One usually imagines Milan as being the flash, glam, glitz capital of fashion, but that is not always the case. There are fashion houses that serve quality and luxury, but in a subtle, sophisticated and, one might say, conservative way. Brands such as Bottega Veneta, Jil Sander, Ferragamo and MaxMara usually fall into this category. Fendi, however, does not, so it is striking that this season the designer, Karl Lagerfeld, was uncharacteristically restrained.
The Fendi winter collection is usually a showcase for the furrier's skills, but the de luxe sable, mink and fox designs were remarkably low-key. The mix with masculine fabrics and emphasis on texture rather than glitz added to the sobriety. Ladylike coats in a patchwork of fur, sleeveless trapeze capes and mid-calf dirndls had a country air, especially when delivered in a palette of black, navy, loden green and autumn leaf colours. Even the high-heeled boots resembled country footwear, with the rubber toecaps you find on wellingtons.
Perhaps the exceptionally cold winter in Europe has influenced designers, but there were certainly a lot of winter greatcoats at MaxMara, as you might expect, and of course big blanket knits at Missoni in snug geometric patchworks. MaxMara's Russian-military-inspired coats with their standing collars, epaulettes, double rows of buttoning and utility belts looked covetable. There was no flashy frogging: the look was subtle, with just a couple of liquid gold lamé dresses to add a shimmer of glamour.
Massimiliano Giornetti's ladylike spin on the Ferragamo collection (he is already the house's menswear designer) might well have been influenced by Greta Garbo's wardrobe currently on display at Milan's Triennale Design Museum. Garbo was a devoted customer and the low-key glamour of this collection would surely have appealed to her - the camel coats, suede jackets, cable knits and slouchy relaxed mood.
The masculine/feminine interplay of Garbo's wardrobe might also have found some resonance in Tomas Maier's Bottega Veneta collection. Black wool and leather tailoring (loose and slightly mannish) was juxtaposed with pretty, 1950s-style waisted dresses and fluid semi-draped garments. The effect, as always with Maier, is very low-key but very precise in both design and quality of execution. Marni, usually noted for its curvy cape shapes and naive use of ethnic and artisan themes and print, was remarkably austere and streamlined this season. Consuelo Castiglioni, like Miuccia Prada, has a penchant for 1960s geometric wallpaper prints, which she cut into graphic-shaped jackets and Bermudas and A-line dresses. Three-dimensional peplums on tops, or the shoulder-line of a cape were about as curvy as this slightly eccentric collection got.
Coverage of Paris Fashion Week begins in Arts & Life on Sunday.