Some of the best looks on the Milan runways reinforced a revitalized minimalist message, from austere coats to supple jackets to low-key dresses. But they weren't the only game in town -- feminine, bohemian looks were in play, too.

Bottega Veneta: Since joining Bottega Veneta in 2001, creative director Tomas Maier has been a man on a mission. These days, the label, a major winner in Gucci Group's pack, is plenty profitable, and it's easy to see why. Maier's fall collection was full of instantly covetable clothes that demanded neither a leap of faith nor a leap of the imagination. Maier opened the show with a double-breasted shearling coat that emitted an air of offhand grandeur, and he flaunted his expert tailoring throughout. Jackets were cut neat and curvy and came paired with classic pants or elegant skirts in supple tweeds. As a trend, minimalism is gaining momentum in Milan, and Maier's clean lines never looked so right, even when applied to his more daring looks, such as a crinkled silver coat with bauble buttons. The collection, on the whole, was an exercise in sophisticated proportions and luxe understatement.

Maier's plaid madness, however, was another story. As they say, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's — or, in other words, leave the tartans to the Brits. These goofy looks and a few ballgowns that hung heavily from chain-link straps lacked the simple — make that deceptively simple — elegance of Maier's tailored best.

Jil Sander: Will the house of Jil Sander rise again? Based on the debut collection he showed on Monday, Raf Simons seems to have the goods and then some. The clothes were exquisite, channeling to a stunning degree the monastic serenity on which Sander built her business, before she acquired an artsier bent. Yet that very similarity raises questions that go to the core of any serious conversation about a Sander renaissance: All appreciation for minimalism notwithstanding, is the time right for a vision so pure, so stripped down, so plain? Is that original customer still out there? If not, will a new one emerge to replace her?

In an interview with DNR earlier this month, Simons said it was not his intention to try to out-Sander Sander. “I thought it was better to not go too much into the memory of Jil Sander,” he said. Yet this collection was eerily Sanderesque: the austere coats, the way a skirt fell just so on the hips when paired with a crisp shirt; the quietly graceful dresses, and, grounding it all, statement shoes, unattractive ones, at that. It felt as if we had seen it before, only now, the extreme austerity felt a bit costumey.That said, perusing the front row at Sander or any other show, it's obvious that fashion editors love a perfect black coat. So, too, do the women they address in their work. And we all know that even the warmest of winters merits a little more gusto than the current plethora of wispy dresses provides. Fashion needs an antidote to fussy in a thriving minimalist option, regardless of current trends. Given the new unfrilly direction emerging for fall, the winds might just favor a revival of the Sander business. Simons has the taste level and elegance. But he must make the house — and its look — his own.

Marni: Consuelo Castiglione has put some serious distance between her kooky sweet collections of yore, those that delivered the world's bohemian belles to her doorstep, and the more subdued look she's been working for the past several seasons. For fall, she indulged in a gray moodiness with knowing cool — and without the awkwardness that's thrown off some of her previous artsy forays. A kimono-sleeved dress came loosely belted. A fuzzy mohair cardigan topped a geometric lace skirt and printed pieces, found few and far between, were just as subdued.

All along the way, her silhouette was cut away from the body, lending the clothes a confident air, though Castiglione never let the oversized concept lead her into exaggeration. Well, almost never. Evening dresses that followed the formula just didn't work. What looked best of all, however, were pieces that brought the luxe polish of Castiglione's best collections back into the mix: featherweight silk tops that tied at the back just so, and cinched coats turned glam with rich bands of fur trimming their cropped sleeves. What could be more Marni?

Pucci: Bringing Matthew Williamson to Pucci sounded just right, like leading Charlie to the Chocolate Factory, a smart move that promised sweet results. Williamson, unlike other designers of his generation, knows his way around a wild print, after all. So what happened behind the scenes to turn his first Pucci collection dull is anyone's guess. The show was a joyless affair with only a token sampling of the house's archival prints — some in a combination of black, gray and ultraviolet, a few in vivid brights paired with black — in flippy minidresses or tunics over matching leggings. Williamson was more focused on layered knits, fur-trimmed coats, ladylike suits and coats in metallic brocades, and dresses trimmed with Peter Pan collars and covered buttons that brought a cringing girlishness to bear.Where was the spirit? The whimsy? And where did Williamson's own celebrated trippy hippie point of view come into play? Emilio Pucci made slinky clothes that oozed with exotic opulence. Williamson sent out a range of viable merch without ever tapping into the richesse of the house's heritage. Luring fashion's fascination back to the brand is no easy task. But Williamson has the talent and the practical experience to do it, once he finds his footing — and a more playful Pucci attitude.

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