Milan Fashion Week: Gucci’s Colorful Spring 2013 Collection

The spring 2013 women’s ready-to-wear shows opened on one of those dreary gray mornings for which Milan is famous. A steady rain poured onto drab concrete streets and a thick fog hung low over a skyline dominated by aggressively stolid office buildings. What little light there was only seemed to highlight just how bleak the day promised to be.

The rain matters, not simply because it portended disaster for all the editors with their fancy new shoes that would be broken in and broken down by cobblestones and puddles, but because when viewing a fashion show, context matters. There is already such a disconnect between when collections are debuted and the six months that pass before those clothes actually reach stores—a few buy-it-from-the-runway websites notwithstanding—that designers quietly strive to transport their audiences to an environment in which the clothes make sense. In subtle ways, audiences are influenced by sets, lighting, geography, time and temperature. Rule-breaking silhouettes are presented against raw and untamed backgrounds. Clothes meant to evoke nobility or traditional elegance are shown in gilded salons. The subtle grays and taupes of Giorgio Armani are perfectly suited to his austere Tadao Ando- designed theater. And Gucci, as defined by the exuberant aesthetic of Frida Giannini, needs sunlight. It is not a rainy-day collection.

And so, as if by fervent prayer, the clouds dissipated in time for the Gucci presentation of long lean trousers and clean-lined tunics in shades of fuchsia, coral, cobalt blue, and teal. The collection, according to program notes, was inspired by the portraiture of photographers Richard Avedon and Gian Paolo Barbieri. But those who are not students of the history of photography would more likely see allusions to the 1970s with the collection’s boldly colored leisure suits, Nehru collars, oversize prints, and breezy caftans for entertaining at home.

Feminine flourishes included chunky necklaces in not-quite primary hues and fluttering ruffles that decorated the collars, torsos, and keyhole backs of most every dress.

It was not a collection with a host of ideas, but rather one with a strong and emphatic point of view. Giannini’s colors were not bashful. Whether intense teal or mustard yellow, they were love-them or hate-them shades. A single print of an enlarged sea anemone came across as a declaration rather than a suggestion.

As one model strutted down the runway in chartreuse suede shorts with a matching tunic, one tried to imagine where such an ensemble would be at home. Palm Beach? Palm Springs? These were clothes that were all about life in an effusive environment, a place where the clear light makes everything seem bigger, louder and more gregarious.

They were not ostentatious as much as they were happy—in a grownup, made-peace-with-it-all way. For a designer who has spent so much time indulging the rock-and-roll infatuation of a fan girl, this was a collection that distills the flamboyance of rock-star style down to graceful enthusiasm.

The final gowns—white, ruffled and with well-placed displays of golden skin—recalled the much acclaimed white jersey gowns from the Tom Ford-Gucci era of the 1990s, which in turn gave a nod to the sleek 1970s of Halston. They are all distinctive, yet linked by their confidence, sensuality, and control. For Giannini, it was maturity made plain in the bright light of day.

Gucci sounded the opening bell of a week of runway presentations and showroom installations. This season marks the return of Jil Sander to her namesake label with a women’s ready-to-wear collection. Versus, the secondary line from Donatella Versace in collaboration with Christopher Kane, will be presented in the form of a concert with a performance by Beth Ditto. Miuccia Prada holds sway for her unpredictability. And Giorgio Armani remains the big dog to everyday Milanese. His show is Sunday night.