Fashion: Donatella and Demi, women in black

Paris is art, ideas, imagination. Milan is, give or take the brilliant Dolce e Gabbana, slickness, flashiness and commerce. Except this time - this time it is emotion, a wake for Gianni. Fashion's most famous mourners will be there. And then there is his sister Donatella. Her moment has come through tragedy. But, asks Tamsin Blanchard, will she rise to it?

There are few great fashion moments to be experienced during Milan Fashion Week, but when it comes to emotion, there is of course no shortage. At the Versus show on Saturday evening there were a few lumps in the audience's collective throat as Gianni Versace's sister Donatella, dressed in black, took her bow. On Thursday comes the big Versace show, where she more formally takes over the reins. Tears will be mandatory.

Donatella is the party-goer of the Versace family. Her late brother Gianni liked a quiet dinner with friends and an early night. But this week she looks sober. And so she should, for the rest of Milan's designers are watching the house of Versace with curiosity. They are intrigued to see if she can pull off the most difficult task of her life: to make a mainline collection that would have made her brother proud. So Saturday was merely a preamble. Versus, the younger, more accessible line was already her design responsibility. Demi Moore was at the show and so was Posh Spice.

Santo Versace, the 53-year-old chief executive of the company who now holds a minority stake of the shares, watched his little sister's show from the front row. Donatella had also flown in the fashion editors of hip New York magazine Interview to give the collection a streety edge. Right now, the fashion pack will forgive Donatella anything, even rubber tracksuit bottoms like the ones joggers wear to make them sweat more.

On Thursday, when things get ritzier, Elton John, George Michael, Liz Hurley and Madonna will be in attendance.

Yesterday afternoon there were other treats to be had - a vintage collection from Dolce e Gabbana. The duo revisited their favourite theme of Sicilian widows with black veils and corsets, shrouded in layers of tulle. It is a sort of `At home' in their own eclectically furnished show house. Demi is in evidence once again, seated in a place of honour on a gilt baroque sofa, next to fashion doyennes Liz Tilberis of Harper's Bazaar and Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune.

Dolce e Gabbana is a marriage of Italian cultures. One is Sicilian and the other Milanese and the two influences melded perfectly in this collection.

As well as the classic widows' veils and underwear (worn to be seen), there were sexy knee high socks with gold flowers embroidered down the backs, coupled with impossibly high strappy wedge shoes.

In a season where every designer is showing sheer, Dolce e Gabbana's collection will be a hit. As always they showed corsetry, bras and even pantie girdles to be worn underneath the tulle and chiffon. And the great thing about their clothes for evening is that women who aren't stick thin can actually imagine wearing them and looking like a movie star. The corsetry and boning is as industrial as that your grandmother once wore and will pull you in, push you up and cover a multitude of sins. So just breathe in, zip up - and think Demi.

Designer Donatella Versace, above right, acknowledges applause for her Versus collection, shown in Milan on Saturday, the first since the death of her brother Gianni earlier this year

Photograph: Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

Left: a black-clad Demi Moore absorbs every detail of an outfit modelled by Naomi Campbell during the Versus show

Photograph: Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

Dolce e Gabbana sent forth micro-skirted signorinas as well as veiled and corseted Sicilian widows

Photograph: Luca Bruno/AP

A gold sheath dress from Donatella Versace's Versus collection for Spring/ Summer 1998

Photograph: Luca Bruno/AP

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