Sep 23, 2014
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Nipples the new cleavage and other lessons from Milan

Sep 23, 2014

MILAN, Italy - That's another Milan fashion week over and what have we learned?

For one, the 1970s are back, in a big, bell-bottomed way. So are waists.

And the world of high fashion remains convinced it can persuade style-conscious women across the world that nipples are the new cleavage.

Six days of frenzied fashion excitement in Italy's economic capital wrapped up Monday with Milan's up and coming designers vying for the attention of those buyers and reporters who had not already decamped to Paris for the next leg of the global style circus.

Armani Spring/Summer 2015

A preponderance of sheer fabrics was one of the batons Milan picked up from New York and London as the cream of Italian creativity unveiled their womenswear collections for the spring and summer of 2015.

Even Armani did diaphanous, both below and above the waist, although his take on the free-the-nipple trend was predictably at the discreet rather than full-frontal end of the scale.

As catwalk tendencies go, it seems safe to assume this is not one that is ripe for a transfer to the high street.

This was, after all, the summer when women on beaches from St Tropez to San Francisco put their bikini tops back on.

Breasts, in the real world, are being driven back under cover by the ubiquity of smartphone cameras and the infinite memory of the Internet.

And as one Spanish style editor confided to AFP: "It's okay if you are as flat as a pancake like the models and no one's even going to notice. No real woman wants everything wibbling (sic) about on public display."

- Flares and fringes -

Milan generally did not go as unanimously long (dresses, skirts) or as flat (shoes) as NYC and London.

Rome's Fendi and Giambattista Valli, the Paris-based haute couture star who unveiled his new, younger Giamba line here, ensured there was plenty of thigh on display.

The likes of Angelos Bratis, the young Greek designer whose well-received collection of flowing silk evening dresses was sponsored by Armani, flew the flag for the cause of killer heels.

But the 70s theme was unavoidable, with flares and fringes of all sorts proliferating on everything except for hair.

For many of Italy's pensioner-age leading designers, the temptation to relive hippy, happy days proved irresistible: maxi-dresses matched with Jesus sandals evoked memories of Otis Redding's introduction to his classic set at the Monterey festival: "This is the love crowd, right?"

Etro, a company that is a child of the late 1960s, went the furthest, turning the tassle factor up to 11 with a series of bead-heavy outfits that the New York Times deftly summarised as "Pocohontas-channeling."

Wall Street Journal style columnist Christina Binkley admitted she was surprised by how ubiquitous the 70s groove was.

"I have never seen Italian designers stretch so hard to counter criticism that they can't let loose of their famous tailoring," she told AFP.

"We had a raft of designers who are clearly dying to have dressed (Fleetwood Mac's) Stevie Nicks back in the day."

Designers don't tend to admit that they are just rehashing what was done 40 years ago: a new take on femininity was how the occasionally comprehensible official descriptions tended to frame the feel.

- Barbie doll retro -

In truth there were three distinct strands to the supposedly new/old femininity on display.

Moschino's overt working of the Barbie doll look was retro in more ways than one, while the likes of DSquared2 and Max Mara explored the not-that-pretty-but-smart side of 70s sex appeal: the latter taking direct inspiration from Anjelica Houston's unconventional beauty.

The main trend however was one that drew heavily on and extended the bohemian chic that has been a staple of high street fashion for a while now: think Sienna Miller with added flounce.

In terms of the business of selling eye-wateringly expensive clothes, there were predictions of a revival in the commercial fortunes of Jil Sander following a well-received debut show by new designer Rodolfo Paglialunga, who delivered an androgynous take on the brand's ultra-minimalist heritage.

Valli's new line was also tipped to do well and the man who designed Jessica Biel's wedding dress revealed he could roll out his own retail network on the back of it.

But there was also a whiff of complacency surrounding the deep-mining of the decade that fashion supposedly forgot.

Armani publicly reminded his peers they should be designing for "the women around us" and the WSJ's Binkley admitted to being surprised by how little practical workwear was on display here.

"It's shocking that no one has filled the niche Armani answered back in the 1980s," she said.

"If Steve Jobs were alive today, I'm pretty sure he'd be noticing that. There are only so many maxi dresses that a closet can carry, but the need for business suits is nearly unending."

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