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MILAN — Pomp and circumstance: Milan delivered both in spades, with richly embellished collections that galvanized retailers.

This story first appeared in the February 29, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“Milan rose to the occasion with collections that were strong, powerful and luxurious, reminding us that no matter the headline news, there is a global world out there hungry for luxury,” said Barbara Atkin, vice president of fashion direction at Toronto-based Holt Renfrew.

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Among key trends cited by buyers were embellished outerwear, from richly embroidered coats to opulent furs and military-inspired capes; flashes of the Sixties and Seventies, especially in prints; sumptuous fabrics, such as velvet, brocades, lace and leather, and embellishment, with embroidery, rhinestones, jewels and appliqué.

The moody color palette ranged from emerald, sapphire and ruby to bottle green, oxblood and black. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Raf Simons electrified with his swan-song show at Jil Sander, with many buyers predicting that his icy pastel palette would prove a strong influence on the season.

Though most retailers lauded Italian designers’ craftsmanship, some questioned the emphasis on coats after a winter that saw unseasonably warm weather in many cities.

“We are very conscious about the warm climate at the moment and recognizing that heavy coats and big furs can only be worn for a limited time during the year,” said Amanda Brooks, fashion director at Barneys New York. “We are putting a lot of attention on seasonless clothes that can be worn many months of the year. We are also aware of our customer buying closer to need in the season, and we are responding to that.”

Atkin noted that Canada’s economy remains strong, with 2011 a “stellar” year. “Our open-to-buy is flexible in order to fuel this positive business trend and we plan on spending a bit more in order to pick up some of the more unique, special pieces our high-value customers are asking for,” she said.

Here’s what retailers had to say:

Tiziana Cardini, fashion director at La Rinascente, Italy:
Sound off: “Raf Simons exited with a bang, blending couture with modernity and leaving a strong legacy and a directional style. Bottega Veneta was excellent, with its restrained but extremely luxurious style. Dolce & Gabbana was a celebration of Italian style. Marni was beautiful and challenging, with its new proportions. Pucci was modern, with it courageous revisiting of heritage.”
Trendspotting: “Brand ideas were strengthened and designers pushed the envelope, helping to convey a positive image for Italy. There was perfect execution, and designers challenged themselves. There were strong collections and design content.”
Favorite Collections: Jil Sander, Bottega Veneta, Dolce & Gabbana, Marni and Pucci.

Linda Fargo, senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation, Bergdorf Goodman, New York:
Sound off:
“Ideally, the Milan schedule would condense, allowing more time to properly get to showrooms and market in New York, while leaving London intact.”
Trendspotting: “Milan was like a treasure chest full of riches. Gold, gemstones, fur and brocades were abundant. It was a season of dark, yet beautiful, romanticism. We love the new deep forest and midnight blue palettes. Mixed materials and textural combines are very important. Milan is more house driven than trend driven, though there were some commonalities in the newer colors, volume, slim crop pants and military themes.”
Favorite Collections: “We felt privileged to bear witness to Raf Simons’ tender and exquisite last collection and wish him the best in his next promising chapter.”

Tancrède de Lalun, general merchandise manager, men’s and women’s apparel, Printemps, France:
Sound off:
“I’m not particularly worried about the prevalence of heavy outerwear because the weather will do as it pleases. Just because it wasn’t cold this winter doesn’t mean it won’t be cold the next. And if anything, women are going to need a new coat because they won’t have renewed their wardrobe for a while. Our budgets are up. We are seeing very strong sales and gaining market share. The market overall may be morose, but we are bucking the trend.”
Trendspotting: “A return to wealth and opulence in fabrics, color and shapes. Embroidery. Cropped pants and jackets, as seen at Prada. Dark colors, especially burgundy and forest green. Impressive outerwear, such as fur. Printed motifs, as seen at Prada and Marni. The powdery color palette at Jil Sander.”
Favorite Collections: Jil Sander, Prada.

Jennifer Wheeler, vice president, women’s designer apparel, Nordstrom, Seattle:
Sound off:
“The overall mood in Milan was of a more restrained but luxe richness. Plays on texture with velvet, lace, leather, embroideries and rich brocades created a refined glamour.”
Trendspotting: “Key items of the season include capes, puffers, lean slit skirts both short and long, and an abundance of dresses with long sleeves that will have customers cheering.”
Favorite Collections: Gucci, Pucci, Jil Sander.

Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director, Neiman Marcus, Dallas:
Sound off:
“There are so many coats on the runway this season and one has to ask, ‘Where is all of this cold weather?’ Also interesting was the enormity of black in Milan. Black is always in the customer’s wardrobe. For fall, the conversation will begin with the importance of colors that speak to gems — sapphire blues, ruby red, emerald greens. They’re something the customer will respond to. Aquilano.Rimondi was superlative. All of this baroque idea that’s emerged here is very appealing. I love how they took something very polished and gave it a subversive sensibility.”
Trendspotting: “The continuation of military jackets and coats. It’s now about educating the customer about how to wear a jacket, over a dress or with the all-important pant Milan is in love with. Also, ‘multimedia,’ or the idea of cloth worked with leather or with fur, is a trend I think the customer will immediately embrace.”

Sarah Rutson, fashion director, Lane Crawford, Hong Kong:
Sound off:
“Lane Crawford is in store expansion mode in Hong Kong and China. With our business remaining very strong, we are optimistic for growth, but we are mindful of Europe and North America’s economic climate concerns, along with the possible knock on effects for our market and therefore are being cautious.”
Trendspotting: “Velvet, brocades, military, tailoring, capes, pencil skirts and below-the-knee lengths. The cropped tailored pant is a key new shape. Sheared astrakhan fur and fur collars. Belts worn at the waist were everywhere. Thigh boots and booties.”
Favorite Collections: Jil Sander, Bottega Veneta.

Cindy Ho, fashion director, 360 Style, Kuwait:
Sound off:
“Our business is promising and we have increased the budget.”
Trendspotting: “Bravo Milan, the true luxury is here! Milan is always very good at product but I feel the ‘luxury’ is getting into many brands by means of technique, material and embellishment this season. The cape will be the most important outerwear for the season and it goes with day and night wear in all types of materials, looking absolutely gorgeous and modern at the same time. There were fewer prints, which is good, as we are kind of seeing too much of it and the beauty of color is everywhere now.”
Favorite Collections: Jil Sander, Dolce & Gabbana, Marni, Bottega Veneta.

Colleen Sherin, senior fashion director, Saks Fifth Avenue, New York:
Sound off:
“We will be selecting the special pieces with an emotional factor. The deep, rich color palette set a darkly romantic mood for the season, with designers showing more black than we saw in New York or London. This idea was most compelling when it was presented through luxurious textures, ornate embellishments and provocative transparencies.”
Trendspotting: “The use of decorative fabrications, velvets, metallic brocades and geometric jacquards. The slimmer silhouettes are appealing, especially for new updates to the pencil skirt and sheath dress with sleeves. There has been a bit of a Seventies vibe expressed through a slim trouser with a flared hem. Military influences were seen throughout, particularly for outerwear.”
Favorite Collections: Jil Sander, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Aquilano.Rimondi.

Barbara Atkin, vice president of fashion direction, Holt Renfrew, Toronto:
Sound off:
“Each brand reflected the power of a ‘Made in Italy’ label, proving that Italy remains the master of artisanal handwork and sartorial tailoring. Milan gave us pure fashion, exactly what this industry is about!”
Trendspotting: “Sartorial tailoring for jackets, strong outerwear and knits, romantic blouses, new pant shapes, day and evening dresses. We were particularly happy to see such a vast number of handbags on the runway. Business growth comes through a well-developed leather goods business, and we were thrilled with what we saw in this category.”
Favorite Collections: Jil Sander, Gucci, Prada, Etro, Aquilano.Rimondi and Dolce & Gabbana.
Kelly Golden, owner, Neapolitan, Winnetka, Ill.:
Sound off:
“Budgets will remain the same, despite the economic uncertainty in Europe and elsewhere, and despite the shake-up in the fashion industry, which I think is a good thing. It’s time for some changes and I think we will see plenty of newness in the upcoming seasons.”
Trendspotting: “The colors bottle green and oxblood; jacquard and velvet; longer, leaner hemlines, and layering dresses over pants.”
Favorite Collections: Bottega Veneta, Jil Sander, Gucci.

Amanda Brooks, fashion director, Barneys, New York:
Sound off:
“Of course we are conscious of price, but we still have a customer willing to buy very special, luxe pieces if the design and quality warrant it. I wish Milan Fashion Week was shortened by a day or two — it doesn’t seem that there are enough shows to warrant the length of time.”
Trendspotting: “With the exception of Jil Sander, which sadly I wasn’t here to see, the Milan collections continued in an opulent, embellished direction. Rich materials such as velvet, leather, brocade, fur and exotic skins were adorned with embroidery, jewels, lace, appliqué and rhinestones. We also saw metallics and patent leather in both ready-to-wear and accessories emerge in a big way. Standouts were the belted fur scarves at Marni, the chic tailored pieces at Bottega, the stunning handbags at Fendi, the guipure lace dresses at Dolce & Gabbana and the beautiful pastel coats at Jil Sander.”

Stephanie Solomon, vice president of fashion direction, Bloomingdale’s, New York:
Sound off:
“Milan never disappoints. The collections were a celebration of culture, in terms of Italy’s contribution to art, to music as well as to fashion. Every single designer from Giorgio Armani to Marni to Jil Sander did what they do best. I think the Dolce & Gabbana show probably was the best example of the true spirit of Italian design. Getting dressed up is a fantasy, it’s a way to ignore the doom and gloom of whatever is out there, and to add a bit of fantasy to your wardrobe is always a happy moment.”
Trendspotting: “Outerwear, especially bejeweled, in wonderful color, or laden with fur or leather. The return of the pants — Miuccia Prada sent that message loud and clear. Metallic handbags and shoes. Jewel tones, from teal green and khaki to purple, grape, magenta and oxblood. Icy pale colors, as seen at Raf Simons and Marni. Pastels mixed with neutrals such as camel or pale gray.”
Favorite Collections: Jil Sander, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Marni.

Fiona Paterson, commercial director,
Sound off:
“No designer is standing still, which is driving constant innovation and making it possible to remain confident about every season and its commercial possibilities. Established designers are staying true to their artisanal roots, but getting more and more creative with their application, giving us something new every season.”
Trendspotting: “[The season was about] looking bright and confident with exaggerated looks, strong colors and tactical fabrics coming through thick and fast. Key trends were color, as seen at Marni, and textures, such as Missoni’s inspired collaboration with nature and unique recreation of wood, stone, fur, tree bark and mica-sparkled minerals, which created an organic and tactile collection.”
Favorite Collections: Jil Sander, Aquilano.Rimondi.

Michele Giglio, owner, Giglio, Sicily:
Sound off:
“I was expecting safe collections, but, on the contrary, our Italian designers did not cut back on innovation and creativity. They truly engaged in raising the bar.”
Trendspotting: “Embroideries and applications are back. We continue to see more skirts rather than pants and this helps business, as there is a need to complete those looks with more pieces. There is a lot of eveningwear, perhaps too much.…I hope there are enough events to attend with all those gowns.”
Favorite Collections: Fendi, Giorgio Armani, Roberto Cavalli, Dolce & Gabbana and Versace.


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