As the fashion industry battles the downturn, there is no ignoring the worry that designers have for the future of their businesses. One insider at Milan this week said that they thought the shake-out of labels would be good for the industry, describing the turn of events as the survival of the fittest. After all, it has meant that a lot of designers have gone back to their core values, looking at what they do well and aiming to do it better.
We have seen it this week in Milan's autumn collections with Raf Simons's homage to Jil Sander, and there was an element of it yesterday at Gucci, where Frida Giannini's Gucci party girl came turbocharged with all her shimmer and shine. Giannini said it was about "non-conformist people and strong, tough, dangerous women". Tom Ford could almost be heard saying the same thing. Consuela Castiglioni at Marni is beating the same path, focusing her collection on the feminine if slightly eccentric Bloomsbury type in earmuffs and thick patterned hosiery. Hitting on a straight but slender silhouette, Marni turned out tunics and skirts or coats and dress combos, and also mannish oversized pea coats embellished with crystal appliqués (dulled with a veil of chiffon) worn over tapered narrow-fitting pants. The collection was tactile and rich in colour. Tweed, knit, waffle weaves, brocades, shimmery chequered jacquards and the metallic glints of large pleated sequins, used on coats, were delivered in a palette of purple, pine green, grey and glints of metallic. Everything, right through to the jewellery, which mixed horn with antique gold and intricate jewelled tie on neck pieces, was vintage Marni.
Etro also played to the strengths of its venerable heritage, creating rich patchworks of print using wool jacquards, silk and snakeskin and then working the dresses and jackets with overlays of metal beading and stone embroideries in intricate Byzantine-inspired designs. Always experimenting, the designers put stencil-cut, metallic leather overlay on dresses and tops, which recall eastern mosaics.
What is important for designers right now, however, is to be consistent and not to panic, which must be difficult for the likes of Roberto Cavalli, who are caught up in the fallout of the bankruptcy of Ittierre. Apart from Just Cavalli, the licensing manufacturer also produced John Galliano and C'N'C Costume National lines. Worries about that collection may have hand an impact on Cavalli's mainline show, which was surprisingly one-dimensional, producing just a few silk printed dresses and tunics, to punctuate what was a pretty hard-looking Goth rocker collection. There was none of his familiar vampy female; this season's girl is one tough lady. Fetishist black leather leggings that zipped all the way up the back, fur-trimmed jackets and the black leather tunics and miniskirts covered with biker studs appeared in endless variations. It was a tad like medieval armour; even the long black and navy dresses (sheer but for a pair of big knickers) had crystal studs snaking up the side seams.
Fierce ladies in crystal-studded leather strapped dresses and thigh-high fishing waders caused quite a sensation at Prada. This was one of Miuccia's best collections in ages, and while the solid felted wool tailoring and rubber wellies looked forceful, you wanted every piece in the catwalk. Based on a simple V-neck A-line silhouette, Prada sent out fur and tweed combi dresses, velvet front knits and coats encrusted with pleated sequins. There were some delightful eccentric touches like a claret velvet brocade coat worn with heeled Wellingtons, which conjured up images of smart ladies having to negotiate a muddy lane to get to a party. The style was simple and very commercial - even the slashed leather ribbon skirts twinkling with red crystals, and the studded-frill Mary Janes will find a ready audience.
Milan fashion week began with a strong sense of romance but in its closing days there is a distinct change of mood that might appeal to a much more determined, stronger-willed sort of client - the sort who will fall upon Donatella Versace's newly revived Versus accessories line. While others are rationalising their businesses, Versace is expanding its choice, and these accessories are a precursor to a full men's and womenswear collection next season. Meanwhile, as a little appetiser, there are strappy leather shoes, bags and clutches in hard black leather and decorated with faceted crystals the size of plovers' eggs. A capsule collection designed by the young Brit Christopher Kane, this line is hard, sexy, blingy and perfect for the Versace rock chick.