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Raf Simons' final show steals limelight in Milan

As buyers and press decamp to Paris, the overriding feeling from Milan’s autumn 12 shows was one of both all change and no change for Italy’s fashion capital.

Once it was announced that Raf Simons was leaving his role at Jil Sander and that the brand’s founder would be returning to take the helm for the third time, whatever Milan’s leading lights presented on the catwalks was always going to be outshone.

But the news injected some much-needed impetus into the most slow-moving of all the fashion weeks. With a high concentration of huge, unwieldy labels run by forthright and headstrong characters, keeping a brand’s momentum going in Milan can be tricky, so Simons’ departure and Sander’s reappearance was well-timed, and set up what is sure to prove as one of 2012’s big fashion moments: Simon’s last Jil Sander collection.

Coming halfway through the week, the tension was palpable as every commentator had thrown their two euros into the hat by the time the Jil Sander curtain raised for Simons’ final time, adding poignancy and symbolism, real or imaginary, to the show’s every garment, move or sound.

Simons’ ability to somehow create a mood from the subtlest nuance of colour or gentlest curve of a shoulder always seems to create a quality very hard to put a finger on. Whatever his soft, dreamy collection of beautiful, graceful dresses and coats was fuelled by the show was undoubtedly the peak of the week.

Gucci, the show everyone dashes off to just as London closes, took up its usual spot on the schedule to show a darkly romantic collection where luxury and power were found in the deep emerald, plum, coffee and jet tones and lush velvet dresses with teasing sheer panels.

Almost devoid of colour, John Richmond’s goth-punk tinged collection saw the hourglass dresses stand out while Alberta Ferretti’s look ahead to a slicker, less frouffy future for the label showed promise. Fendi’s mash-up of fabrics and styles meant expect the unexpected, but what could have been muddled came across as intriguing, with cut and textile tricks that kept you guessing.

Miuccia Prada wanted to convey the pleasure of fashion, applying her exacting eye to a collection packed with what Prada does best: sophistication, wrongness, fun. It worked beautifully, like it always does. At Moschino the primary concern was the colour – paintbox red, yellow and blue made for a straightforward message and, when combined with light-hearted short dresses and  cropped jackets it came across as carefree but not flippant.

On to Versace, where Donatella was feeling bold, taking the label back to the future, with gothic crucifix motifs and occasional overt branding reminiscent of some of her brother Gianni’s work. Bottega Veneta was a classy affair as per, as Tomas Maier took a slimmed down, nipped in slant with precise but fluid coat-dresses and suits. Antonio Marras is the closest thing Milan has to an avant-garde designer, his theatrical and exuberant collection both shocking and delighting the Italian public in equal measure.

Marni’s 1960s mood nodded to a brand in flux but there were some successful separates despite the overtly retro vibe. Trussardi went big on rust and structural menswear shapes in a collection that signals exciting things are afoot at the label. Having retired D&G, Dolce & Gabbana presented a lavishly baroque line, swapping full-on sex for a lace-sheathed sexy sophistication.

At Missoni the house’s signature knit was less obvious, making way for outdoorsy prints and patterns applied to city-slick coats, knee length skirts and snug trousers. Salvatore Ferragamo’s collection took the ruggedness of militaria and meshed it with delicate lace and chiffon to create an elegantly tailored look while at Versus the rebellious edginess, particularly prominent in the sassy short, figure-hugging dresses, was refreshing.

Poppy colour, shorts and fedoras were all present in an epic Giorgio Armani show, the mannish shapes perhaps not quite as well considered as at other labels during the week, while Roberto Cavalli’s animal pattern fest was classic Cavalli with an electric colour undercurrent, although some of the silhouettes just missed the mark. But for all the pomp and ceremony, luxurious fabrics, Italian styling and flamboyant shapes presented, it was hardly a huge step forward in terms of design or trend by Simons’ former colleagues so it was left to, and was only ever going to be left to, the Belgian’s final collection to stand out. Fitting really, as he’s been standing out in Milan for years.

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