Fashion critics often complain that Milan’s designers lack cutting-edge creativity. Most of them are interested in delivering clothes, rather than theory – especially right now, when the market is tough and customers are less easily parted from their money. But guess what? Clothes, not theories, tend to be a much more accurate window on to the human predicament.
So what did we discover from the catwalks? That mixing masculine and feminine together is now a de‑facto way of life. Trainers with tea dresses. Bustiers with blazers…That comfort has become a non-negotiable. The trussed-up bombast that used to pepper the shows here, in various guises, from Versace’s body-con, limpet-like dresses, to Prada’s recurring love affair with ladylike Fifties tailoring, has dissolved into a softer, blurrier proposition. Light, filmy maxis and midis fluttered their way across catwalks – a reiteration of what has already been selling this past summer. Trousers – and there are many – are slouchy and easy, high on the waist, but loose everywhere else. Denim is ubiquitous, but sliced and diced into office-sharp jackets and skirts. Shoes are mid-height or lower, often with chunky heels all the better to walk in, and the high-fashion trainer is a best seller. Yes – you can wear them to the office or even with an evening dress. When Jimmy Choo (the British label shows here) introduces a 50mm block heel as its star turn, you know the 100mm stiletto is still on ice for the foreseeable.
A popular coat style here (and in London) is the anorak – gussied up, of course, with shine, feathers or transparency. And hoods have become a shortcut to that all-important relaxed-but-grown-up vibe – see Bally’s luxe poncho, worn with, yes, trainers, for the template:
Milan wants you to dress down, but not act down. This is feminism 3:0. We like it. Lisa Armstrong
The masculine/feminine clash
Apparently, even the most stylish Milanese woman wakes up sometimes and isn’t sure what to wear, or who she wants to be today. “What’ll I wear?” asked the comic-book blonde printed billboard-sized on the wall in Prada’s showspace. “I don’t want to look too femme, but I don’t want to look too butch.” According to Miuccia Prada, the solution is to be both. Boyish blue-and-white striped shirts were buttoned to the throat, then layered under silk dresses and bustiers: spliced dresses combined the two as collared shirts turned into pleated skirts in pink brocade or leopard-print – business at the top, cocktail party at the bottom. At Ermanno Scervino, full lace skirts were worn under stiff workwear shirts. For everyday, try tucking a cotton shirt into an evening skirt in velvet or silk for a new spin on smart/casual. Charlie Gowans-Eglinton
Dreamy dresses are not just for summer
Pretty, floaty frocks fluttered down catwalks and across the front row – fine when it’s 26 degrees, as it was for much of Milan Fashion Week, but these dresses are now a year-round category, worn with baggy boots, jumpers or jackets and, yes, trousers. In Versace’s tribute show, we saw dresses (and skirts) worn with matching leggings – an idea from the early Nineties that was respun at Dolce & Gabbana.
Even bias-cut slip dresses have found a way to be perennially useful, especially for women who don’t want to bare their arms and clavicles. One stylish showgoer confided that while she likes the look of a slip-skirt, she finds that dress versions are generally more flattering across hips, because of the way they hang, and that the top part of the dress adds an extra layer over bras that helps creates a smoother line under knitwear. Lisa Armstrong
Bum bags - yes, really
We need our hands-free at all times for WhatsApping and Google Maps on the go, and Milan has woken up to that with a huge selection of bum bags. My dad always used to wear one on holiday, keeping our passports and lire close to his tummy – for warmth, perhaps? But he never stretched to the chic of Gucci’s monogrammed iteration, complete with green and red livery. They were sleek, black and practical at Max Mara and as big as satchels at Prada. Meanwhile, Sportmax had a desirable boxy emerald-green option. Hands up who wants one? Sasha Slater
Stylish weather-proof jackets
While the rain might have held off in sunny Milan, a freak hailstorm as we boarded the plane home reminded us of what’s to come. Lucky, then, that designers have chosen to make fashionable items that are usually the opposite in their practicality. Anoraks have a tendency to make one look like a volunteer at the National Trust – fine if you’re out rambling, less so on the way to the office. Bottega Veneta’s high-shine zip-fronted version is a good city option, or if the current weather fluctuations have you running hot and cold, you might try Bally’s butterscotch knitted poncho. It looks sufficiently expensive (which it no doubt will be) to be stylish, but is in fact a wearable blanket. Charlie Gowans-Eglinton
Trainers smart enough for the front row... or office
All through this fashion week, the British editors have been competing to see who did the most steps every day (top marks to Charlie Gowans-Eglinton of this parish for 17km). Why bother with psychotic drivers on the ring road if you can stroll down a sunny cobbled street instead? But for that you need trainers. Luckily, Milan has provided a wide array. At Prada, they were black with red or white trim. If your tastes run to retro, Brunello Cucinelli and Bally have Eighties white versions with suede or leather detail. Golden Goose has them hand‑embroidered in gold and silver with sequins, while at Tod’s they came in the softest grey suede heaving with tassels and fringes. Never has fashion been so forgiving to the feet. Sasha Slater
Pyjamas go diva
An obsession with sleep – or our lack thereof – continues to play out in next season’s collections. Pyjamas, dressing gowns and slipper-esque footwear got the ultra-deluxe treatment. In black sequins, Armani’s PJs oozed the kind of no-sweat glossy glamour Milan excels at. All they need is Cate Blanchett, who presided over Armani’s fashion week dinner, to endorse them for them to become a credible ballgown substitute.
Tod’s, meanwhile, whipped up possibly the world’s first leather pyjamas. Supremely soft, in baby blue with black piping, they’re quite a statement. Wear the two pieces separately – the shirt as a jacket – and you have a couple of versatile wardrobe staples. Lisa Armstrong
Denim has long been a ubiquitous part of any off-duty wardrobe, but now it’s sneaking into our workwear, too. At Maxmara, a lightweight take on indigo selvedge denim was tailored into a sharp blazer, a sleek jumpsuit, an elegant duster coat. At Fendi, ruffled denim was shaped into a trench/dress hybrid, at Brunello Cucinelli, it was satin trimmed as waistcoat and blazer. And, of course, there was the denim worn off the catwalk, by the journalists watching, which offered even more variations on the theme. That being said, there were two commonalities to all of them: a dark indigo wash and a structured silhouette, without a torn knee or bleached patch in sight. Charlie Gowans-Eglinton
Shades of purple
Though a few designers were still favouring this season’s all-red palette, for most, spring/summer marks a shift to another bright: purple. At Gucci, it was Quality Street purple; at Salvatore Ferragamo, pairings of iris and mauve; at Attico, sequinned amethyst. Lilac proved popular, in sheer layers of (near) modesty at Missoni and stretch knits at Roberto Cavalli, paired with tobacco brown. Maxmara went for top-to-toe heather: trouser suits, a jumpsuit, skirts and jackets, but if you’d like to try just a touch, the new colour pairing is purple and green. Khaki will do, or try lavender with olive green, as paired to great effect at Bottega Veneta. Charlie Gowans-Eglinton
There were sheer sweatshirts at Salvatore Ferragamo and Sportmax and sheer knits at Ermanno Scervino and Maxmara, but it was the sheer blouses – black at Dolce & Gabbana, printed at Trussardi, lacy at No.21, that appealed most in all their prettiness. But while sheer fabrics can look beautiful from afar, they translate less well into real life. Part of the problem is fashion designers’ tendency to cater for small-busted models, forgetting that most women wear a bra 99 per cent of the time, and most women (or at least the Telegraph’s staff) don’t want said bra to be visible through their clothing. Even if you do go braless, visible nipples have no place off the catwalk. The “real-life” solution is a camisole top, and while nude would be the subtlest, choosing as close a shade to the blouse as you can find will look the chicest – an intentional styling choice, rather than your underwear showing. Charlie Gowans-Eglinton
Pop Socks Made Elegant
For editors doing the fashion week circuit, Milan is undoubtedly the most “dressed up” of the four, on and off the catwalk. But it seems that not even here can designers resist the growing casualisation of fashion. Proof of the shift comes in an unlikely form: pop socks. At Fendi, ice-cream stripes and tartans were printed not just on dresses and bags but also on pop socks worn with surf-strapped pumps. At Prada, slingback kitten heels were rendered sporty paired with knee-high golfing socks. Pop socks are not just casual, but also easily written off as naff until now, so in the context of the glamorous Milanese, the choice was surprising – but as the late-summer heat in Milan caused shoes to rub, pop socks certainly appealed. If comfort wasn’t the motivation here, at least it’s a happy by-product. Charlie Gowans-Eglinton