Are the shiny golden coins and gilded lace on the Dolce & Gabbana catwalk a sign things are looking up in Milan? If so, it is not a moment too soon, for the clink of big money has not been heard in recession-hit Italy for a long time.
Milan has been snoozing while London's young designers have been grabbing all the headlines, which might have served as a wake-up call; the big Italian fashion powerhouses are starting to stir.
An industrial town, Milan is not exactly fun central but, with fresh talent, launches and parties galore, there is a renewed sense of energy this fashion week. It can be seen in the masses who have descended on the Golden Triangle, the area around Via Montenapoleone, to spend big at the new flagship stores of Fendi, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo and Bottega Veneta. It can be seen in the buzz surrounding the "buy now, wear now" collection by Stefano Pilati, the former Yves Saint Laurent designer now at Agnona (part of the Zegna group), who debuts a season-less collection called Zero for the brand, that goes on sale immediately in a Via Sant'Andrea pop-up store.
Luxury fashion empire Kering and Vogue Italia have joined forces to showcase young designers. Giorgio Armani has provided his theatre for young Italian-Haitian designer Stella Jean to present her exuberant mix of African prints and patterns in. Marco de Vincenzo, who is attracting the attention of Fendi, has proved a wizard with pleats and optical patterns. Shanghai-based Uma Wang, after a brief hiatus, has returned to Milan with a conceptual collection of layered dresses and tunics in gauzy textured fabrics inspired by the sun-bleached colours of Mediterranean shorelines.
It all adds to the citywide buzz.
Miuccia Prada dominates Milan headlines with an audacious collection inspired by power and feminism. She commissioned street artists to paint her venue and then transformed their murals into fashion. A bold portrait by French artist Pierre Mornet features on a slim coat and portraits by Jeanne Detallante have been recreated in dresses worn with rhinestone bras. The collection is vibrant, with pop-art colour. Jewelled bras have been stitched onto dresses and coats, and everything is worn with sporty legwarmers. The styling is redolent of girl street-gang culture in America: full of attitude. Underneath all the portraits and bra cups, however, are some great 1960s-style coats, simple sporty tunics and pleated skirts.
Dolce & Gabbana's collection clinks with gilded luxury. Prettily ornamented trapeze tunics and swishy retro-style dresses covered in delicate almond blossom and engraved prints of Sicilian ruins illustrate how much Domenico Dolce's homeland has been a source of inspiration over the years. The mood is sweet and demure, but that signature sexy lacy bustier dress does make a few appearances.
One of the highlights of the week is provided by luxury accessories house Tod's, which is making its catwalk debut with a collection designed by Alessandra Facchinetti. Her vision of modern, wearable clothes is one that echoes around many of the houses, notably Bottega Veneta, Marni, Salvatore Ferragamo, Armani and Jil Sander.
Jil Sander, the woman, has regained confidence for her third season back at her eponymous label, producing subtle, softly sculpted clothes with swooping hemlines. Her crisp, white cotton dresses are particularly lovely.
So, too, are Tomas Maier's relaxed, retro 50s cotton dresses for Bottega Veneta. Little flat pleated ruffles add details to short hemlines while a metallic yarn in the cotton helps create bunched-up textures on full-skirted dresses.
Wide-leg trousers are shaping up to become a key item come spring and Armani majors in them in his gamine Emporio collection, where they anchor a huge variety of jackets, from boxy to fluid silhouettes in hazy water lily prints. His aesthetic has become increasingly more graceful and effortless with the seasons, the tailoring in his main line is more relaxed and the colours are brighter and blurred.
Salvatore Ferragamo's collection focuses on quiet daywear, delivering easy wide-leg trousers, pleated skirts and sporty jackets in a creamy white mixed with a bit of natural python.
The sporty vibe of Salvatore Ferragamo is worked into an after-dark collection at Gucci that is far more decadent. Frida Giannini's techno-athletic theme mixes black mesh T-shirts with triangular bras and silky jogging pants teamed with splashes of dark lurex. It is a tricky hybrid to work but the dark colours, kimonos, harem trousers and art-nouveau graphics offer something rich and sensual.
There is a distinct lack of sexpot fashion in Milan this season, perhaps a sign of the times and the economy, but there is, nevertheless, an energetic street-wear theme threading through shows by Versace, Emilio Pucci and Fausto Puglisi.
Versace girls in their low-slung skirts, bondage bras and biker jackets in leather or luxurious sparkly denim and raffia ooze a rock 'n' roll tough-girl attitude. The label's familiar sexy, showbiz draped evening gowns do, however, make an appearance later on.
The mood at Emilio Pucci is a bit more athletic and hip hop, with designer Peter Dundas having created dynamic mixes of print, embroidery, short sassy clothes and boxing belts for Pucci party girls who want a bit of fun - whatever the state of the economy.
Fendi The Fendi family's restoration of Rome's famous Trevi Fountain and creative director Karl Lagerfeld's recent exhibition of his own photos on the subject have inspired cascading tiers of soft organza and wavy outlines as well as mille-feuille layers of fabric. The collection is full of lightness and colour, the silhouette streamlined and architectural. The fun comes in the shape of Silvia Fendi's handbags, which resemble little furry animals tucked under the models' arms, like pets.
Roberto Cavalli Giant studio lights transform Roberto Cavalli's catwalk into a sound stage and make the models look like silver-screen goddesses. Shiny silver crocodile jackets, slouchy silver-grey python jeans and seductive bias-cut slip dresses in reptilian-print chiffon slink past. Details such as art-deco beaded lace, long silk fringing and intricate silver beading and embroidery might be signature Cavalli boho, but the craftsmanship is worthy of Parisian haute couture.
Marni The sound system fails but it comes as a blessing as the silence heightens the serenity of Consuelo Castiglioni's collection. There are sporty details - sun visors, platform flip-flops and blousons - but the overall mood is gentle. Trousers have origami folds that flap open. Jackets and dresses are long-line and belted, and occasionally feature an oriental flower print, while the last few outfits are smothered in 3D flower appliqués. It is hard to imagine how the planned Sid Vicious soundtrack could have done anything to enhance such a beautiful collection.
Tod’s Luxury accessories entrepreneur Diego Della Valle has been testing the market with fashion for a few years, but this season he has plunged into a full ready-to-wear line with Alessandra Facchinetti (previously at Gucci and Valentino) as his creative director. Accompanying his latest desirable bags and shoes are modern, streamlined leather clothes. On show are laser-cut tunics and skirts (based on the signature open-work pattern of the bags), patchwork leather jackets and lots of lovely, glossy leather dresses.