You have to admire Giorgio Armani's stamina. Only a week ago he was opening a spanking new store in New York and dressing Anne Hathaway, Alicia Keys and Sean Penn for the Oscars. Now, less than five days after Hathaway appeared on the red carpet, he has just unveiled his new autumn/winter collections for Emporio and Giorgio Armani - and two very different ladies they are as well.
He hasn't been the only designer to focus on schoolgirl styles this season, but Emporio Armani's sweet little girls in their brogues and socks, modelling nimble overcoats with ruffle trims, pleated shorts and pinstripe skirts, were an altogether more wholesome image than the rebellious St Trinian's schoolgirls we saw on Vivienne Westwood's catwalk in London a week ago - mother would have approved of the Emporio girls who sweetly swung down the catwalk in pairs.
Armani's snappy and sexy Emporio collection opened Milan Fashion Week and his mainline collection on Friday was, as you might imagine, an altogether more grown-up affair. Sophisticated tailoring with its roots in the 1980s included short, fitted jackets and tiny, curvy skirts worn with shiny berets and squashy handbags - a new trend in the making this season. Coats were light with swishy hems, or big soft blanket cover-ups. Dresses were focused on glamorous cocktail styles in black velvet, fitted and worn with a pair of long patent black gloves pulled over bare arms. While Emporio surprisingly eschewed any form of trouser, whether tailored or jeans, the Giorgio Armani collection presented sleek, tightfitting styles worn with high heels. Trousers and flat jewelled boots were slipped under delicate sparkling tulle evening dresses that looked like cobwebs after a rain shower.
Raf Simon's collection for Jil Sander was a paean to the founder, who left the company in 2004 during Prada's troubled ownership of the brand. The company announced this week that it is moving its design studio to Milan, finally severing roots with its past in Hamburg, where Sander founded the label. The Belgian designer Raf Simons took over the creative reins in 2005 and he felt that now, as a new mood of austerity takes hold, is the appropriate time to pay homage to Sander with a collection that reiterates the style and soul of the brand. Luxuriously understated looks - collarless coats over matching jackets, and a camel round-neck coat over a matching round-neck dress - slim, sleek, over the knee, in cashmere and fine wools - evoke the relaxed balanced mood of the original.
There were two elements to the Jil Sander collection, as Simon was also inspired by a famous French ceramicist Pol Chambost (1906-1983) to produce the most divine dresses and coats that were sculpted but hung slightly proud of the body. He experimented by contouring the body with single folds of fabric in shocking, contrasting hues of orange and yellow against black. Some dresses smoothed the contours of the upper body and then sculpted a bulbous shape over the hips, mimicking an elegant ceramic bottle; it was infinitely more beautiful and flattering than it sounds.
It looks as though this season, designers will revert to what they do best, but keep it fresh and modern. A reminder of the troubled times we live in came on the opening day of the Milan collections, when Roberto Cavalli had to suddenly switch his catwalk show for his second line Just Cavalli to a smaller presentation because the manufacturer who produces the collection under the license Ittierre went bankrupt. It is another reminder that even Italian fashion is not impervious to the financial crisis. Its parent company IT Holding, as well as the Gianfranco Ferre brand that it owns, were both put into special administration, with a view to selling off Ferre.
There is no denying that these events lurk in the minds of designers and Christopher Bailey said after his show for Burberry Prorsum that he wanted "to stick with the DNA of the label, to keep it real and make clothes that last". He built on last season's collection, with its rustic charm, but said he wanted "this one to be more poetic". To this end, he produced a terrific array of slouchy trench coats slipped over gentle white cotton high-waisted dresses with a soft felt hat pulled on the head, in a carefree, folksy way. He returned to his Yorkshire roots to produce nubbly tweeds for swing box-pleated coats and sweet woollen dresses and used some lovely vintage chintzes for dirndl-skirt dresses. Perfect for the cool Burberry girl without a care in the world. Lucky her.