Knickers, all types, have been cropping up on the Milanese catwalks with the insistence of a schoolboy joke. Show us your pants! And they did.
At Dolce e Gabbana, little stringy girls all innocence and romance wearing roses and curls in their hair were wild from the waist down as big leopard- skin knickers peeped through flower-print chiffon tea dresses, a style that has been fluttering down virtually every Milan catwalk.
Adding a kink to Dolce e Gabbana's idea of flowering femininity, the wild pants were worn over the palest grey tights, just like the ones cautious mother demanded on a chilly winter schoolday mornings, and cause of deep humiliation in PE changing rooms.
The entire collection shown by Anna Molinari was a game of peeping pants. They flashed through rose-print blooms, under waterfall ruffles, which coursed down chiffon dresses and through thigh slits on slinky wrap skirts. Pants verged on the hysterical at Missoni when a pair came out fringed like a rag rug; they were showgirl show-off in the sequinned knickers that sparkled through Lawrence Steele's Seventies-style kaftans; and they took a leaf out of Playboy in the thong-fastened with big "G" metal logo over an oiled and tanned perfectly pert bum at Gucci.
The knicker fetish reached obsessive proportions in Milan, but it's not only a quirk of the Italians. In London, Clements Ribeiro sent out camel and cocoa brown cashmere big pants which must be the last word in kinky luxury. Antonio Berardi scattered sequins over pairs of skimpy frilled knickers. In Seraph, a new line from Ghost, there were rumours of integral knickers under unitard all-in-ones.
You don't need to re-read Lolita to understand the allure of a grown-up woman wearing a pair of schoolgirl pants under a see-through gown. What stretches the imagination is how designers intend to sell their pants to a nation of women bonded at birth to M&S.
At Prada big pants are proving a success - against all odds. Buying pants at Prada is like commissioning Richard Rogers for a patio extension. At the Milan flagship store they lie in cellophane envelopes displayed under a glass case like a jeweller's charms. Available in white, flesh, navy and black, they are seam free, gusset free and trimmed with a tiny band of mesh. And they cost about pounds 80. Probably the most expensive pants in the world.
After a week of shows, pants suddenly seemed vital. Shopping hormones coursed through my body, so I bought a pair. Then I realised I needed a see-through dress to show off the pants, so I bought that too. I just hope Prada pants don't expect to be dry cleaned.