Designers at Milan Fashion Week stitched velvet roses and gilded threads on embroidered winter fabrics seeking to lure the kinds of consumers who can still afford to splash out on luxury clothes during a period of financial austerity across Europe.
Salvatore Ferragamo, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Prada and other top Italian labels showed off their tailoring skills this week in an effort to delight the billionaires from China to Russia whose spending has so far shielded the luxury industry from the effects of a euro zone debt crisis that has shattered global market confidence in a number of countries.
Designer Massimiliano Giornetti created velvet knee-high boots with hand-stitched embroidery for his Salvatore Ferragamo autumn/winter 2012 show. Models walked in bare-shouldered dresses in a gilded room at the Milan stock exchange, where Ferragamo floated last year.
"I saw a new Renaissance in Milan this week," Barbara Atkin, Vice President of Fashion Direction at Canadian retail chain Holt Renfrew, told Reuters on the sidelines of the Dolce & Gabbana show. "Designers elaborated special fabrics to create works of art that cannot be copied by street fashion."
Fashion duo Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana sewed golden embroidery and printed little cherubs for a Baroque-inspired show, which had top celebrities Helen Mirren and Monica Bellucci transfixed under rows of flowery chandeliers.
The designers, who have dropped their edgy D&G brand to focus on their top line, wove in tapestry motifs, floral prints and velvet devore into their collection.
"This is modern-day romanticism," creative director Frida Giannini said.
Three-dimensional flowers added a romantic allure to Gucci's sexy evening dresses, with micro crystals sewn by hand. Feathers in iridescent green shone among brocades and silks.
Miuccia Prada, one of the most innovative fashion names, looked back to the early 1970s with sleeveless coatdresses in vintage three-dimensional prints and crystal embroidery.
"When I cite the past, I cite moments," Prada said at the presentation of an exhibition which will see her creations and those of Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in May.
The designer, who is also an art lover, hosted an elegant lunch with U.S. Vogue editor Anna Wintour in a ballroom of Milan's Royal Palace.
Macrame and velvets adorned androgynous looks at Giorgio Armani, who showed Bermudas peeking out from underskirts in bright fuchsia, red and orange sequins.
In sharp contrast with the vertiginous heels seen this week, Armani delivered flat, pointed shoes.
"I am sure I will sell 99 percent of this collection," the designer said after his show, remembering what fashion buyers also care about. "Luxury must be wearable," he said.
Roses came back to form a tiger-print carpet at Roberto Cavalli, but were also at the last collection of Belgian designer Raf Simons for Jil Sander.
Sander showed sophisticated coats in pastel colors and geometric cuts but the biggest applause was for Simons, whose departure has fuelled industry speculation about a possible move to Dior.
Metal mesh and silver chains triumphed at Versace, where platinum-blond designer Donatella Versace created shiny body armor for medieval warriors. Byzantine crosses were embroidered or printed on black for a Gothic look.