A front-row seat can be very distracting, especially when what you see on the catwalk starts to all seem the same. The line-up at Dolce & Gabbana's fashion show was particularly stellar with Eva Mendes, Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts and Scarlett Johansson, the face of the designers' new cosmetics line, as well as a bevy of former supermodels (Claudia, Eva and Nadja), all flown in for a big party to launch a special exhibition that explores the art of beauty photography.
The designers, though, were determined to keep our eyes on the catwalk, with strong photographic prints on skirts and hats made from leather gloves. Experimenting with a trend they started in the summer for large, geometric sleeves, they evolved it into full-blown shoulders for autumn that were so puffed up that the tops of them reached eye level. Leg-of-mutton sleeves were last seen in the 1980s - not the most stylish of eras, when women were padded out to look like American footballers. Teamed with pencil skirts and wide belts in an array of bold monochrome patterns, plus the occasional shock of bright pink satin, the boys did their best to make a revamp of the Eighties a lot more appealing. At times, though, the interpretation was so literal you couldn't help but think of it as a witty parody.
Big shoulders have been making a determined effort to muscle their way back into our wardrobes for a couple of seasons now and there have been plenty of padded versions around Milan: at Gucci, Gianfranco Ferré, Moschino and Alberta Ferretti. At Ferré they sloped so high they could have been be used as launchpads for space rockets, while Ferretti's were surprisingly squared off for a designer who tends to lean towards a softer, gentler silhouette.
Fendi was also big on shoulders. Karl Lagerfeld's huge wool coats for the label had subtle sheepskin padding at the shoulder rather than discreetly tucked away inside. Even the collars appeared to lend volume to the upper arm, as well as the many variations of luxurious fur capes, boleros and gilets used throughout the collection. There is a sense this season of designers sticking to what they do well and aiming to do it better, as has happened at Fendi. At times this has made other shows rather one-dimensional, but Fendi's experiments with fabrics, slightly fraying and distressing the silks and mohairs and deconstructing seams on dresses, might offer a way out of the Eighties trend that seems to have transfixed so many Italian designers lately.
Max Mara, for instance, is founded on coats and jackets and at its show there was barely a puffy sleeve in sight. The brand unveiled this week their first Atelier capsule collection, which will serve as a research lab for the main line, focusing on the company's specialties with 17 styles in cashmere, baby camel-hair, alpaca, wool and silk organdie. There was a lot of camel hair in the latest mainline collection, which featured long collarless coats or coats with turned-up, above-the-elbow sleeves, not to mention slim city styles with soft draping that fastened high on the neck, worn over roll-neck sweaters and satin sarong skirts. It was all very understated, with the emphasis on ease and smooth, quality fabrics. It did not, though, make for a varied and exciting show.
In complete contrast, Dan and Dean Caten, the Canadian twins behind DSquared, target a different client to MaxMara. Riffing between glamorous uptown women in leopard-print coats and leather gloves and streetwise girls in slouchy parkas over long black evening dresses, this collection proved that it's all about how you put a look together.