On the first day of Milan fashion week, Gucci confounded expectations of high glamour with a collection for autumn/winter 2014 that was low key, covered up and cute.
The footwear said it all. In previous seasons the Gucci girl would surely not have stepped out in anything less than a 15cm heel.
This season, though, the models wore low-heeled boots up to their ankles or knees for a youthful ingénue look that had something of the 1960s about it.
The footwear was teamed with dresses flared from below the ribs, A-line skirts falling to just above the knee, and short double-breasted coats.
Some models wore oversized glasses, making fashion's more familiar faces – Anya Rubik, Joan Smalls – almost unrecognisable. Simple shift dresses and slim-fitting trouser suits referenced the clean lines that the creative director, Frida Giannini, was craving. "This is glamour at its purest," she said.
If Gucci is usually about evening wear, this collection was firmly pitched at daylight hours. The colour palette was easy to slot into city living: light shades with a bit of urban grit – plaster pink, pistachio green and slate grey mixed with ox-blood and ochre.
While a nappa leather shirt might be a bit much for the average work day, the Gucci customer will appreciate classics like these, given the house's trademark luxe spin with fabrics that might demand four-figure price tags. Giannini knows that even with her swerve towards the demure, she still needs to keep her loyal customers happy.
Pieces here played with the codes of the house, with "in the know" details sure to delight devotees.
The signature horse-bit hardware, which alludes to Gucci's history as an equestrian brand, and its classic loafer, was revised on those new boots and the Jackie bag, a style once worn by one Jackie O, was softer in unlined calfskin.
This being Gucci, there was eventually some concession to glamour. The last eight or so outfits of the 40-look show were evening-wear designs.
Those heels were finally in evidence, as knee-high boots, and they were worn with crystal encrusted dresses. Hems fell to just above the knee, and necklines were high, keeping that youthful feel.
The dresses were covered in sparkles (denoting the night) but the usual Gucci va-va-voom was still decidedly on the muted side. The red-carpet muse might indeed be Alexa Chung rather than Angelina Jolie.
It is likely that there is more of this to come from the Italian house. The menswear collection for Gucci, shown in January, had similar clean lines and a 1960s bent too, suggesting a new era.
With a brand still linked with the sexy aesthetic that Tom Ford injected into it in the 1990s, Giannini, who has been the company's creative director since 2006, is finally confident enough to put her own stamp on the designs.
For her bow at Wednesday's show in Milan, she appeared dressed in a version of what had just been on the catwalk: horse-bit boots, black slimfit trousers and a biker jacket.
Always chic, her personal style is now flowing into what she designs, with intriguing, and wearable, results.
The new direction has come at a potentially pivotal time. Gucci posted sales figures in October that were at a four-year low, rising just 0.6% in the final quarter of 2013.
The parent company, Kering, will be hoping that Giannini's more muted glamour will help the 85-year-old brand lure in a new generation of consumers wanting luxury.
After the shows in New York and London earlier this month, a dominant aesthetic is starting to emerge, which Gucci yesterday continued – pin-sharp but relaxed clothes, with a tomboy edge in London. The highlight of Milan will be the Prada show, which takes place Thursday at the brand's headquarters. Other standout shows during Milan include Versace on Friday evening and Giorgio Armani and Dolce & Gabbana both on Monday.
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