Inside fashion: thrills and skills

It’s often called the decade that taste forgot, but for Italy’s biggest brands, the 1970s is the only era that counts. From Gucci’s denim loon pants to Pucci’s tie-dye and crochet extravaganza, it’s as if the past 40 years never happened. 

Milan’s catwalks are stuck in a time warp, peopled by rich bohemians in fringed suede gilets and macramé maxidresses. Even Miuccia Prada, the most idiosyncratic designer on the planet, looked back — not to a 1970s pastiche (although her models walked on a brown shag-pile catwalk), but to a time before mass manufacturing.

Her sombre SS15 collection was born out of a desire to preserve the artisan skills of the past. To this end, she had silk weavers re-create historic brocades, which were then patchworked into flattering sheath dresses, glimmering pencil skirts with frayed hems and clunky high-heeled clogs. In a typical Prada twist, the shapes were all utterly simple and wearable, but the fabrication was extraordinary.

Prada is on to something here. Craft is the saving grace of Italian fashion: what the Italians can do with leather, suede and embellishment is beyond compare. Pucci’s macramé dresses were made from hand-worked ropes of tiny coloured beads. Tod’s leather shirtdresses were so light, they draped like silk, and its laser-cut leather was as fine as mesh. Alberta Ferretti’s flared 1970s-style jeans seemed to disintegrate into delicate chiffon at the hem, all thanks to the handiwork of skilled craftspeople.

Not every Italian house looked back. Dolce & Gabbana married Spain with Sicily, putting a matador spin on its sexy-widow corset dresses and lavishly embellished silks. Versace looked inward to its signature chainmail, reworked into vibrant candy-coloured minidresses, and its famous Greek key motif was given a street-style spin, turning up on the waistband of shorts and stretchy miniskirts. This energetic collection cleverly referred to past glories without pastiching them.

So what does the future of Italian fashion look like? Could it be the Moschino vision, which, under the designer Jeremy Scott, is wedded to playful design, popular culture and the immediacy of social media? Many pieces in his Barbie-inspired collection of pink vinyl miniskirts, shouty logo sweat tops and frothy fondant evening dresses were available to buy direct from the catwalk.

The other contender is Fendi, where craftsmanship honed over decades combines with a keen understanding of what makes modern women’s hearts flutter with desire. “Forget the past. Forget vintage,” said Silvia Fendi backstage. She was referring to the philosophy of Karl Lagerfeld, who has designed for the house for 50 years, but doesn’t have a nostalgic bone in his body.

The clothes — flirty A-line orchid-print minidresses, or sporty jodhpurs in denim or suede — were fresh and youthful, but the bags were spectacular. The famous Baguette — the tote that started the It bag craze of the 1990s and Noughties — is back, with a witty furry monster face and the famous double-F buckle for a nose. Even the bags had accessories here: fur monsters and mini bags hung from every money-spinning tote. This was the opposite of hallowed, po-faced luxury. It was both vibrant and precious, which feels very Italian, and designed to be loved and enjoyed.