Milan Fashion Week 2023 trends: Pastels, sensible chic and handwork

The National witnesses the celebration of Italian skill that shone through despite rain showers and celebrity antics

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As Milan Fashion Week begins to wind down, here are trends I clocked that have emerged from all the fashionable noise.

First up, there has been a noticeable lack of the Italian showiness we have come to love, that over-the-top theatricality that makes Milan so much fun. Instead, there is a new take on quiet dressing, and a doubling down on house strengths, rather than tearing into territory unknown.

With the post-pandemic shopping boom slowing, the economic fallout of the war in Ukraine, and the cost-of-living crisis in many countries, this season is clearly about giving customers timeless classics as investment pieces to build out a wardrobe for years to come, rather than seasonal flashy totems.

Timeless classics

Nowhere was this more apparent than at Gucci, where the theatrical camp of the previous designer has been replaced with measured staples. The new man in charge, Sabato de Sarno, delivered a show filled with understated shirts, suits and micro dresses that were downplayed to the point of almost, but not quite, bland.

Meanwhile, over at Tom Ford, new creative director Peter Hawkings stuck with the deep sensuality Ford pioneered, such as sleek velvet suits and long jersey dresses carved around the body in a collection so very Tom Ford, it could have been created at any point over the past 20 years.

At Bally – staged in secluded cloisters tucked away on a side street in central Milan – new designer Simone Bellotti also offered steady staples focused around outwear, with simple, boxy jackets for both genders, mixed with timeless pencil skirts, and roomy trousers. With little in the way of frippery, standout pieces included a roomy, backless leather dress in lemon sorbet, and a mini skirt of fabric flowers, worn under an oversized man’s blazer, or peeking out from a coat.

Sorbet colours

At Versace, it was a resurrection of the 1990s, in particular the boxy twinsets and ladylike coats in pastel shades of lemon, pale blue and candyfloss pink, while at Max Mara the same colours appeared, albeit slightly richer, across everyday shorts, shirts and oversized blazers.

At Fendi, muted tones arrived patchworked into complex looks, and as knitted dresses in the palest peach at Jil Sander. Over at Missoni, meanwhile, soft tones ranged from mango sorbet to light mauve.

At Giorgio Armani, who traditionally ends the week with the closing slot on the final day, the collection came with his signature lightness, delivered in pale tones and plenty of metallic sheen. Shimmering like the surface of the sea, the palette shifted from watery blues to shell pinks, via soft greys.

A focus on handwork

The biggest takeaway from Milan this season was an obsession with artisanship. The “Made in Italy” moniker has always carried weight, and this is a nation filled with family-run factories that can create almost anything, from hand-knotted macrame (as seen via the fringed capes at La DoubleJ), to sculpturesque shoes (spotted at Gianvito Rossi, Casadei and Rene Caovilla).

At Loro Piana – the very apogee of Italian wool know-how – the collection was about separates in natural dyes: an indigo silk and cashmere coat hand-quilted with flowers, and fluid overcoats in supple cashmere and tweed.

One bag was a zipped rectangle of boucle tweed, with a chain made from a vintage necklace, while the brand's expertise was evidenced in perhaps its quietest look – a knitted top and tracksuit bottoms in raw, untreated cashmere – a material notoriously difficult to handle.

At Dolce & Gabbana, which started almost an hour late thanks to the tardy timekeeping of one Ms Kylie Jenner, the maestros of tailoring stripped away everything to expose the makings of their clothes. All that was left was seams, straps and boning – plus little to the imagination – as the collection evolved from deconstruction into fabulous lingerie. In one of the few intact looks, a man's tuxedo jacket was slid around the model’s body to create a one-sleeved minidress, the jacket fastening now sitting sensually as a button on the hip.

Prada presented a show less about ideas – this is a famously inscrutably intellectual house – but more about Italian craft, such as flowers printed on to shredded chiffon to create gossamer tops with shifting depth, and skirts made of fluid strips of metal that felt more like jewellery than clothing. One coat was made entirely from small slices of leather painstakingly pieced together.

Bottega Veneta, meanwhile, took its audience on a journey of surface textures. Knitwear was left fringed, coats and dresses were surfaced with loose threads, and leather was wrapped around the body for skirts, coats and dresses, knotted into place. Fringing evolved into handmade raffia work, stitched on to finger knitted dresses, like glorious home-made pompoms.

After days of back-to-back shows, presentations and untold rain showers, the message out of Milan is loud and clear. This is a nation of immeasurable handwork skills, and these are being put front and centre, in a bid to draw in an audience looking for quality.

These are clothes made to be worn and enjoyed, not for trend-led razzamatazz, but for the simple pleasure of beautiful pieces, made with care and attention to detail. This is what Made in Italy is all about.

Updated: September 26, 2023, 3:12 AM