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Dateline Milan

Five days, 40 runway shows, and countless crocodile loafers, cashmere corduroys, and double-breasted suits later, a preview of what you'll be wearing this fall.

SUNDAY

Retailers, editors, buyers, and assorted fashionistas have descended en masse from Florence, where the collective of menswear called Pitti Uomo was staged the week before. The presentations in Florence happened in showroom-like settings with big important brands such as Canali, Zegna, Hugo Boss, Paul & Shark, Pal Zileri, and Corneliani, as well as boutique labels like Avon Celli, Isaia, Kiton, and Incotex. In fact, only the Florentine Ferragamo family actually put on anything approximating a Milan runway show; this year it featured soft billowy cashmere cords, knee-high biker-cum-riding boots in opulent skins, and conservatively chic car coats.

Everyone has their favorite hotel—the Baglioni vs. the Principe, the Park Hyatt vs. the Four Seasons. Attilio Marro, the epitome of Amalfi Coast charm and cool when he was general manager of Ravello's Palazzo Sasso, is now at the Bulgari Hotel, whose smart set this week includes Esquire editor in chief David Granger; Vanity Fair reporter turned director Matt Tyrnauer, in town filming his documentary on Valentino; and Bottega Veneta's Tomas Maier—he couldn't/wouldn't stay anywhere else.

For us, first it was lunch with Angela Missoni, daughter of the Italian knitwear family. (We had missed their runway show in the morning, but we checked in later that week with brother Luca at the Via Solferino atelier for a fall preview of very lush cashmere dressing robes; Viscontilike velvet dinner jackets in bloodred and deep navy blue with passementerie closures; oversize carpetbags in the house's signature multicolored prints; brilliantly hued sweaters, including a particularly ravishing one in green mohair; and perfect black-and-gold fringed scarves, which, draped over the shoulders of an open white shirt, will be my substitute for the black tie itself.) The Burberry Prorsum show later in the afternoon was a bittersweet affair—the last presided over by the remarkable Rose Marie Bravo, who sat front-row center with her successor, the company's just-named CEO, Angela Ahrendts, along with model Stella Tennant. Together the three watched the men glide down the runway in Christopher Bailey's always clever riffs on the brand's luxury DNA, among them a gold quilted trenchcoat. Nice touch.

At Versace, fashion's most famous bodies and faces moved like heat-seeking missiles. Word is, Versace is interested in growing up and away from glitter and glam to become a serious player in the luxury arena. The show hit a few of those more adult notes with a double-breasted herringbone coat, even a classic three-piece suit. In the evening, at a private soirée hosted by Donatella herself at the atelier on Via Gesù, baseball-size truffles were shaved over fettuccine for Valentino partner Giancarlo Giametti, New York Times reporter Horacio Silva, et al.

At the house of Brioni, majordomo Umberto Angeloni hosted cocktails and an exhibit in which the venerable Roman firm went back to its archives from 60 years ago as inspiration for eight one-of-a-kind jackets customized for chef, gardener, international traveler, polo player (featured), or simply your Medici-modern bon vivant.


MONDAY

At best, designs by Roberto Cavalli can be called outré, over-the-top, unapologetic; "exuberant vulgarity" were the words New York Times fashion scribe Guy Trebay chose. To be sure, they're not everyone's samovar of coffee, especially if you're not, say, one of the new-moneyed Russians whose consuming passions and unlimited budgets are fueling luxury's engine these days. Still, the designer's questionable appliqués and that coiled serpent running up the back of his leather jackets played second fiddle to Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham, who did the runway finale dressed in bridal white. Inspired by her mate, soccer's David Beckham, Posh will launch a line of denim menswear next spring, which was the only conceivable reason—and an odd one it was—for her cameo.

For something completely different, pared down, and almost without fingerprint, we made a quick stop at Valextra, the sleepy leather goods company that was refreshed and refined four years ago. Its gorgeous new Via Manzoni boutique showcases the clean luxe line, everything from notepads and pocketbooks to computer cases and umbrellas. From there we dropped by Dolce & Gabbana, whose flashy Hollywood-and-hokum look is still with us: Take this fall's green and red military-style jackets (they worked better on the Fab Four 40 years ago). But other pieces were curiously tempered, downright tame—there was even a gray flannel suit.

At Prada, the boy/men models evoked scholar/businessman/urban warrior in tight skinny-legged pants (ouch!), ponyskin biker helmets, leopard-print coats (hmmm...), and luxurious leather attaché/messenger bags (yes!). Dinner was at Controvapore, a winsome little offbeat trattoria—or so we thought when we arrived at 9 p.m. Then the doorbell rang (owner Christina sees this as her house and one is invited in accordingly) and in came the tired and hungry from the houses of Prada, Armani, and Jil Sander, as well as Cargo editor Ariel Foxman.


TUESDAY

Emporio Armani, the designer's younger and less expensive line, was full of rock-and-roll attitude and plenty of bright shiny things (the master's sumptuous Giorgio Armani collection would be saved for Thursday's fashion week finale). At Tod's future headquarters on Via Savona, we saw our new favorite tuxedo shoe—a ponyskin moccasin—and Diego Della Valle's top choice for the season: Jazz, a cross between a loafer and a sneaker in black suede. Despite the fact that Alessandro Dell'Acqua has a Madison Avenue boutique, I didn't know nearly enough about him. His collection was immaculately thought-out, elegant, and rich, every piece with a rewarding point of view, from the putty-colored cargo coat to the trimly fit monochromatic suits. Ditto for the entirely different Loro Piana. Even its fiercest competitors admit that LP is one of the sartorial wonders of the fabric world. Here, in addition to the cable-knit classics, were accents such as baby cashmere, vicuña, natural chinchilla, and depilated mink.


WEDNESDAY

In Canali's showroom Elisabetta Canali was deservedly proud of the firm's investment in fabulously hard-to-come-by 12.8-micron cashmere...enough, mind you, for just 100 custom suits, at $12,000 a pop. "There's only so much of this in the world," she exclaims, holding a swatch of the wool. "After that, it's gone." Next, a brief stop at Corneliani's space: a sea of cream-colored cashmere and Prince of Wales checked suits. Even if you adore Fendi—those gorgeous bags and big signature Milanese-style furs—its "show" was a head-scratcher. A short video by Luca Guadagnino followed a dapper young vampire and some very young lads inexplicably dashing around a very grand villa's gardens, hallways, and bedrooms. The point is...? The characters occasionally threw on a fur but mostly seemed to prefer getting tangled up in expensive (Frette, or Fendi?) sheets.


THURSDAY

The week's last hurrah included Etro: a big flashy runway show set to tango music. Designer Kean Etro did newsboy caps (his decision, not ours) and dressing gowns over classic suits. At Ballantyne, Massimo Alba and Alfredo Canessa (ex-Malo) showed off what they have done with the once-dusty Scottish brand; they had some of the most brightly colored luscious cashmere we saw this week. At the other end of the spectrum was the luxe understatement of Bottega Veneta. Even the personal, up-close presentation was more trunk show than runway production. How refreshing to find a designer like Tomas Maier. Whether it's a roomy leather bomber jacket or the Madagascar crocodile tote, you feel the hands-on artisanal craftsmanship often missing in similarly high-end global brands. I was told that Tadao Ando, who did the Via Bergognona offices/theater where Giorgio Armani sets his end-of-the-week show, is the designer's favorite. But the Japanese architect speaks not a word of Italian or English; the two communicate through sketches. I'm not surprised. In his Velvet Man collection—plush trousers, Asian-style tunics under suits, a full-length fur—Armani also conveys his ideas through pure imagery, creating his own silent movie of fashion and thereby communicating in any language: Luxury, so to speak. Now.

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