MILAN — A strong euro, snarled traffic and grim weather notwithstanding, retailers left Milan in high spirits thanks to a gust of fresh, colorful and feminine fashions.

Buyers said they welcomed a shift from overt hard-edged sexiness to something softer and more romantic, with lots of floral prints and artistic touches. Collections by Dolce & Gabbana, Jil Sander, 6267, Marni, Fendi, Prada and Versace won wide praise, while ethnic-themed prints, transparency and full skirts of all lengths were cited among key trends.

Retailers lamented the difficulties of a condensed four-day fashion week. Several were frustrated they didn't have enough time to make it to showroom appointments between shows. While a shorter fashion week might suit some members of the press, it's not conducive to writing orders or seeking out new talent, they said.

"The Camera Nazionale needs to reevaluate this disastrous situation," said Michael Fink, vice president and women's fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. "And how many shows did you miss?"

Still, most retailers emerged from the season optimistic about a wide range of merchandise.

"I'm very, very positive for the spring-summer season. It's luxury, it's feminine, it's colorful — bravo!" enthused Sarah Rutson, fashion director at Hong Kong-based Lane Crawford.

"It was one of the strongest weeks here in many seasons," agreed Yasmin Sewell, buying director at Browns and Browns Focus in London. "It seemed more directional than in the past, but still commercial."

"I thought Milan reconfirmed fashion at its best. Usually when there are a lot of ruffles, chiffon and florals, it can end up being too saccharine, but it's not like that this season," added Ann Watson, vice president and fashion director of Henri Bendel. "Many designers mastered restraint and in doing so showed how sexy the power of suggestion can be."

Here's what other retailers had to say:

Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus

"There's a bold color statement coming out of Milan, with turquoise looking the newest, plus all the pretty pastels. At Versace, those draped Grecian dresses came out like a rainbow. We also liked this multicultural, global referencing, which keeps some embellishment on the clothes. Another strong message was the hand of the artist: prints that really looked touched by a brush or had an artisanal feel."Downing also highlighted floaty dirndl skirts, multiple layers of sheer, lightweight fabrics and colorful patent leather accessories. Standout collections included 6267 for "redefined modern femininity"; a "bold and exhilarating Jil Sander"; Marni; Versace and Fendi, which was "intelligent, yet feminine and sophisticated."

Cedric Charbit, vice president of the buying office and general merchandise manager of women's fashion, Printemps

"I feel brands are pushing the norms and limits of their own DNA. Playing that game is very challenging but necessary to create excitement and appeal to new customers worldwide. The major trends were techno Seventies, bohemian, Fifties rock and modern art, while key elements include the color pink, Seventies knitwear, bohemian blouses, patchwork accessories, glamorous jersey and toga dresses, flaring and wide-leg pants. Our budget will be slightly up as we are adding Fendi to our brand portfolio and because we will enlarge our contemporary open-to-buy at D&G." Charbit's standout collections included Marni, Dolce & Gabbana, Pucci and D&G.

Barbara Atkin, vice president, fashion direction, Holt Renfrew, Canada

"I loved Milan. I thought it was fresh, light, happy and colorful, and I loved the new feminine direction. We're still in such a dress mode, and the mid-calf length looks fresh." Other key items include "easy, throw-on jackets," voluminous romantic blouses and dirndl skirts. Atkin praised the collections of Jil Sander, Etro, Fendi, Marni, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Giorgio Armani. "We will buy those knee-length knotted pants [from Armani.] Those are going to retail," she said. "And his new color palette is very creative."

Linda Fargo, senior vice president and fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman

"The preponderance of painterly and abstracted prints and florals was beautiful and will enliven the selling floor. There was a freshness and lightness of spirit, which after the heavy luxe and gravitas of fall, will be inspiring to the customer. 6267 was exquisite: a perfect storm of tailoring, duality, color mix, rich surface and surprise. Prada once again gave us something completely imaginative and original, unlike anything else, ever. It was transporting to a faraway fairy fantasy but will translate beautifully in real time with its great pattern mixes and feminine movement. Dolce & Gabbana delivered one beauty after another, like an endless bouquet. It was wonderful to see them play with this softened, veiled sensuality. Jil Sander was so striking with a dramatic interplay between volumes and interior to exterior."Stephanie Solomon, vice president of fashion direction at Bloomingdale's

"Milan has just been bursting with color and bold dreamlike prints. It's one of the best seasons I have seen in Milan. It's full of optimism. I thought Giorgio Armani was a relaxing and calming show with its water-like prints. His evening gowns at the end were like diamonds in the sea. 6267 are big talents to watch. This was true craftsmanship with couture details and Japanese influences." Her favorites also included Marni, Prada, D&G, Blumarine and Versace. "I'd like to see a schedule that is a little bit more sensitive to the needs of retailers so that we have little pockets of time to visit the unknown people who could become something important."

Michael Fink, vice president and women's fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue

"Sophisticated tailoring is alive and well at 6267. Our customer will love choosing between the new romantic mood with softer shapes, exploded florals, gossamer weight fabrics, in dusty colors or the energetic, bold and colorful global tribal ideas. Prints were outstanding this season, ranging from the mystical faeries at Prada to the florals at Dolce & Gabbana and Roberto Cavalli. Jil Sander's translucent layers move long and lean dressing light years ahead. The Versace collection was exceptional in its confident statement of chic day clothes and beautifully draped, unornamented eveningwear — no bling needed. The evolution of the shoe bootie at Gucci and Dolce looked just right and toughened up romantic dressing. Interesting heels were everywhere. Prada's were so fun. I loved that mini and maxi lengths lived equally on the runway, and both look right."

Julie Gilhart, senior vice president and fashion director of Barneys New York

"Milan was great this season. What with all the newness in color, print, softer volumes and the new longer lengths, we have high expectations at retail. A more poetic, romantic approach based in the craftsmanship that Italy is known for makes more sense to us versus the hype and following of trends that has been more prevalent in season's past. The best examples of this shift in consciousness were at Prada and Dolce & Gabbana." Her other favorites included Jil Sander, Bottega Veneta, Marni, Fendi and Versace. "Despite all the talk of the euro and how it will affect sales, Milan delivered special pieces that will attract customers because of the sheer artistic craftsmanship and strong femininity that they express."Sarah Rutson, fashion director, Lane Crawford, Hong Kong

"The number-one new trend has to be all the transparency. The hand of the artist is also very evident, including brush strokes, splattering, ombré and color-blocking. There is even some surrealism in the way designers are playing with proportions and hemlines. I love the combinations of pink and orange and the soft colors, the beiges and grays, which are the new replacement for black and white." Rutson said designers presented a smorgasbord of trends — from Seventies to Thirties to romantic to globe-trotting — putting the onus on retailers to assemble a compelling, trenchant fashion message for consumers. Her favorite collections included Prada, Versace, Marni and Jil Sander.

Yasmin Sewell, buying director at Browns and Browns Focus in London

"I don't often come away from Milan feeling excited. I usually see a few things here but leave with the intention of seeing the real fashion in Paris. We loved Bottega Veneta, Fendi, Marni, Jil Sander, Dolce & Gabbana and Versace. The new length will be a commercial hit, I'm sure. And softness always sells. The colors were really beautiful."

Oksana Bondarenko, owner and buyer , Li-Lu, Moscow

"In general, I think this week was not the most interesting of all that I have seen. But I really liked D&G, Bottega, 6267, Prada and Trussardi. Trussardi was unlike its usual style, very beautiful — so we'll buy 20 percent more than last time. Gucci was the show I did not understand. I guess the key shows were still Gucci as well as Burberry and Prada. The season does not suggest one obvious trend but everybody is making clear shapes. The color is important — violet, blue, rose. But there was a lot of black as well."

Ann Watson, vice president and fashion director of Henri Bendel

"Our customer is going to love the new sense of romance and the softer shapes. The prints in particular were great: the small florals at Cavalli were fresh and the art-inspired prints took them to a new level. One couldn't help getting excited about the modern art inspired prints at Dolce & Gabbana; they took my breath away. The art nouveau prints on easy tunics and dresses at Prada reflect the softening up of the silhouette and that was fresh to see. The fabrics, when compared to last season, lost their rigidity. I also loved the zigzag patterns and floral prints at Missoni, they had a Seventies feel. Our budgets are up for this season and we are continuing to see this trend going forward. The exchange rate is a concern but the luxury customer has not shown any resistance thus far."Tiziana Cardini, fashion director at La Rinascente

Cardini cited Prada, Jil Sander and Roberto Cavalli among the best collections. "Each designer reinforces and strengthens his or her own identity, DNA and image — which is also a way to communicate the brand," she said. Cardini praised Fendi's accessories. "It was a wonderful idea to revisit the baguette," she said. Cardini said she chose dresses, high-waist pants and Seventies pieces, in line with that trend. She did not mind the four-day week, but encourages secondary lines and young designers to hold presentations rather than shows. "It's good to have big directional brands together, while the other more commercial products should be regrouped before or after those shows."

Jennifer Wheeler, vice president of designer apparel, Nordstrom

"It was a beautiful season for Milan. It felt more refined, sophisticated, sensual, softer. That Grace Kelly, refined Fifties silhouette felt new. And florals were such a huge trend." Other important trends and items included Seventies-flavored lean knits and flaring pants, cuffed shorts worn with tunics, color-blocking effects, layers of transparency and soft eyelash fringe. Wheeler also praised the broad range of appealing color, from blends of pale gray, mushroom and golden khaki through to brights. "We loved 6267, the dresses in particular, and also Marni and Versace. Dolce and Prada offered fashion escapism, and it was nice to see a return to elegance at Dolce & Gabbana."

Erin Mullaney, designer women's wear buyer, Selfridges

"This time the collections were a lot more exciting than they have been in the past. I loved the color palette, particularly at Marni. Everyone seems to be in a bright, happy mood this time round," she said. Key trends include painterly and artistic prints, globe-trotting ethnic messages, combinations of bright and muted colors, patent leather accessories, chunky bangles, wedge shoes and maxidresses. Standout collections included Etro, Dolce & Gabbana, Marni, Burberry and Roberto Cavalli. "I am definitely going to be upping [budgets for] a couple of the collections here. They were a lot more trend-driven this season," she said. "I think it's been excellent this time."Rosi Biffi, owner, Biffi and Banner, Milan

"I'm very happy with the collections. I loved Marni, its refined style, personal yet contemporary; it's a unique mélange of refined colors and very chic shapes. I thought Gucci was fun, lively, couture yet modern, young and wearable; 6267 was wonderful, and so was Albino." Biffi said packing the shows into four days was unbearable. "Even without the traffic jams, there just was no time for anything," she said.

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