Before Dolce & Gabbana's show on Sunday, a live link to the backstage bustle of models, hairdressers and designers was projected on screens above the catwalk. At the centre of this flurry of activity was Domenico Gabbana, tweaking dresses and spencer jackets on the girls while hairdressers teased hair and make-up artists applied lip gloss. The sight of black lace, rose print jackets and androgynous tailoring was the first glimpse of a collection that shows Dolce & Gabbana going back to their roots.
The collection is a tribute to the Sicilian way of a life, a fount of inspiration that goes back to the early days of the fashion label more than 20 years ago, when Cindy Crawford, Helena Christensen and Naomi Campbell paraded down the catwalk in lace dresses with corseted detailing and chic pinstripe gangster tailoring. Today, blonde, white-skinned, Eastern European beauties have replaced those supermodels, while the clothes, though they don't necessarily say anything new, give a new generation of Dolce & Gabbana customers a sense of the early collections' sensuality and magic with flounced dresses, lace scarf skirts, Fifties underwear and the label's signature play on masculine-feminine trouser suits.
Sometimes it is necessary for designers to go back to their roots to rediscover their brand before doing something new. Giorgio Armani did it for his fall collection, and, in a sense, Angela Missoni recaptured the feather-light, delicately coloured silk and viscose origami knits of her early collections. Her slender iridescent dresses and draping cardigans, bandaged tightly around the chest to hug the body, were knitted in beautiful loose meshes and patterns resembling seashells and mermaid scales.
Donatella Versace recaptured the spirit of her late brother, Gianni, with her bold collection on Friday before reintroducing the former Versace brand, Versus, two days later. It was most intriguing to see how the young Scottish designer Christopher Kane, brought up on a diet of Versace on Fashion TV, might revamp one of the famous Italian house's former lines. Kane has just completed his first full collection for Versus after a soft launch of tough chic, crystal-decorated accessories for autumn.
"Donatella said to just do what I want," Kane said at the presentation, explaining how he updated the famous safety pin dress that catapulted Gianni Versace into the public consciousness. Kane used the iconic punk motif to pin slashed seams together on softly tailored jackets and short, sharply cut dresses. He recaptured Versace's energy and power by reworking the label's signature evening-wear metallic meshes on to the bodices of little black dresses. Elsewhere, he added corsetry detailing, pleats and delicate lace trims to create a romantic and aggressive look.
It was clearly a homage to a designer that inspired Kane to follow the same career path, and Donatella Versace, who has championed the Scot since he graduated from Central Saint Martins College of Art because his drive and talent reminded her of her late brother, was delighted with the outcome. "It is tough but feminine," she declared. One house that did not go back to its roots, probably because it is the wrong season, is Fendi. Despite a smattering of fur in the audience - remarkable given Milan's early autumn heatwave - the designer Karl Lagerfeld steered clear of any reference to fur in the summer collection and produced one of his prettiest shows for the label. A soundtrack of moody rock blues accompanied models wearing silk, spotted tulle, roughened linen and lace that had been lightly frayed and deconstructed.
The ambience was so melancholic and romantic that you could almost feel the heat of New Orleans and the Deep South off the catwalk. Little 1940s shirts were tucked into shorts, lace-trimmed bras peaked out from under silk blouses and semi-transparent fabrics revealed large knickers. The look culminated in a silk peignoir sprouting dreadlocks of feathers and silk from the shoulders, which conjured up images of the ill-fated Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire.
While the lingerie inspiration has proved a hit in Milan - as it was at London Fashion Week - Fendi and Dolce & Gabbana proved the trend is open to wide interpretation.