c.2014 New York Times News Service

c.2014 New York Times News Service

MILAN — What excitement at Gucci! Smartphones were waved deliriously, photographers fought for position. Actually, it was Salma Hayek, wife of François-Henri Pinault, the chief executive of Kering, Gucci’s parent company, who was causing the uproar. Her front-row attire: black dress (by Gucci), bold bag (by Gucci) and military cap (by guess who?).

How dynamic it all was compared with the sweet and sour colors on the runway: shades of faded Miami beachfronts, a touch of sugary macarons and off-color painterly pastels sunk into fluffy fur coats. The feeling was the 1960s but a more polite society than one built on free love and miniskirts. There were smart double-breasted coats in a blush pink, short high-waist dresses in mustard, and leather bodices in that particular dark red that looks like a luxury car’s seat covering.

In her program notes, Frida Giannini, the creative director, said she “felt the need to materialize the essence of Gucci,” which included recalling its early fame with those loafers and extending them to fabulous knee-high boots. The signature horse bit remained on the instep. It also appeared as embellishment on the short dresses sent out for the cocktail hour.

It was all good, luxurious stuff but without any frisson of surprise. How odd that Giannini, whose recent Gucci movie showed how much work goes into each collection, should have created for the runway perfectly nice neo-’60s outfits that were outshone by the boss’s wife.

Backstage at Prada, Miuccia Prada pulled forward a flashy oversize blazer.

“It’s a mix of the sophisticated and things that look plain vulgar,” she said.

There was a deep sexual surge on the Prada runway as models stepped out wrapped in shearling coats worn over sheer shifts. A tailored coat piped in gold topped a cognac-colored dress. She made a choice — and quite often — to pair a boxy jacket with a wispy translucent dress that revealed underpants patterned as if for children.

Prada sent out a striking show last season using blown-up prints of artists’ faces. But she has not produced a collection for some time that was arresting, mesmerizing and filled with strong clothes. Included were accessories and bold, flat shoulder bags. The wedge shoes had a hefty industrial look, and skinny scarves seemed suspiciously like purloined male neckties.

This was Prada as female triumphant, offering women chic dresses in the familiar, awkward, ugly 1970s wallpaper patterns as well as the ability to dress primly in an elongated black satin shift dress. For anyone who wants the right to choose a varied but powerful wardrobe, Prada is her woman.

Karl Lagerfeld’s Fendi collection was witty, sporty and romantic — not just with the midcalf skirts, zippered at the front, but the soft shorts and casual coats with tufts of fur. Lagerfeld also made a sweet gesture with orchids pinned into fur at the neckline, their petals trembling with the models’ every movement.

“A very romantic touch,” he said, revealing that he came up with the idea after hearing a recording of Billie Holiday singing “You brought me violets for my furs,” from a tune that has snowy New York turning into a blue-sky spring.

That transformation might well apply to Fendi itself, where the collaboration between Silvia Venturini Fendi and Lagerfeld has flowered. It was a fine balance: Venturini Fendi’s bright fur-trimmed bags with handles in clashing pink or orange with yellow to create a funky modern elegance; and Lagerfeld at his best, when rivulets of fur flowed out of long, slim dresses.

“I wanted to clean up what is not necessary,” said Donatella Versace, usually a designer who likes at least a flourish and prefers lavish excess.

But the dresses that opened the show and the red glamour gown that ended it did not have any fancy effects. They were bias cut, sweeping and slithering over the body in a way that Versace said she had never tried before. Of course, nothing in a Versace show is ever that simple, and it is always seductive. So those bias-cut dresses displayed flashes of flesh through open seams in the same way that a tabletop might show through a cutwork cloth. There were also military-inspired outfits with sleeves ornamented with embroidery.

Take off the heavy-metal gilded bracelets, decorative over-the-knee boots and military hardware and it was true that Versace had gone soft. But (fortunately for her fans) the sexy spirit was still there, with the back of those bias-cut evening dresses showing not just bare flesh but a mighty “V” for Versace. What was that other logo that looked like a “D” on the exotic-skin bags? “D” for Donatella, of course.

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At Dolce & Gabbana, there was not a church, a cross or a Sicilian landscape in sight. Instead, falling snow, the bare branches of winter trees and Tchaikovsky’s soaring music started a fashion fairy tale. It had all the magical elements of traditional children’s books: appliqués of cats on their way to the moon, patterns of keys to the castle door and gilded “handsome prince” clothes with embedded jewels. They created a costume scenario that was whimsical and charming because the story line fit the duo’s romantic vision, from furry bonnets to flat shoes laced with gilding.

“Every woman wants to be a fairy,” Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce said in chorus backstage.

The clothes may have been fancy but they were surprisingly wearable, even when coats and dresses were decorated to the hilt. Just in case the spell was too powerful, the designers slipped in one of their iconic, square-necked shapely black dresses. And the finale featured a corps de ballet with silver winking on brief, black modern sportswear.

Taking a scalpel to all that is fancy, yet controlling pattern in a defined space: It sounds so easy. But it takes a designer of the caliber of Tomas Maier at Bottega Veneta to pull off such a combination. His show went against most of the trends for fall 2014: only a sprinkling of coats; no pants at all for his purposeful, modern woman. Still, the show was striking because the designer worked with geometric lines to turn soft into sharp, and vice versa.

The collection was built on dresses: slim, over the knee, just a pair of boots or shoes with flame-shaped cutouts licking the ankle. Those same flames might climb from the hemline of a dress in an extraordinary piece of craftsmanship. But it was the way that optical-illusion lines raked through the dresses that needed a mathematician to understand. Here was a zigzag creating a sense of long and short; there, a firework of exploding lines.

“Optical illusions, David Bowie,” Maier said backstage, bringing the singer into this mix, without giving away what led him to create such a confident and convincing show.

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The difference between streamlined complexity and perplexing the audience is everything at a fashion show. Unfortunately, Marni’s woman-into-bird collection fell into the latter category.

Of course, there were more than applications of feathers and fur from the waist downward on a tailored coat. Some of the swings of compass and square to create geometric shapes showed splendid tailoring skills. But what did it all add up to on the hanger or, more important, on the body?

Some of the fur, which was this company’s starting point, was bold and beautiful: a coat flagged with vertical stripes of red, white and royal blue fox. Remove the ginger fur collar and it would have been perfect. Smart tailoring, if only the ballooning raglan sleeves on the jacket had not been paired with puzzling flaps and folds on the skirt; a sleek camel-colored jacket but shown with a skirt that looked like unraked hay, and then the other way around for a grassy cape top and camel skirt.

Consuelo Castiglioni’s fertile imagination is admirable. But the show needed an injection of that vital fashion quality: simplicity.

To be both peaceful and forceful in fashion is a special achievement. And who but Giorgio Armani could have made an entire collection out of subtly redrawn silhouettes colored only in the softest green, shaded to gray? Those colors enveloped the show that closed the Milan collections Monday.

“The force of green,” the designer said as he stood among his models after the show.

The lineup told the whole story: a crescent moon of outfits from tailored coats, cut in the round, to long dresses. Among the choices was a fresh asparagus color, with the model’s bare legs striding out of a back slit, wearing flat pumps in celery green. The color focus in the collection seemed to embrace nature and the city, almost as if the designer were telling a story of a woman trapped in town who escapes to green fields. The opening pieces were smart and urban, mostly pants, but they were slightly cropped and loose.

The changes to the Armani silhouette seemed so insignificant — and yet they did so much. The ability to change so subtly, yet to stay yourself, is the mark of a great designer. So, this time, Armani’s draft of lime has earned him that status.