Hi Divia This is not the best of times for the fashion industry to say that we cannot get through next summer without a spangly cocktail dress, crocodile handbag or bizarre - and wildly impractical - stilettoes. When the Dow Jones is crashing like a model in 9-inch heels, fashion isn't a priority for most people. The Milan shows kicked off in the middle of the global financial meltdown and the conversation among buyers was not focused on hemlines, but whether their bankers would extend them enough credit for next season's stock. Hi Francesca The same cloud was hanging over Paris, where there were far less American twangs in the audience and more Russian and Chinese players than ever before. You know there's a sea change underway when Vogue Nippon fashion director Anna Della Russo wears the same outfit between breakfast and dinner (this is a woman who averaged six looks a day last season). Word is that most retailers have cut their budgets by 15 to 20 per cent so designers need something really special to get the cash registers ringing. Francesca Giorgio Armani was the one with the magic touch in Milan, which makes sense considering the dark days of the late 1980s are back and he was the man who defined that decade. His palette of grey, beige and taupe suddenly looked delicate and moody. Goodbye to fussy trousers and hello to neat tapered styles, city shorts and skirts. His fluid one-button jackets and printed dresses simply shone. And I never thought I would say this but the plunging necklines of his pastel gowns were downright sexy! Divia The 80s mood continued in Paris with too much skin and shoulder pads, which I am scared to say, I am liking. Designers were hanging it all from the shoulders including Stella McCartney who had oversized jackets with shoulder pads that morphed into a slouchy jumpsuit - although I am not sure how it'll look on someone under six foot. Other 80s faves were the more wearable bandage shoulder wraps on black and nude dresses. Her easy-to-wear pieces were there - the hand-embroidered mesh dresses, men's silk T-shirts and, for evening, a sequined mini dress that sparkled under a loose sheer knit. Givenchy channelled another part of the decade in a collection Riccardo Tisci called 'Western bondage'. The stonewash denim and leather trousers, criss-cross tops and Angel flame print looked like they belonged in a Texan S&M club. But there were positives: his tight tailored jackets, Latino ruffled blouses, with diamante brooches, and some gorgeous beige-pink sheer pieces contrasted with yellow fabric underneath. The Wild West was literally recreated at Hermes where there was a bright blue sky, desert sand catwalk and live cactuses with a bouncer to guard them - the fashion world only gets weirder. Stephanie Seymour and a more fleshy Naomi Campbell made an appearance (note to Naomi - stay away from backless dresses). Hermes may be exclusive but everyone will want the luxe fringed white belted cardigans, wrap fringe skirts, leather chaps and its signature scarves, now bandanas. These cowgirls were chic, especially with the fringe suede Kelly on their arms. Did you catch any cowboys in Milan? Francesca No, but we had Midwest home hearth dresses from Bottega Veneta - Tomas Maier reprised his favourite 50s dirndls in tea-stained cottons and floral-sprigged prints that looked more homely than cutting edge. Some of those rusty, coppery-coloured leathers looked better on the bags than the body. Gucci gave us African savannah with khaki and olive silky tees and shorts and camouflage python jackets and gold sandals - not the most practical thing for a big game huntress. But at least the new leather backpacks were big enough to carry a survival kit. Frida Giannini wasn't the only one to go big-game hunting. Known for its prints, Etro had some gorgeous safari outfits such as rolled-up shorts and easy coats in dusty desert colours. Divia There were tribal beats in Paris too. Louis Vuitton is all about glamour, so Marc Jacobs sent out a modern Parisienne princess accessorized with marabou feathers and jewellery a la Josephine Baker. OK not so practical but it was hot. The hard shoulder returned on jackets, some of which were wrapped around the waist with an obi. These were matched with decorated skirts and elegant wide-legged pants with polka dots. The vibe continued in the colourfully beaded shoes and handbags with fringes. It was a stellar collection. John Galliano at Christian Dior also seemed to be inspired by 'tribal chic', which would explain the ugly twisted coneheads-cum-drawing pins sticking out of the models' heads (kids, do not try this at home). Better were the flirty, tiered dresses jazzed up with cascades of beads and fringe, spotty prints and python jackets - although, again I am not sure how practical python is for spring. The rainbow colours at the end of the show lifted our spirits. Francesca The Italians were also betting on the healing power of colour with hot pink, turquoise, rusty orange and some soothing ice-blue and beige tones. Moschino opted for petunia pinks and blues - hard to wear especially in shiny satin with a giant rosette under the chin. Etro wafted beautiful peachy tones under our noses, while Marni wowed us with extraordinary colour and pattern mixes. Now I am rubbish at maths but those squares, diamonds and circle prints, weaves and laces in DayGlo pinks, greens, oranges, yellow and grey add up to a pretty winning equation if you know how to get your proportions right. Marni's Consuela Castiglioni certainly does, using a straight silhouette and layering the contrasting patterns in her idiosyncratic way. Divia In Paris, colour was done beautifully at Issey Miyake where the designer was inspired by the jungle tones, resulting in graduated shades of brown, sage and red on dresses. Jean Paul Gaultier was also looking at the brighter side. The models sashayed out in leotards with long capes that wound around the body to become dresses in shocking shades of fuchsia, red and orange. We also got the classics: pin-striped suits (with ballet shoes no less) and a sexy trench with a cut out at the back. He was definitely back on form after the bizarre fur fest last season. Francesca Missoni was one of the pleasant surprises here. It had some great kimono sleeve silk tunics and tulip skirts that tapped into the zigzag DNA of the house. Pringle, another label known for its winter woollies, had some fine gauzy separates and some loose-knit cardigans that looked as cool as the blue paint on the catwalk, but what was with the ruffles and the thick waistlines? Speaking of ruffles, the queen of them, Alberta Ferretti, had some divinely romantic evening dresses - her forte - in draped chiffon and these amazing macrame and swagged silk fringes that looked fearfully complex. Fendi and Versace also proved they are good with geometry. Donatella sliced hems on her sassy hot pink and egg yolk yellow mini dresses and varied the cut of her skirt sculpting the hips with either a roundish or a squarish shape to create the illusion of a tiny waist - women everywhere will love her for that. I think Donatella has finally put all that tacky stuff behind her and come up with clothes that women want to wear. Karl Lagerfeld at Fendi is also proving himself a fashion architect producing cute bell-shaped skirts in geometric-patterned laser-cut lace, cinched in with a wide belt to give that same illusion of a tiny waistline. Altogether it was crisp, airy and transparent, with pencil underskirts to provide a modicum of modesty. Divia Yohji Yamamoto also embraced modesty, going back to what he does best, which is not a bad thing in this economy. There were long sweeping skirts, black suit coats with white stitching, oversized shirts and some draped white dresses - his fans will be delighted. The models glided out to a Tibetan mantra and looked serene - although they might have been in shock because the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 700 points that day. Dries Van Noten bucked the colour trend but his collection was supremely confident. He abandoned the flowers and artistic prints of past seasons, for a monochrome palette. There were classic tailored pieces - loose jackets, crisp shorts, front tie dresses - in stripes and checks, the latter of which looked elegant in graduated icy shades on a silk jumpsuit. Everything was accessorized with fabulous silver and gold ball jewellery and shoes. The Dries embellishment was there but done so tastefully that everyone will want a piece from this collection. Francesca I know Dries is a low-key kind of guy but you've not mentioned if any celebs were in town? Dolce & Gabbana flew in their mates for Domenico's 50th birthday bash on the condition that they sat in the front row. J Lo looked delectable and there were the Supers; Claudia, Eva and Naomi, the latter of which had a bad hair moment and flounced off. It was a shame because she missed some fab pyjama party gear. Dubbed Pyjama Baroque, the boys mixed boyfriend silk PJs (tops and pants) with brocade skirts and jackets with geometric sleeves (yup that again, the Italians like to wring out a trend) and the lavish trims you would expect on a Lacroix catwalk. Magic. Divia If we are talking parties then Margiela's 20th anniversary retrospective stole the show. It took more than an hour to start but it included classics such as a re-editing of his big shouldered jacket, which he was doing before it became cool again, and stretchy flesh-toned body suits for those moments you want to re-enact Flashdance. In true Margiela style there was the weird and wacky - one dress was made entirely out of wigs and reminded me of Cousin It crossbred with a sheep dog. It ended with a bang - the entire Maison Martin Margiela team came out carrying a giant 3D fabric birthday cake accompanied by a 12-piece band. Alexander McQueen and Chanel also resisted the credit crunch with elaborate presentations. We did a double take at Chanel when we saw a life-sized replica of the facade from the Rue Cambon flagship store. The point was brought home with the music - the catchy Madness tune, Our House, which either had editors smiling or feeling nauseous. Sentiment aside, it was one of Lagerfeld's best, with graphic monochromatic tweeds worn with two-tone black stockings and brooches with pearl chains that swung across the body. The evening dresses were equally sublime, cut in empire style and decorated with tiers, flowers and ribbons. McQueen said he was inspired by Darwinism, which would explain the stuffed animals he had at the start of the catwalk; there were polar bears, peacocks, a giraffe, an elephant and a lion. They all looked so real I was surprised Peta wasn't waiting in the wings to arrest him. The clothes were classic McQueen, with razor-sharp tailoring, hourglass dresses and flowing origami coats in wood prints, or hand-sewn intricate flowers and crystals on top of netting. Vivienne Westwood, fashion's biggest crusader, also had conservation on her mind. She came up with a 'do it yourself' show featuring a piece of beautiful silk draped to form a dress, badges and tees with political slogans, a tartan tablecloth worn as a skirt and plastic sheeting to create one of her sculpted dresses. It was all put together in her nonchalant, confident way. Francesca Milan had some sad moments. We bid arrivederci to Matthew Williamson at Pucci, which was a shame, but he never quite stamped his mark on the house, so we will have to see what the label's future holds with Peter Dundas, ex-Cavalli and Ungaro. The show had the colour and geometry we've seen everywhere in Milan. Williamson used the compass and set-square to update Pucci's kaleidoscopic heritage with Aztec-style patterns for sunny swimsuits, slinky dresses and strong shouldered jackets. Divia There were two swansongs in Paris. Ivana Omazic from Celine will be replaced by Phoebe Philo, of Chloe fame. Her last collection was lovely, and featured sheer, flirty dresses in vibrant colours, some with leather wrapped around the waist or graduated. At least Omazic was able to plan her departure, unlike Alessandra Facchinetti at Valentino who came off the catwalk to hear she was going to be sacked: her second collection was heavy on the jewels, which appeared at necklines and the shoulders, and was a bit too Elton John. Hannah MacGibbon had a rocky debut at Chloe. The good news is she brought back the carefree, girly, feminine vibe but I didn't care for the scalloped edges (which only appeared on a few pieces and already that was enough), garish metallic bows, puffy trousers and paper-bag waists that even made the abnormally thin models look a size 22. I am not sure if she'll get another chance to prove her worth in this unforgiving industry. Francesca I am having my doubts about the future of Cristina Ortiz at Ferragamo on the back of her second collection. This is a great fashion and accessory label, but her attempts at referencing the house signatures such as giant buckle-and-strap collars and bright voluminous silk gowns suspended on big buckled straps were disappointing. The stingray clutch and the squashy new Sophia bags, however, were spot on. More promising is Jonathan Saunders who has replaced Rifat Ozbek at Pollini. He went for Modernist dots and stripes, whirled out in such a quick-march procession of layered skating skirts and boxy jackets I felt quite faint. Divia Stuart Vevers at Loewe did his second collection in presentation format again which I am sure will become popular as the economy gets worse. After all, who wants to fork out Euro1 million-plus for a show where people only attend to size each other up? Anyhow, I always thought accessories were his strong suit but the clothes were intricately detailed with lightweight, feathered embroideries and finishes, on fitted, sculpted skirts and gorgeous one-shoulder dresses that bordered on couture. I am sure they'll be pricey but worth it. Francesca Christopher Bailey at Burberry Prorsum tried to get in tune with the troubled times, offering more daywear and sensible trench coats with a mossy green and brown degrade effect inspired by Burberry's gardening theme. But would I spend all that money to look as though I'd been digging in the cabbage patch? Cavalli, meanwhile had us totally confused: was he proposing Versailles bunny girls, dreamy Victorian misses or slinky Tom Ford gals for spring? I didn't know and nor did the audience. Anna Molinari at Blumarine similarly led us up the garden path saying she was inspired by Helmut Newton: cue bondage gear. But it was nothing of the sort as out came her familiar bouquet of pastel flower print and swathed silk dresses and beaded cardigans worn with Philip Treacy bows - way too sweet for Herr Newton. Divia I wonder what Newton would have thought of Alber Elbaz who gives us sexy and pretty at the same time. The Lanvin show opened with his signature pieces - a one-shoulder top with billows of fabric matched with a softly sculpted black skirt and a crinkled satin trench. The evening pieces were deserving of their standing ovation, especially the turquoise and fuchsia animal-print cocktail dresses and the multi-colour Grecian draped dresses. I loved the tone-on-tone jewellery that appeared in nude and putty. I adored Stefano Pilati's tributes to Monsieur Yves at YSL - especially the Orientalism and the pretty bows that appeared on the back of a drawstring black dress. Again the evening wear was a winner - especially a green sequinned strapless style and a purple dress that had a liquid quality. One thing I wasn't sure about was the drop crotch trousers - and when I say drop, I'm talking about to the ankles. They make the peg legs from last season look wearable! Ending the season was Miu Miu, which is developing into one of the stronger shows in Paris. Miuccia was loving burlap this season, and her offerings looked nothing like potato sacks (except for the worn-in frays and holes). Dresses came in thick pleats, some spray-painted with scribbles that added to their cool factor. Also interesting were the detachable belts that featured a matching fragment of the pleated fabric, which will be perfect for the less adventurous.