You could say the Italians have had other things on their minds, what with an election last month that resulted in a political crisis and then the first papal resignation in 600 years. Nevertheless, the mighty wheels of fashion continued to turn, even if the mood in Milan was a tad melancholy.

The cold and snow certainly put the new autumn-winter collections into context. On the bright side, though, many designers offered a sense of romanticism and sensuality. Ladylike elegance threaded its way through several collections: the aesthetic is close to the heart of brands such as Bottega Veneta, Prada, Fendi, Giorgio Armani and Alberta Ferretti, the last of which showed dreamy turn-of-the-last-century gowns and velvet peplum jackets.

Fabrics generally were dark and textured, and there was a lot of fur, tweed, brocade and leather, giving ensembles a luxurious look and feel. The 1940s filtered through in several collections, which, coupled with some atmospheric, filmic settings and femme-fatale hair and make-up, gave the shows a moody darkness reminiscent of film noir; the natural realm, of course, of Miuccia Prada.

Tomas Maier at Bottega Veneta conjured up a Rita Hayworth look, presenting sculpted coats with skirts made voluminous by big pleats, and vampish cocktail dresses in black or white, some embroidered with vertical lines of lacquered raffia.

The femme fatale was at her most lethal, however, dressed in black leather, vinyl, pencil skirts and strong-shouldered jackets by Gucci. Sultry lighting, a dark palette, luxurious use of exotic skins and fetish-esque accessories added to the mood. The beautifully crafted ostrich feather, slithery satin and mesh gowns were just what a silver-screen noir heroine would slip into after dark.

Antonio Marras, a master at creating rich collages of print and textures while playing with gender, similarly tapped into the 40s theme, giving it an English feel with tweeds, brocade and tapestry.

As Prada, Jil Sander, Marni and, of course, MaxMara highlighted, this season is all about the coat. Prada's coats were full skirted, with large, furry gauntlet sleeves. Massimiliano Giornetti cut his short, double-breasted and in a sharply 60s Mod style for Salvatore Ferragamo, while Missoni cut them loose into soft robes.

The mannish coat is now a fashion staple and Jil Sander's were sober and serene in navy wool, save for a touch of fur or a flash of gold. Trussardi had strong masculine cuts while MaxMara, which has outerwear in its DNA, gave us coats that were gigantic and layered over warm maxi-cable cashmeres, tabard blouses and loose-cut trousers - all celebrating volume and soft, luxurious textures. Giorgio Armani's collection, meanwhile, was a homage to romantic androgyny, its coats and jackets worked in optic weaves and patterns and presented with a huge variety of trousers, some cut loose, some in velvet and some with wide fabric braces resembling dungarees.

The flip side to all this romantic elegance was the anarchic punk look, no doubt triggered by the up-coming "Punk" fashion blockbuster exhibition in New York. Of course, Versace will forever be associated with Liz Hurley's safety-pin dress, which she wore way back in 1994. Donatella Versace has, however, wittily renamed the look "Vunk" (a combination of Versace and punk, in case you were wondering) and created her own high-octane, rock-star version of it featuring tight biker leathers and vinyl. T-shirts screeched wild motifs from the Sex Pistols era and accessories were angrily spiked with metal nails, studs and chains.

Roberto Cavalli's vision was rather more vampish and decadent. He used ingredients - black and red, kilt skirts, studs, smoky eye make-up, hair slicked hard off the face - that have their roots in punk, but added his own edgy elegance.

While there are some great fashion houses in Milan, there is a general lack of new talent being given the opportunity to shine. Fausto Puglisi is an exception. The fashion neophyte has been generating waves and is now designing for Emanuel Ungaro. To separate his own brand from the conservative French label, Puglisi also focused on punk tropes, adding medieval elements, such as long dresses with embroidered crests, that worked well and, in fact, transformed the look into elegant goth-punk. Moschino, on the other hand, ran with the tartan trend in a literal way, conjuring up visions of pony club riders in their jockey hats wearing tartan jackets, black trousers and kilts.

Italian designers are clearly in love with Britain's sartorial history. But where many designers took inspiration from the shadows, others revelled in the light. Over the years Dolce & Gabbana shows have become an uplifting experience, and its autumn collection was positively celestial with its spiritual theme and glamorous, regal pieces.

Peter Dundas plugged into the 70s vibe with a Pucci girl who was playful, ultra-glamorous and a world away from the punks and the 40s sirens on show elsewhere in Milan. There were more Pucci prints than we have seen in a while, as well as lots of skimpy lace and beading, all of which made for an upbeat look in a city desperately searching for some cheer.



Punk: it was only a matter of time, once New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art announced its forthcoming "Punk" exhibition, before Versace, Moschino and Junya Watanabe dug out zips, biker leathers and tartan.

Oversized coats: the roomy, boxy-shouldered winter coat emerged a seasonal essential, as seen at Carven, MaxMara and Céline.

Tweeds and tartans: from country cloth to luxurious city threads. A firm favourite with Antonio Marras, Moschino and Dolce & Gabbana.

Monochrome: powerful and graphic. Things were writ large in black and white for Dior, Balenciaga and Masha Ma.

Furry fashion: despite the best efforts of protesters, fur was still popular on the catwalk, witness Fendi, Jean Paul Gaultier, Rue du Mail and Moncler.

Grown up, lady-like shapes: Nina Ricci, Bottega Veneta and Louis Vuitton were big on feminine elegance, with curves in all the right places.

Contrasting textures: labels such as Acne and Maison Martin Margiela loved making a statement by juxtaposing the rough with the smooth.

Masculine: everyone from Giorgio Armani to Yohji Yamamoto and Stella McCartney had clearly taken note of menswear and men's tailoring.

Luxurious sparkling embellishments: fashion re-embraced a rich elegance at Chloé, Lanvin, Dries Van Noten and Gucci.

1930s, 40s and 50s silhouettes: vintage influences brought sexy back, with Bottega Veneta, Prada, Miu Miu, Rochas and Louis Vuitton all championing the cause.

Balloon sleeves and big 80s shoulders: the most sought-after volume at labels such as Loewe.

Pastel pales: uncharacteristic pale pinks and blues for winter from Céline, Prada, Carven and Emporio Armani. Jing Zhang and Francesca Fearon



Chloé                                                                          Dior



Dolce & Gabbana                                                   Loewe



Stella McCartney                                                   Maison Martin Margiela



Rochas                                                                        Nina Ricci


See & be seen

The spooky old medieval palazzo that Hogan found in Milan to host its party for Katie Grand would have been the perfect setting for a Tim Burton goth-horror movie but for the techno music, the potent margaritas and the models padding around in animal-print high-top trainers and heart-shaped clutches designed by Grand herself.

Kenzo brought a New York City vibe to Paris with an after-party for the hipster set at Le Balajo. Lady Miss Kier from Deee-Lite performed her 1990s anthem Groove is in the Heart to a dancing crowd and we even spotted Jessica Alba and Karlie Kloss.

Swarovski held a chic affair at the Hotel de Ville in Paris, unveiling its haute couture exhibition. The grandiose event was graced by designers such as Olivier Rousteing of Balmain and hosted by Nadja Swarovski.

Who could have predicted Milan’s snow blizzard as the fashion crowd arrived at Bally’s Ice Hotel (perfect timing!) to witness furry boots, jackets and other luxe accessories? Fashionistas melted at the sight of two husky cubs standing guard at the entrance to Bally’s igloo.

High-street giant H&M did its first runway show in eight years at Paris Fashion Week, at the Musée Rodin, then hosted a massive after-party attended by starlets such as Cara Delevingne, Pixie Geldof, Ashley Olsen and Chloë Grace Moret.

ZCarine Roitfeld’s party is always the hot ticket of the season. The former French Vogue editor, now editor of CR Fashion Book (her own magazine), brought her friends Kate Moss, Karl Lagerfeld and Riccardo Tisci along to celebrate the launch of her dance-themed second edition. The black-tie event at the Shangri-La, sponsored by Mercedes- Benz, made it clear that Roitfeld still commands the cool crowd.

The Diesel and Edun collaboration party brought together an enviable set of celebrities: Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Tilda Swinton (dressed beautifully in Haider Ackermann), Adrien Brody, Diesel owner Renzo Rosso and Bono, who owns Edun.

Performances: Runway music is crucial to setting the tone, never more so than when it is live. Riccardo Tisci had Antony Hegarty singing emotionally at Givenchy. Ballerinas were the theme at Nina Ricci, so the live piano performance of a Philip Glass piece, by sisters Katia and Marielle Labeque, was fitting. Antonio Marras’ shows are always enchanting experiences. This time it was a tableau vivant Bloomsbury grouping of artists, writers and singers that formed the backdrop to his 1940s tailoring and lush mixture of country tweed and vintage dresses. Jing Zhang and Francesca Fearon