Not one to refrain from making a flamboyant statement, to celebrate his 40th anniversary, Roberto Cavalli invited his audience to pass under the magnificent Arch of Peace (dedicated to European Peace in 1815 after the Napoleonic Wars) at the entrance of his show venue at the Milan fashion collections. The Florentine designer generously helped fund the restoration of the neo-classical arch as a gift to the city he has made his base.
Cavalli regards himself as more of an artist than a designer, having spent his early years in the 1970s hand-painting and printing skintight jeans for his wealthy bohemian clients. Those skintight rock 'n' roll hipsters - more likely to be leather and python these days - are still part of his repertoire, sliced, laced together, patched and heavily fringed, Apache-style, in his new summer collection. He teamed them with crochet silk tops and western-style patchwork suede and leather waistcoats. There was a parade of 40 outfits led off by the supermodel Natalia Vodianova, to mark each of the years of his career.
The 70-year-old Cavalli's concept of fashion is raw, sexy and ultra-luxurious bohemianism. He created python-print blouses and flimsy tiger-print satin dresses, worn with rawhide shoulder-bags, decorated with fringes, talons and horn, and paired with lace-up boots. The colour palette was surprisingly calm, in shades of grey with a hint of blue and blush. The collection - now co-designed with his wife Eva, the label's creative director - however, remains as resolutely carefree and flamboyant in spirit as it was in the beginning.
There are not many designers to have clocked up 40 years in fashion. Valentino actually did 45 before retiring; the 76-year-old Giorgio Armani has another three years before reaching that landmark. The highly respected designer closed Milan Fashion Week with a symphony of indigo evening gowns and soft tailoring inspired by the nomadic Tuaregs of the Sahara. Armani is no stranger to ethnic influences, and Moorish details frequently appear in his collections. Knotted silk turbans, stone amulets, bold lapis jewellery and flat Arabic slippers accessorised the short jackets slipped over silk tunics and tapered trousers. Great swathes of chiffon wrapped the body as if to fend off a sandstorm. However, these mysterious nomadic travellers are rather partial to luxurious beading, which decorated nearly every one of his indigo satin gowns. It was an elegant sign-off to the Milan shows as everyone moves on to Paris for the last stage of the spring collections.