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Milanese bankers

Designer womenswear buyers welcomed the return of a commercial sensibility on the Milan catwalks

Milan Fashion Week’s big names ended their autumn 10 shows at the weekend with a determination that the event should rival New York as the international catwalk city that offers real clothes for real women. Sarah Rutson, fashion director of luxury Hong Kong department store Lane Crawford, praised the collections’ hanger appeal, while a number of buyers said French label Celine’s spring 10 collection had been the major influence behind the ultra-wearable trends on show in Milan.

Although the Milan brands worked hard to reinforce their signature looks, they also realised they need to think differently about the way they design - not just from a creative point of view but more importantly from a wearable and commercial angle. Out of this has come a new focus on accessible daywear and key separates - instead of simply high fashion and red carpet looks.

Erin Mullaney, buying director of London designer indie Browns, says of her buying strategy: “When we buy, we are asking - is this what this brand does best? We are picking out pieces from each collection. Dolce & Gabbana does tailoring and corsets brilliantly. That’s what we want from them. I really like Fendi, too - that Little Red Riding Hood look and the little bags we sell so well.”

Designer Alessandro Dell’Acqua staged a relaunch, or what he called a “rebirth”, in Milan when he showed his new line under the name N°21 (his lucky number and his birthday). The collection remained true to the designer’s signature looks, taking the nudes and laces and touches of lingerie inspiration but putting them to work on easy separates, with a new emphasis on daywear.

He says: “It’s [now] about real clothes whereas before it was really about lingerie/cocktail/nightwear. This is a completely new sensibility, more modern.” Alberta Ferretti followed a similar path. There was, of course, the label’s usual gorgeously feminine evening gowns that will no doubt be seen on the red carpets, but also a focus on real separates such as cinched jackets and three-quarter length full skirts.

Ferretti says: “This collection is very much about separate pieces. The absolute concept of this collection is to be able to wear these pieces separately. One of the dresses I did with embroidery can even be worn in lots of different ways.”

Versace, too, had a new look this season. Swinging in the opposite direction to last season’s glitz and glam, this time the label took inspiration from biker looks and translated them into contoured tight-fitted trousers with matching biker jackets and asymmetric long-sleeved dresses, with zips used to create detailed hemlines.

Fresher approach

Prada continued themes from its latest menswear collection on womenswear and took a much fresher approach

to the season than some Milanese designers. But even here the collection was made up of lots of key wardrobe essentials - the perfect coat, the perfect knit, a little black dress - and that made it a favourite for many buyers.

Rutson says she loved the collection. “It really cleansed the palette, it was so fresh. I feel like everything is going two ways this season. It’s all either very cleaned up - like Celine [last season] - or a real melange of bundling up against nature. So I loved that Miuccia Prada goes and does something very sexy, very curvaceous, womanly, Mad Men-esque.

“And yes it was commercial as hell, but without being dumbed-down. She even did little stilettos. This collection

is totally understandable on a hanger, but still really differentiates itself

and explains itself. This season it looks to me as though, finally, designers are really concentrating on day clothes, because who is buying or wearing

all those cocktail dresses that people were designing?”

But Rutson also thinks designers need to work closely with retailers to ensure their new daywear focus really does mesh with what women actually need to wear. “Designers are also doing pieces that can be worn and re-worn in different ways,” she says. “But I think they still need to think about fabric weight.”

Harvey Nichols buying director Averyl Oates agrees. “The problem is you have to be very careful with daywear fabrics and there’s a lot of double-faced wool. I’m not sure how much people will buy into that,” she says. “You don’t necessarily need to be wearing heavy fabrics, even in the cold, with central heating. [Last season] Celine creative director Phoebe Philo gave it a clean look without heavy­weight fabrics.

“You’ve got to have this juxtaposition for it to work properly. That’s why that Celine collection is just flying out of the stores. [Philo] made the move to daywear and started the trend - but lots of people have gone on that bandwagon and not done it properly. Jil Sander was very beautiful - clean and clear.”

Maria Kerner, accessories buyer at Moscow department store Tsum, says Bottega Veneta was one of her favourites in Milan because it was about wearable pieces with an understated elegance. “It had the right mood - starting from that black, simple, stylish mood,” she says.

“The message is very clear - comfortable, convenient-but-simple, beautiful and wearable, especially the bags and shoes. This season is about very stylish, expensive, but easy to wear. People really want that; clothes that make the transition from day to night. For me this flexibility is key, as the way our style of living has changed means this is very important. It’s classiness but understated.”

Another favourite for Kerner was Gucci. She says: “The direction Gucci has taken with colour is great and I think the pieces are easier to wear.”

Buyers were divided over the strong trend for outerwear, which has dominated several collections. Mullaney’s top looks for autumn 10 do not include the military trend or shearling pieces. She says: “Things that worked this season were not the rock look or military but the more soft, pretty collections, such as Dolce & Gabbana and Missoni, which I loved. They weren’t hardcore or aggressive. There’s been a lot of cowboy, Western and fringing, from designers such as Rodarte and Moschino. And there’s been a lot of outerwear and coats, too, this week. But I’ve seen so much military, shearling and leopard this season, it’s just too much. It feels as though it’s been around for too long.”

Return to trousers

Kerner agrees that autumn 10 was very focused on coats and other outerwear but adds that a new direction is a return to trousers. Despite this, she emphasises that femininity is still crucial and that the dress is here to stay.

However, Oates was pleased that Milan offered plenty of coats and other outerwear options. “We’ve been missing lots of outerwear - and now there’s so much great outerwear,” she says. “At Fendi, too, unusually, there was lots.

It was a clean show - it’s all about cleaning everything up. Even Versace - it’s a deliberate tactic on their part, trying to do less eveningwear and less glitzy.”

Oates also highlighted the overall feeling of change in the air. “This season feels quite progressive,” she says. “There’s lots of trousers - wide-legged and cropped. I think people are saying, ‘It’s time for a change; recession or no recession, we want a change.’”

Ultra-wearable daywear and key separates emerged as a key trend in Milan

Buyers responded well to a shift towards commercial looks

Too heavyweight fabrics could, however, be an issue

Celine’s spring 10 collection a major influence

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