Milan fashion week The lavish gowns of Zuhair Murad, the Beirut-based couturier, are a familiar sight on the catwalk during Paris haute couture shows, so it was a surprise to find his name on the list for Milan Fashion Week. He had been invited to show his ready-to-wear collection in Italy's fashion capital for the first time, and before the show on the closing day of the week he was excited at the prospect. "It is not just the first time I have shown in Milan, it is the first time I've shown my pret-a-porter on the catwalk," said Zuhair, while fitting the models ahead of the show. I received an invitation because they like my brand of glamour and sophistication and really, I can see the collection is best presented here. Milan is still the centre for ready-to-wear and Paris for haute couture."
Murad's vision of fashion is exuberant and ultra-feminine. A classic black tuxedo dinner dress with a pin-tucked white shirt and Spencer jacket is about as simple as it gets. The rose is the motif for his autumn collection, appearing as a print or as sequin appliqués on the sleeves and backs of jackets, while short sleeves on some dresses explode into a mass of chiffon petals. The motif is carried through into the 1950s-style cocktail dresses with finely pleated chiffon and organza skirts whirled into rose shapes on the hem. The emphasis in Murad's work is very much on embroidery and detail. There was even more detailing in the evening dresses working through a palette of pale neutrals right through to bright reds, oranges and acid green. Its lavishness sat very neatly with the 1980s theme running through the fashion collections, although his skirt lengths tended to be longer than most.
The one person you might have expected to rework the glamour of the decade in which her brother Gianni rose to fame was Donatella Versace, but perhaps that would have been too close for comfort. Instead of neon bright colours and disco mania, she presented a very understated, slickly modern vision for autumn focusing on dark colours and metallics, with the occasional bolt of bright pink or red. There were biker jackets and the super-skinny cargo pants for day, but her true forte is her evening wear, with cocktail dresses in fluid satin, held in place by half-threaded silver belts that dipped in and out of the garment. A series of wrapped, twisted and draped satin jersey dresses were cinched with mirrored metal belts, while others were held together with pins, staples and studs. They brought back memories of the famous dress Elizabeth Hurley wore to the premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1994, which was held together with gold safety pins. Versace's evening dresses - classically draped and twisted lengths of silk, chiffon and iridescent lamé in silver, oyster, mocha and more of those blues - will be gracing many a red carpet in the coming months.
Many of the brands have been thinking hard about their roots and identifying their DNA. Missoni, of course, was always about knitwear, and Angela Missoni worked up layers of it in subtle grey, beige, and warm, creamy apricot and blue tones. The colours were amazing, with layers of hippie-style cobweb knits, shaggy cardigans, knitted leggings and ultra-long fringed scarves - the perfect kind of comfort dressing in these troubled times.
Italian designers are great romantics, and while winter collections tend towards a tailored structure and a certain sobriety, those bouquets of flowers are never far away. Moschino, Alberta Ferretti and Anna Molinari at Blumarine are renowned for the sweetness and prettiness of their collections. Blumarine is usually all about frills, beading and a girlish pastel colour palette. Ferretti has the best beading and embroidery atelier in Milan, turning out the most delicate chiffon evening dresses a woman could desire, while Moschino has a passion for flowers and retro femininity. Ferretti used a little more structure than usual in her collection, with strong shoulderlines, several leg o' mutton sleeves and brighter colours like magenta, peacock blue and ochre that came in chiffon and shimmering fabrics which she mixed with austere wools which took inspiration from the early 1980s.
Moschino, meanwhile, did some great tailoring - especially the coat that opened the show with flower appliquéd sleeves - that mixed inspiration from the 1950s and the 1980s. Best, though, was the parade of pretty party dresses with giant rose prints and appliqués that should be on every guest list next winter. Next, the fashion pack descends on Paris, for the climax of an interesting season.