The international shows season is usually a chic carousel of the continents, during which fashion editors and buyers make the rounds of New York, London, Milan and Paris. But during Milan Fashion Week, it was designers who were on the merry-go-round, as key changes were announced at some of Europe's most venerated fashion houses.
On Monday (Milan time) this week, it was announced Stefano Pilati was leaving Yves Saint Laurent after eight years as creative director of the Paris house. The company said in a statement it would announce his successor in the coming weeks but news reports already point to Hedi Slimane, who designed menswear for the label in the 1990s before a highly successful stint at Dior Homme.
The shift at Yves Saint Laurent followed news last Friday that Belgian designer Raf Simons was departing the Jil Sander brand after 6½ critically acclaimed years to make way for the return of German designer Jil Sander to the house she founded in 1968.
An emotional and teary Simons received a standing ovation for his stellar Jil Sander swansong at Milan Fashion Week on Saturday. He left the company on Monday this week amid intense media speculation he will replace designer John Galliano at Dior, where the tumult at fashion houses started almost exactly a year ago with Galliano's departure.
There are also rumours that British wunderkind Christopher Kane has been put up for the Dior job but the company has said no statement will be made about its new designer until after the brand's show at Paris Fashion Week on Friday.
The musical chairs scenario has the industry's tastemakers in an unprecedented state of flux that reflects the increasingly ruthless demands of running a global fashion business today.
The exhausting cycle that came to a head last week almost distracted from the clothes at Milan Fashion Week, which was a shame as there were some very good ones.
So what of the changes on the catwalk? The trends of Milan's autumn-winter collections fell broadly into two camps: military and romantic. Some of the best shows deftly combined the two, as seen at Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo.
The Ferragamo show opened with a parade of double-breasted military coats with gold buttons and closed with a swirl of transparent and embroidered off-the-shoulder gypsy blouses and flowing skirts. Designer Massimiliano Giornetti's combination of masculine strength with feminine softness followed Frida Giannini's show for Gucci, which was dedicated to capturing the "modern-day romanticism" of women.
Giannini expertly played on the complex nature of women by juxtaposing the sensuality of soft velvet wrap skirts and sheer chiffon blouses with cropped military jackets with brass buttons, leather equestrian trousers and masculine-style brocade coats.
"Strong, sweet and soft," was how Silvia Fendi Venturini described the Fendi collection she collaborated on with Karl Lagerfeld.
Pleating, peplums and spherical puffs of fabric were used to create sculptural shapes in the rich palette of burgundy, gold, emerald and black that dominated Milan Fashion Week. The architectural collection was a textbook lesson in construction, yet its conceptual silhouettes may daunt more conservative customers.
Unabashed romantics will find plenty to swoon over in the collections of Emilio Pucci and Dolce&Gabbana, where Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana sent out airy lace dresses and exquisite long coats redolent with lavish gold embroidery in line with the show's "Romantic Baroque" theme.
For Pucci, designer Peter Dundas looked at the light side of life, steering away from the brand's signature prints in favour of pretty dresses in nude and powder blue as well as sharper silhouettes in black. Pale colours also predominated at Jil Sander, via double-faced cashmere coats in sugary pinks and soft greys, and delicate knit dresses that referenced lingerie in their shape and construction.
Italy's established houses enjoy relative stability compared with the tumult gripping others in the industry, largely because they remain family owned or with long-term designers at the helm.
In an industry often perceived as superficial, the substance of Giorgio Armani's designs since he founded his company in 1975 has translated into an annual turnover of $US1.6 billion ($1.49b) and an estimated personal fortune of $US7 billion.
The designer continued his enduring obsession with elegance by combining refined masculine tailoring with touches of soft femininity for "the meeting of contradictory opposites" that was promised in the show notes.
Pants were slim and worn with cropped or long, lean jackets and flat rockabilly shoes in zebra and shiny patent leather. Coral and pink brights appeared on city shorts worn with asymmetrical fedoras, and cocktail dresses shimmered with embellishment in the show that reduced Milan's traffic to gridlock.
Fellow Italian veteran Prada was also a highly anticipated affair but designer Miuccia Prada confounded expectations by going back to basics. Classic Prada geometric prints, embellishments and straight-line cuts were at the core of the collection that put an emphasis on cropped trousers worn with everything from dresses to spliced evening coats.
Bottega Veneta is no longer owned by its founders: the Gucci Group acquired it in 2001. But creative director Tomas Maier has been with the company for more than a decade since he came on board in June of that year and continues to refine the brand's "stealth wealth" USP season after season.
Maier's slim-line suiting was dark and of decadent quality, and velvet gowns and dresses were subtly sprinkled with silver in the presentation that was a master class in understated luxury.
Since 1994, Marni has built a reputation for fun, print-heavy combinations of bold graphic patterns and bright colours but designer Consuelo Castiglioni showed her serious side with a sober, streamlined collection. Dresses were colour blocked to emphasise their geometry and coats were drop waist and belted with oversized pockets that accentuated the hips.
While there were precious few prints on show, Marni lovers can get their pattern fix when the brand's print-heavy capsule collection for H&M goes on sale on March 8.
The reporter travelled to Milan courtesy of Australian Wool Innovation.
Correction: The original version of this story said that Giorgio Armani's personal fortune was estimated at $US67 million.