c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

MILAN — Everything in Milan feels a little hyperbolic these days, or more than usual. Not only was there a big Condé Nast-sponsored evening at La Scala, the opera house, but there were also several store openings. When asked what made the new Prada and Fendi stores different, a Milanese publicist thought a minute and replied, “They’re more luxury.”

Not to be outdone, Bottega Veneta didn’t even mention the tawdry word “store” in its invitation for Sunday evening’s, well, store opening. Instead, it referred to the “brand’s first maison.” Somehow, “brand” doesn’t sufficiently prime the pump for “maison,” but you get the drift. Bottega is stepping up!

Still, it’s hard to see what more the consumers are getting from a maison experience, except a snooty name you’d be embarrassed to say in front of your friends back home.

“I bought my bag at the Bottega maison.”

“Go on!”

Seriously, the architecture for luxury retail was, for good or ill, laid down in the 1980s and ’90s by Peter Marino, the favorite architect of LVMH and Chanel, and it hasn’t changed all that much since. The new Bottega store is larger than its existing boutiques, and more in the cream shades than the woody ones, but the template remains more or less the same from brand to brand. They can’t startle consumers too much, apparently.

Aside from adding to the already staggering cost of clothes and leather goods, the retail upgrading (and compulsory parties) do serve one purpose: to keep Italian fashion relevant to international tourists.

I’ve never seen so many tourists in Milan as I have this season. There were at least two separate busloads in my small hotel. Some were Americans, and others sounded as if they might have been Russian or from somewhere else in Eastern Europe. I passed a group of maybe 20 tourists going into Corso Como 10, the well-known boutique here.

And in many ways, the retail scene trumps the runways. This has been a subpar Milan season. There was a stronger sense than usual that designers were either playing to the cameras and mass tastes (they’re pretty much the same thing today) or pulling stuff from their back catalog of design. The freshest clothes, to my eye, were the crisp sportswear pieces, like breezy shirtdresses and full skirts in laser-cut cotton by Alessandra Facchinetti for Tod’s.

Many female editors seemed to respond to her collection, including her version of moccasins (with a fringed oxford flap on top), but the line is small, and it remains to be seen if Tod’s owner, Diego Della Valle, will really get behind clothing. He has made his fortune with accessories, though he has invested heavily in Schiaparelli. It’s expected to name Marco Zanini the creative director.

But other houses seemed to be going through the motions, like Ferragamo, which found six ways to cut a basic box-pleated skirt and deck it with a stiff blouson. Where were lighthearted prints and summer colors? At Pucci, silky track pants with wide belts threatened to turn the models into flashy pirates, but then Peter Dundas added Masai-inspired beaded tops. Like Miuccia Prada, he was going for a street blast of color and eclectic shape, but it felt art-directed and not really designed.

Marni was very strange. Even if you’re not a fan of Consuelo Castiglioni’s quirky tastes, she always designs a well-shaped skirt or nice separates — things that can easily be incorporated into your wardrobe. But this collection, produced since Renzo Rosso became the majority owner of the brand, looked as if it were designed by someone a few years out of a London design school.

There wasn’t a consistent aesthetic thread running through the show. There were bits of Comme des Garçons and Sacai in dresses and belted jackets garnished with densely packed ruffles, with sheer, soupy trousers; some midcalf, flower-spiked cocoon coats attempting to give the appearance of chic restraint; and a full-on Prada moment with fat beading.

The luxury-goods business promotes such a narrow view of dressing that it almost takes courage to design something plain. Angela Missoni’s sari-sarong outfits were not quite plain, with their diagonal shoulder band and a silk kick-pleat in the pencil skirts, but they were very flattering. And with the clear Pop colors muted with earth tones and go-together separates, like cropped beaded T-tops and easy pencil skirts (in jacquards, knits or cotton), you could see a woman personalizing the clothes.

Ruffles may be catharsis for Tomas Maier of Bottega Veneta after his retro prints and ’40s dresses. And popular they were. And there’s a certain gall in smearing ruffles and concentric pleats over jackets and skirts, since they’re not every woman’s friend. But as a textural effect on pretty classic shapes, they look convincing. In black or army green, they could even be viewed as anti-decorative.

Although Giorgio Armani opened his show on Monday with jackets — standard stuff — he quickly got to the news: softness, natural volumes in dresses, blurred tones inspired by tropical undersea colors. While a few more day clothes would have been welcomed (hey, what happened to the shirts?), the double effects in colors and layers were well done, resulting in fashion that was a bit sweet but at least not one dimensional.

When Jil Sander returned to her label a year or so ago, she brought simple but electrifying solutions to minimalist dressing that lots of women got. But she seems stalled between capricious gestures, like dresses that barely close in front (why?) and archetypes that feel exhaustingly pure. There is so much noise out there that you just long for her to give confidence to a beautiful but simple line.