - Milan designers have proposed assertive and even aggressive looks for next year, as if to fill a power vacuum felt keenly in Italy in the face of political uncertainty and a resigning pope.
The looks presented during six days of fashion previews that ended Monday were structured and solid, inspired by architecture and design and employing sturdy fabrics to create fresh shapes.
In many ways, it was technology-driven fashion. Designers continued to experiment with and create new materials. There was a lot of leather and fur worked in new ways. Mohair was worked as a fur substitute. Spandex was used as a contrast to soften the looks, and cashmere, lace and revealing transparencies maintained a feminine air.
The use of technology was also reflected in patterns, which at times were based on distorted digital photos or a pixilated effect.
The silhouette was wide at the shoulder, cinched at the waist and often flared at the bottom. The most obvious reference was to the hourglass. Hemlines were mostly a proper, below-the-knee length — although there were also super-short and long versions.
The looks were rarely mannish, although at times androgynous.
It was a big season for big coats — and big furs. There were many fur accessories, like shawls and stoles, and all-out coats tended to be fashioned out of dyed fur in bold yellows, reds and pinks — and even fake animal prints.
The colour palette was urban darks with flashes of bright contrast.
The revelation of the season for footwear was the thigh-high boot that appeared to be tights. The latest bags were a large shopper, even larger backpacks — but mostly small ladylike handbags.
The fashion caravan moves on to Paris, leaving Italy to contemplate a new government and welcome a new pope.
Giorgio Armani had the last word at Milan Fashion Week, and not only where the clothes were concerned.
Speaking to reporters between his two shows on Monday, the closing day of preview shows for the fall-winter 2013-2014 season, the designer lashed out at some colleagues who in his opinion are more interested in spectacles than sales.
"One thing is to put on a play, the other is to create fashion," Armani said.
"It's not about models wearing gold crowns, " Armani said, taking a jab at Sunday's Dolce&Gabbana show with its Byzantine princess motif." (It's) about what you can find in the store."
Armani has said 75 per cent of his second line, Emporio Armani, which showed Saturday, has already been sold.
It may sound like the 78-year-old, ever-tanned, white-haired designer who put the made-in-Italy label on the international fashion map in the early 1980s was pontificating. But last night's Oscar dress list showed Armani head-to-head with Dior, proof the designer knows what he's talking about.
Along with Jessica Chastain and Naomi Watts, Armani dressed child star and best actress nominee Quvenzhane Wallis in a sparkling navy blue dress with a big back bow from his Armani Junior line.
Armani's latest winter collection came almost all in black, with accents of grey, navy and red. The chic-yet-simple collection spoke to a contemporary woman, who in the designer's own words is "a little man, a little woman, and a lot of both."
Admiring front-row guests included singer Janet Jackson and a scattering of royalty: Charlene Wittstock, wife of Prince Albert of Monaco, and Tatiana Blatnik, wife of Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark.
The collection featured ultra-feminine long skirts in velvet or sequined chiffon, worn with tiny double-breasted or flared jackets. But the look also came with wide pants, complete with decorative suspenders. Evening pants were paired with dazzling sequined tops.
Armani had more pants, including jumpsuits and Bermuda shorts, in his collection than most designers this round, where ladylike skirts and dresses were the preferred look.
Armani's only concession to eccentric show stoppers were his funky Russian-inspired felt and furry hats, worn with every outfit.
"To each his own crown," the designer quipped.
The Ferre winter woman is bold and yet feminine.
She endorses the structured look so popular for this round of preview showings, with prominent shoulders and waist cinched in a wide obi belt. A revisitation of the famed Ferre structured shirt, with its prominent collar and wide sleeve, fits perfectly in the new look.
Sophisticated black is her preferred shade, softened by an occasional flirt with cream white and chocolate brown.
Her footwear is determined, almost nasty, with high-heeled booties sporting aggressive ankle straps.
"She rediscovers her femininity, without losing her taste for architectural design," designers Federico Piaggi and Stefano Citron said backstage after Monday's show on the last day of Milan's winter Fashion Week.
The designing duo joined Ferre several seasons ago. The brand, famous for its structured styles, has been through hard times since its founder, architect-turned-designer Gianfranco Ferre, died unexpectedly in 2007.
At the moment the Ferre family is in talks with the Paris Group that bought the brand, to keep the Ferre headquarters in the famed glass palazzo in downtown Milan, which became synonymous with the label.
In the meantime, the show was moved to a space in a Milan museum often used for fashion events.