c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

MILAN — Not too long from now, Karl Lagerfeld will pass a milestone in fashion. He will have spent 50 years at Fendi, designing its fun furs and cerebral ready-to-wear.

Lagerfeld hasn’t exactly spent a half-century looking out a single window. He works for Chanel, too. And lately he has been slapping his name on products at a do-or-die rate.

At least one part of his brain remains, by design, slow and analog in its thinking, with broad excursions to the past. And it’s this part, I suspect, that keeps him rooted in one place for so long. But the other part is highly alert and reactive, constantly moving toward new ideas and devouring them. With good reason, he has been compared to a shark.

Whatever accounts for this vital mix of the comfortable and the hard-wired, Lagerfeld keeps re-energizing himself. With Fendi, more than Chanel, he likes the idea of digital technology; this season, he uses words like “informatics” and “hyperlinked” to describe the modular design of the clothes, as well as the grid patterns.

It’s very possible that he doesn’t have a clue what these terms mean. But the language and imagery of the Web give him an idea, and that’s what he reacts to. In truth, if you want a better thought picture for the opening dresses in the Fendi show, dresses in overlapping panels of laser-cut, fluorescent pastel organza, it would be James Turrell’s light sculpture in the Guggenheim rotunda, with its graduated and minimally composed hues.

Lagerfeld is obviously limited by the surface and function of a dress. He also is keen to apply Fendi’s skills, especially with fur, to his visual statement about light, pattern and color. And “light” must mean weightlessness, as well.

He achieved this harmony throughout the show, but you see it most vividly in the opening organza dresses and those in which the grid patterns were done with shaved fur mounted on organza. Typically they were done in three slightly different patterns, in three solid colors, with the organza allowing light to pass through.

In his review of the Turrell show, Peter Schjeldahl of The New Yorker noted that this kind of installation “trumps a trend among contemporary artists, favored by art institutions, toward clamorous, hysterically clever spectacle and performance.” Well, fashion is insanely clever at the moment — too many novel fabrics and crashing colors on what amount to conventional shapes. And because designers have to knock out new collections every few months, the subtle doesn’t get traction. Plus, you need someone who can work as hard, and think as fast, as Lagerfeld.

The Prada show was definitely a big spectacle. That’s what editors and buyers have come to expect from Miuccia Prada. I loved her spring men’s show, in June, if only because her creepy paradise theme made me wonder if she was slyly referencing the novels of Michel Houellebecq.

Her woman’s show the other night felt a bit stingy, in spite of the saturated colors and the bobblehead blowups of illustrations on dresses, which mirrored those on the walls of the Prada show space. For the presentation, the company invited four muralists and two illustrators to create work around the themes of femininity, power and multiplicity. According to Prada, the concept originated from an interest in political wall art from Mexico.

In one sense, the exuberant energy of the artwork — it was done with the artists working together in the space — was repeated in the clothes. But in another sense, it felt as if the energy and spirit of feminine power was simply being mimicked in the overloaded designs, with shapes and fabrics from Prada’s archive.

The most compelling designs were sleeveless shifts in viscose knit that evoked athletic wear (the models wore soccer socks with sports sandals). They projected an air of physical strength that most women can relate to. But if Prada was broadly making a case for feminine power, it was hard to see why she included cheerleader skirts and dresses with bra designs. My assumption is she knows young women will think they’re cute.

At Gucci, Frida Giannini combined activewear styles, like track pants and flowing beach tunics, with art nouveau patterns inspired by Erté. It was an interesting idea, and it helped to soften up the brand. But I kept wondering where one was meant to wear these clothes; with their black mesh bras and streaming ties, they looked too exposed for the city. A yacht? A modern apartment tower in Shanghai? You needed some imagination, which, I guess, is not a bad thing.

Today, in Italy, MaxMara’s neominimalist pencil skirts in pearl-beige linen with matching cashmere sweaters, or etched-looking denim separates in plain, tonal designs (the press notes alluded to a Robert Ryman monochrome painting), looked almost modest. They are not out of step with the times. On the contrary, they seem a buffer.

With so many dressy clothes on the runways, one starts to long for a simple summer dress. Italian sportswear seems almost extinct. Tod’s has hired Alessandra Facchinetti , who started her career at Prada, to create sportswear and accessories. She made a small start Friday, but it was excellent. There were lovely shirtdresses in rust and pale pink cotton with a gather across the back, a relaxed pantsuit in powder blue cotton, distinctive leathers and a jaunty version of the Tod’s moccasin.

Donatella Versace’s collection was populist luxury to the hilt, a mere skip in her skyscraper platforms and printed flare skirts and bustiers (or mesh silk shorts with a ruched crinkle up the rear) to the country’s TV personalities. This, too, is not a bad thing. Because with all her brawny instincts, Versace is just reacting to her world.