Like all consumer arenas, the luxury market has been hit by the recession. The first set of designers at Milan Fashion Week seemed to be grappling with what their customers want, wavering between classic investment pieces and self-justifyingly unique creations, confidence-generating edge and escapist comfort. Of course, there were also collections that paid no regard to anything but their designers’ internal visions—think D&G’s ostentatious display of sexed-up period pieces, or Alberta Ferretti’s exuberant lineup of color-blocked minidresses and beaded sheaths—but most collections relied on a mélange of elements designed to satisfy an increasingly complex web of needs and desires.
Missoni, Burberry Prorsum and Giorgio Armani all focused on traditional moneymakers—knits, outerwear, and suits, respectively—but each collection also featured refreshing twists. Missoni’s soothingly hued pieces, which would have a slightly dull effect on their own, felt bold when styled in multiple layers (picture three floor-length scarves atop a chunky cardigan atop a slouchy cowl-neck sweater, paired with leggings and leg warmers). Burberry’s lushly languid, Bloomsbury Group-inspired collection revolved around the house’s signature trench, which was rendered in richly textured fabrics—supple suede, fur, swingy tweed, heavy printed satin and more. Giorgio Armani gave a hard edge to his neat little skirt suits by accessorizing them with patent berets and opera gloves. His Emporio Armani collection toed a similar line between fussy and flirtatious, juxtaposing knee socks and furs, dainty ruffle-front coats and vertiginous heels, dangerously high-slit minis and sweet rose prints.
Other collections such as Moschino Cheap & Chic, wavered between grandiosity and simplicity. Designer Rosella Jardini dipped into surrealism, but, despite ample experimentation with trompe l’oeil prints and derivative headgear, the collection also featured an abundance of classic shapes: flowing silk pants were balanced with crisp cropped trousers, while an asymmetrical jacket was juxtaposed with sleek, minimalist coats in primary colors. Taking the strong shoulder as a starting point, Gianfranco Ferre, too, presented a mix of opulent statement pieces with traces of sharp minimalism. Although Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi liberally used outsized flourishes, inspired by Cate Blanchett’s turn in Elizabeth—bombastic graphic ruffles, neck ruffs, bows and fur and sparkle—the collection’s strongest looks (and those that best reflected the global mood) were ultimately the simplest.
This idea of studied simplicity proved to be the winning formula during the week’s earliest days, and it was most evident in the Jil Sander presentation. Following a display of impossibly clean-lined cashmere coats, flawless shift dresses and pointy-toed patent pumps, designer Raf Simons sent out a series of looks inspired by ceramicist Pol Chambost. These pieces were equally simple, but incorporated surprising details such as a soaring, sculptural collar and a flash of red from beneath a hemline, which elevated them to another plane. The collection managed to be both timeless and fresh, effortless and elaborate, and seemed to perfectly pinpoint the strength, artistry and optimism that both shoppers and the industry at large are so desperately seeking.