By Eric Wilson
Updated Feb 26, 2015 @ 8:42 pm
Credit: Getty Images

Eric Wilson is InStyle’s Fashion News Director. Sit front row at Fashion Week with him by following him on Twitter (@EricWilsonSays) and Instagram.

What is pretty? What is elegant? What is beauty?

And most importantly, what do customers want?

These are the questions that editors and designers have been wrestling with at the start of Milan Fashion Week. Not a show went by on Thursday where a colleague or a seatmate didn’t stop to ask, sotto voce, “So what did you think of Gucci?” Alessandro Michele’s debut collection from the day before was ultimately one that stumped the audience, not sure really whether or not to like his intellectual approach, with vintage clothes that served mostly to de-sex the classic Gucci mold.

Tomorrow, they will be asking, “So what did you think of Prada?” and “So what did you think of Fendi?”

As fashion in the digital age moves away from the traditional system of minting trends that slowly trickle down to the masses, more and more we are seeing designers turn their aesthetics on a dime. So it was that Miuccia Prada, after spring’s foray into antique brocades, moved on to a fall collection full of sweetness and an almost plastic sense of perfection, with models that looked as if they came straight from a beauty pageant frozen in time. And at Fendi, Karl Lagerfeld and Silvia Venturini Fendi, showed something that was nearly devoid of the hyper-embellishments and furry cartoon critters of recent seasons.

Both collections played with proportions with very different results. At Fendi (pictured, above), the coats were dramatically oversize, shown in variations of real furs and technical fabrics that replicated fur as a teddy-bear cuddly fuzz. The first look was a cream-colored coat that widened at the hips, and later came a pale puffer duvet coat as big as the Liberty Bell. In between, the designers played with a deconstructed sort of patchwork, affixing large rectangular panels of fabric or fur to the sides of coats, dresses, and leather skirts, resulting in what resembled a softer form of armor. For a touch of color, birds-of-paradise were placed inside many of the patchwork fur bags.

While the Fendi vision mostly suggested comfort and ease, the Prada look was both more playful and more formal at the same time (pictured, below). For this show, the designer had transformed her cavernous theater into a series of small rooms, painted either the otherworldly green seen in many Prada stores, or a satiny pink, a combination that appeared in some of the sweet tea dresses, spongy leisure suits and soapy day coats that had a faintly 1960s appearance. Prada, too, applied strips of fur – some doubled up on the shoulders – and plastic chips in the flat shapes of two-dimensional flower cutouts, some of which looked almost like prize ribbons. It was an old-fashioned image of pretty, uncommon for Prada, with some dresses fit for princesses, or as if she had discovered some pressed flowers within the pages of an old book.

Credit: Getty Images