MILAN (AP) - Strong and yet soft are the watchwords for the next winter season.
The looks are demure, but with an edge that is expressed largely through the materials - leather and big shaggy fur - and military accents. Details give a feminine feel: pleats, beads, feathers and bubble sleeves.
Many designers showing their winter wears on the second day of Milan Fashion Week on Thursday favor ankle boots, either equestrian-style or Victorian, most with extra high heel.
The pantsuit is making a comeback, but not at the expense of dresses, which permeate the runways.
The basic palette is black or white, with bursts of color ranging from autumn hues to bright yellow, purple and red. Multicolored patterns also make an appearance.
Miuccia Prada's collection has some basic building blocks: cropped pants worn either under a long skirt, with a short jacket, an empire-waisted long coat or sleeveless vest for a layered look.
Details make the difference.
Elegant black combinations were the backbone of the collection. Some long coats featured tails, a look Prada launched for men last month. Oversized beads ringed pant hemlines, decorated the bodice like so many brooches, or created a vertical pattern down the skirt.
The empire waist of the jackets and dresses provide a flattering silhouette.
Even with the heavily layered look, Prada's lines remain impeccably clean - both ethnic and elegant.
After the introduction in black, Prada exploded with brocade prints recalling hip 1960s upholstery in bright orange, pink, green and purple.
Long printed coats dipping below the knee and belted high with a jeweled buckle were paired with cropped pants, the better to show off the comfortable flat Mary Janes with bright rubber soles - an antidote to the super-high-heeled strapped pumps.
Prada brought back the pant suit, a look which is popping up all over Milan, but she also sometimes paired complementary prints, say a purple and red hexagon vest over brown and black diamond pants, leaving lots of room for the Prada woman to mix and match.
A fiesta of bags accessorized the look, including Prada favorites from doctor bags to tiny cell phone-sized evening purses. Models wore dark eye makeup, and long hair extensions often in contrasting colors.
There's something of a Nordic warrior in Fendi's womenswear collection for next fall and winter.
Fresh from the hunt, the Fendi woman is draped in fur - sometimes in bright warpath yellow, more often in earth tones - or clad in leather, crocodile, or eel. Her accessories, from thick belts that double-cinch to oversized collars, create an armored look, tough and resilient.
Many of the clothes were stiff and deconstructed, but not without feminine touches like pleated skirts and puffy sleeves.
Silvia Fendi Venturini, who collaborates with Karl Lagerfeld, called the collection "strong, sweet and soft."
The collection's accents were both old-fashioned and modern. A violet blue tailored woolen coat featured balloon shoulders that finished in long sleeves, while two-toned Victorian tie or button-up ankle boots, worn with ripped tights, completed most outfits. To keep it contemporary, there also were square IPad cases carried by handles.
Leather gave the collection its toughness, but that wasn't the final word. Leather dresses or skirts were cut out to allow a lightweight pleated skirt to sway alluringly.
Fur was not only shaggy and voluminous, screaming for attention in multicolor, but also light and wispy. A fitted Shearling dress had wisps of fur at the shoulders, while a straight dress featured a ring of fur around the hips.
Colors were mostly earthy brown, black and blue with some crimson, mustard and peacock. Models wore double braids, white eye shadow and partially rimmed cat glasses.
Max Mara meets Lili Marlene could be the title for the latest womenswear signature collection from the fashion group known for its fashionable yet easy-to-wear styles.
The theme for next winter is without a doubt military, as epitomized by the army cap that appeared throughout the show, and the Khaki green palette.
Military coats, duffle coats and toggle sweaters all combine to make up a bold collection for a woman who likes to be in control, and at the same time dares to be different. Leather and alligator print inserts in a dropped waist and leather half-belts accentuate the military feel of the collection.
But the latter-day Lili is as much at ease in her fatigue pants gathered at the hem like a parachute as she is in her tailored shorts worn under a long sheepskin coat. Classic Max Mara styles such as the camel coat are given a new twist when fashioned into a power jumpsuit.
For a night at the officers club, she wears a sailor-striped jumpsuit highlighted with Art Deco tassels, but never lets go of her hat. Here black and white join the army shades.
Fabrics make all the difference. Far from military wool felt, these uniforms are made out of angora, patterned knits and a whole range of soft leathers and wool fabrics.
Footwear could hardly be anything but booties with an aggressive heel, but an occasional Mary Jane in silver mirrored leather softens the look. Leg and arm warmers accompany many outfits, a trend that seems to be making a comeback on the Milan preview runway.
Whether cheerleader or Siberian siren Anna Molinari's girl will have a vast wardrobe to chose from next winter, according to the designer's latest Blugirl collection.
By day, she is on campus cheering on the local football team, in a bright argyle knit skating skirt, oversized sweater and red duffel coat. By night, she morphs into an icy vixen in a white beaded chiffon gown with Mongolian fur moon boots and matching fur hat.
In between she's the life of the cocktail party in combinations of candy colored pink, yellow and green pastels. Her dress is fashioned out of fur, her gloves sparkle with sequins and her two tone high-heeled pastel lace-ups could be the envy of Mary Poppins.
Musts in the Blugirl's winter wardrobe are cozy knit leg warmers (a favorite on the current Milan runway), furry ear muffs and a pair of fingerless gloves - a reminder that designer Molinari's first thought is fashion not frost.