THE colour and pageantry of ethnic costumes have recaptured the imaginations of the world's top designers. Long gone are the shoulder pads and power suits, back are the grassroots of design. Colourful African head wraps and Middle Eastern yashmaks, tiered Caribbean skirts, sarongs, saris and pareo wraps were the stuff from the shows in Milan. Krizia had a whole range of Chinese-inspired costumes; Complice's black models went native with hair extensions, caftans and skin-baring frocks in vegetable-dyed fabric, capped by crocheted berets in the colours of African unity. Mila Schon and Alberta Feretti were inspired by Indian costumes from north and south, Rifat Ozbek models wore nose-rings and huge hoop earrings, and there were plenty of Nehru and Mandarin-collared jackets, wraps and jellabas. Another dominant theme this spring is 'the celebration of youth'. The past year has seen a move away from stiff and starchy suits to a more relaxed, feminine, and often hippy way of dressing. Now comes baby doll-type dresses, micro-mini slips, halter neck trapeze dresses, simple white sheaths that barely cover the bottom, demure white frocks trimmed with lots of lace, and layered chiffon dresses that conjure up images of garden parties and summer picnics. While skirts are cropped as high as they can go, it is the midriff that has emerged as the most erotic of erogenous zones this spring. Cropped sweaters are teamed with drawstring trousers, and cutaway tops and jackets show off the belly button in all its glory. Still more flesh is bared with Gianni Versace's punk-look - slashed and perforated leathers, minis with peek-a-boo cut-outs and slinky gowns with long, curving gashes held together with safety pins. And underwear is all but bared, especially when teamed with Moschino's clear plastic coats. All too short, too sheer and, frankly, too overwhelming. On the wearable side, there were plenty of apron dresses on show in Milan - some fetchingly interpreted by Sportmax, Krizia, Genny and Luciano Soprani. Designers have also found inspiration in industrial clothes, and drawstring trousers, camp shirts and tunics are all big this year. Other wearables include vests in natural fabrics, stripes, ethnic designs and batik prints. On a final note, hold on to your backpacks. They continue to be a big fashion item, and will emerge this spring in an assortment of colours and designs to match today's more relaxed style of dressing.