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MILAN — It’s hard to be angry at pretty dresses.

After a grueling, controversial and often-underwhelming Milan season, that key item cheered retailers, many of whom left the Italian fashion capital with a positive assessment about the feminine, if safe, direction for spring-summer.

“It was a good, solid week with good commercial pieces,” said Robert Burke, senior vice president of fashion at Bergdorf Goodman. “I thought Milan was much more feminine and refined than it has been. We saw a lot of beautiful eveningwear.”

Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president for fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s, was also bullish about the Italian collections.

“It’s fresh, young, less tailored, more romantic and more interesting than it’s been in a long time,” he said. “The dress was a big Milan statement, along with the color white and white mixed with cream.”

But a compressed schedule, with six days of shows crammed into five, made life difficult for buyers and contributed to the general feeling that the Milan week demanded a lot of effort for little fashion news.

“What I didn’t like was the schedule and the fact that some things were double booked,” said Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus. “We spent more time in traffic going [from] location to location than seeing clothes. It’s such a poor use of our time. It wasn’t a revolutionary season, but spring never is.”

Anna Garner, fashion director of Selfridges, said, “It was a bit flat overall. The main focus for the week was understated simplicity — soft, light and fresh but very understated, except for Dolce & Gabbana.”

Other collections that buyers said stood out included Prada, Fendi, Etro, Versace, Marni, Roberto Cavalli and Burberry Prorsum. Here’s what they said about a divisive week:

  • Sue Patneaude, executive vice president of designer apparel at Nordstrom: “We were surprised by how different Milan was from New York. It was much more feminine, with lots of colors, ruffles and prints. The dress is definitely the item of the season, the new uniform. We’d also like to see more daytime interpretations of everything. There was a lot of chiffon and lace. We loved Missoni, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana.”

  • Sarah Rutson, fashion director at Lane Crawford: “Overall, it is all about dresses, dresses, dresses. In fact, the only thing we saw outside of the dress was shorts. The back is back — backless dresses and hidden back slits again were prevalent at most shows. I loved the innovation of fabrics at Prada — so modern and urban yet feminine — the loose, away-from-the-body silhouettes without being too voluminous and the perfect use of decoration.”

    Rutson also lauded the refined fabrics used for dresses and skirts at Burberry Prorsum, and the strong African colors at Marni, which stood out amongst all the black and white. She also noted strong shoe trends: a plethora of wedge shoes, patent leather and block heels.

  • Michael Fink, senior fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue: “This was a safe week. For fall, Milan led the way in new silhouettes and the new use of black, but for spring it’s about safe clothes and familiar shapes. It’s not as creative as fall. This may reflect the uncertainty about what should happen next in design. I loved the confidence at Versace; it was modern and sexy but not vulgar. There was energy and power, clothes for a modern woman. Prada is leading the way in a new direction with silhouettes falling away from the body. What seems simple [hides] complexity, such as the pleats, for example. Also, the back is completely different from the front. Marni made me feel good, with its colors, prints and mixing, which are right for the moment. [At Burberry], Christopher Bailey had a beautiful and sophisticated color palette and the perfect solutions for a woman. Perfect knits and skirts with which a woman is dressed and out the door, polished but easy. But I didn’t learn anything new, other than Prada.”
  • Joan Kaner of Neiman Marcus: “The dress is a key item. The Empire waist is not a new silhouette, but it continues strongly. The chemises look good, as do blouses and shirts with puff sleeves. As for color, obviously white is sort of leading the way. I was very pleased with Gucci. [Frida Giannini] is off to an auspicious start. It was pretty and romantic. I loved Pucci. It was beautiful, very controlled and right on. I liked Prada very much in the showroom. There’s a lot of handiwork in every garment. There are so many appliqués, photo prints and embroidery.”

  • Cedric Charbit, general merchandise manager for women’s fashion at Printemps: “We’re returning to eclecticism the more we go. People pick up items they like from different brands. A lot of brands are doing what they’re known for: Armani is doing Armani, Dsquared is doing Dsquared, focusing on the core business. Overall, we were quite happy with what we saw, the Sixties Brigitte Bardot looks and the influence of Seventies-era Yves Saint Laurent.”

    Charbit praised a range of collections, among them Prada, Roberto Cavalli, Dolce & Gabbana, Marni and Burberry Prorsum.

  • Jeffrey Kalinsky, president and chief executive officer of Jeffrey New York, and director of merchandising at Nordstrom: “Marni is an eternal favorite, and we can never buy enough of it. It’s just always wonderful — between the prints and great skirts, it’s just a big, big business. I liked the new direction at Gucci. I think women are going to wear it. I think it is going to sell well. I loved Prada and Burberry Prorsum. I thought Fendi was a surprise. I can’t wait to get to the showroom. Miuccia Prada is just a genius. She keeps it fresh season after season. She takes a beautiful, simple dress and she makes it magical somehow. I loved Versace. It thought it was powerful. Overall, I loved the neutral palette, but it’s my job to infuse something interesting so that things aren’t too restrained. Where I find color, I’m going to buy color.”
  • Robert Burke of Bergdorf Goodman: Burke saw no shortage of standout collections, among them big names such as Prada and Dolce & Gabbana and smaller labels such as 6267 and Sinha-Stanic. “We thought Fendi was an outstanding collection both in ready-to-wear and accessories. We thought Gucci showed a lot of courage to show a new statement. Etro showed a huge evolution and wonderful sophistication. Also Giorgio Armani looked very couture and his experience with the Privé [couture collection] has carried over into the ready-to-wear line.”
  • Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah, owner of Villa Moda: “My favorites were Marni, Bottega Veneta, Gucci, Prada and Dolce & Gabbana. The accessories at Fendi, with the new B. Fendi bag, are amazing. The shoes in Miu Miu are the best in town. Trends were the summer coats — the attention to the waistline, with lots of Empire waists — and a lot of prints. Coats are the items of the season. The softer side of Prada is strong, the new Gucci girl is young and fresh. Dolce & Gabbana’s red numbers are great and [I’m pleased] there’s a return of red, which has been absent for a while. It was a strong season, and with our climate, the weight of the fabrics is excellent.”

  • Scott Tepper, fashion director and divisional merchandise manager of apparel, accessories and lingerie at Henri Bendel: “We found the Milan season to be a bit quixotic towards the beginning; however, when we left the showrooms, we were very pleased with how the buys came together. The main trends, such as white eyelet, creamy linens, short jackets with portrait collars, chiffon ruffles, embroideries and the omnipresent dresses, are all charming and valid for our customer, however with the overall feeling of the season so incredibly soft, we needed to mix in some of the more substantial pieces to create a compelling story on the floor.

    “We loved the new extra-wide zigzag coat at Missoni for this reason, as well as their yellow chiffon printed evening dress. Versace was a collection we thought was outstanding — Daniela’s breakthrough moment, with her fluid jerseys and ombré chiffons that combined clean strength with the softness of the season. Francisco Rosas has a clear and modern point of view that combines the luxury of couture details with wearablity. We think he has a very bright future. Antonio Marras was also quite beautiful in a unique way; we loved his soft, short kimono jackets as well as his black and white evening dresses. Marni and Dolce and Gabbana delivered smashing and commercial collections that will more than satisfy their legions of followers. The dazzling and exuberant array of Miu Miu platform shoes made us end the week with a smile.

  • Janet Brown, who owns a namesake store: “The calendar is grueling. It’s easy to be negative, but the graciousness of Milan for me is always strong. Not only did it have great collections such as Marni, Jil Sander, Missoni and Bottega Veneta, but there are brilliant young people working so hard.” These included Ezicho, “a Japanese boy that does wonderful jackets,” Cor De Adamich and Francisco Rosas “with wonderful evening dresses, feminine and beautiful, such great taste.”
  • Julie Gilhart, vice president and fashion director at Barneys New York: “I really thought once again that Prada was uber-directional. At Marni the bags, shoes and ready-to-wear were strong. The Fendi bags were incredible and the show had a lot of energy. The B-bag has so many incantations. It’s just cute in every single way. Dolce & Gabbana lived up to 20 years of fashion. It was one of their best collections. They took the trend of lace and eyelet and they DJ’d it really nicely. I think the direction of Milan was deceivingly powerful. It doesn’t hit you on the head. It fits the mood of what women want. They want to wear the clothes rather than have the clothes wear them. Last season all you wanted to wear was a skirt and this season all you want to wear is the dress. There is a lot of white, tan and beige and makeup colors. Accessories like a bigger handbag or a crystal or fuchsia shoe like we saw at Prada. That becomes very important.”

  • Suzanne Tide-Frater, creative director at Harrods: “People always expect newness. I didn’t expect that since there was a lot of change last season. For spring it’s strong and sophisticated, a quiet femininity and not so over-the-top and showy. That for us is fantastic. The key piece is the dress. We really did like Burberry Prorsum and Dolce & Gabbana, although it changed a bit its direction with a slightly romantic slant. Fendi became really strong, really sophisticated. Etro was particularly feminine. It was strong and sophisticated and didn’t rely so much on its ethnic past. Roberto Cavalli didn’t necessarily innovate this season but he played to the strength of what the customer wants from him. Overall, I saw a more simple femininity which in the seasons to come will gather speed in the marketplace.”
  • Akito Naohara, general manager for luxury brands, jewelry and watches at Takashimaya Co.: “My first impression generally speaking is that it’s very normal, calm and easy to sell. It’s very calm, clean and pure, but a bit sexy and elegant. The color palette is white and beige. There are a lot of lace and pleats. Dresses are major items. Roberto Cavalli was my favorite. He’s a typical Italian designer. It’s very sexy and it becomes elegant. We would like to start to do business with him. Prada was very clean, it’s not decorative but the detailed part is very delicate. I was impressed by Marni and Ermanno Scervino. Marni is easy to coordinate with the jackets, skirts and knitwear.”
  • Kal Ruttenstein of Bloomingdale‘s: “The Prada collection was the best in a long time, and nobody else looked like her. There were great jackets and great colors at Giorgio Armani. And Dolce & Gabbana for their 20th birthday was a fun presentation.”
  • Anna Garner, fashion director, Selfridges: Given a general lack of excitement in clothing, Garner said she would probably increase the accessories buy. While citing a “complete move away from jewelry,” she said belts, patent and metallic leathers, and wedge and platform shoes were strong foils for white and nude-toned clothing. Other key items include trenchcoats, shorts and blouses with puffed sleeves. She praised Prada and Miu Miu for a sophisticated, new direction, Fendi for a “great, focused show,” Etro and Burberry for sophisticated styles and Dolce & Gabbana for “a very strong show and a strong collection.”
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