Despite the Milan summer collections opening with some great 1920s flapper dresses from Gucci and leather strapped evening gowns from Versace, there has been much less cocktailwear from the party-loving Italians and a dearth of red-carpet glamour on the catwalks. The Italian designers are clearly experiencing a reality check in the current financial climate and focusing instead on elegant daywear. This, however, leaves all those red-carpet stylists with a problem: who will be the go-to designer for the photo opp evening goddess dresses?
The answer is Roberto Cavalli, who had more party dresses on his catwalk than the rest of the Milanese designers put together. His show opened with a gold paillette (oversized sequins) suit and it didn't stop until the last outfit left the catwalk. Printed chiffon dresses shone with gold - strips of paillettes emphasising the knife-pleated patterns created a fringe effect that echoed the flapper dresses seen on other catwalks. Cavalli slipped tautly tailored masculine dinner jackets and spencer jackets over the short flirty dresses and the long evening gowns, or toughened up the femininity of his animal and flower-print chiffon and lingerie lace goddess dresses with expertly tooled leather jackets produced in his Florentine atelier. Altogether this was a brazen collection full of bravura at a time when Italy is facing financial meltdown.
If Cavalli is the king of the red carpet, then Alberta Ferretti is the queen. Just look at the number of prettily embroidered, Grecian-style dresses that were photographed at the recent Emmys, the Venice Film Festival and Cannes before that. There were some of her haute chiffon and tulle gowns in the new summer collection, a few picked up on the new, loose, drop-waist 1920s-style silhouette either delicately beaded or dissected with Art Deco linear patterns of organza. Nevertheless, much of the collection swerved towards a safari look, trimmed with wooden and tonal coloured beads in tribal motifs in a warm palette of earthy African shades such as ochre, ivory, brown and terracotta.
Veronica Etro tapped into the Jazz-Age mood by stripping back some of Etro's archive paisley prints for her Roaring Twenties fringed dresses and adding a bit of Art Deco geometry to the mix for an upbeat collection. Etro is famed for its loose, flowing silk prints, usually mixed to riotous effect, but she simplified the colour palette to black and white with shades of salmon pink and celadon green.
Missoni's gypsy girl dresses were lively flamenco styles, perfect for dancing in. There were frills, fringes and giant flounces worked in vivid blue, turquoise and sunny yellow hues that were splattered with prints. These festive dresses and giant fringed shawls appeared in all manner of fine geometric and wavy patterned knits.
Now all a party girl needs is the occasion to wear them and, despite the economic fears, there were a few events around Milan Fashion Week, with Trussardi celebrating its 100th-anniversary with a party and fashion show in the famous Castello Sforzesco to show off their leathergoods. Bulgari held an elegant cocktail party on the grounds of the Bulgari hotel for their new luxurious leather Sac handbag, which is pleated, smocked or worked into a basketweave texture by their artisans in Florence and trimmed with jewel-coloured coins inspired by their signature coin jewellery.
Finally, the biggest event of the week was the night that a select group from the fashion crowd decamped from Milan to Florence for the spectacular opening of the new Gucci Museum. Located next to the Palazzo Vecchio, this glamorous occasion was celebrated with a dinner in the historic Renaissance-painted hall in the Palazzo - a rare experience followed by a performance by Debbie Harry. There in the crowd was the Gucci designer Frida Giannini shimmying in one of her new Jazz Age dresses from the catwalk show - from catwalk to party in just five days.