Milan was a world of contrasts. Some designers went overboard with fussy frills; others plumped for pure minimalism – so next season, we should be spoilt for choice, says Carola Long

Since Milan is known as the most commercial of the four fashion capitals, it only seems right to use it as inspiration for an autumn/winter 2008 shopping list. With this in mind, between now and September, look out for flared trousers, anything in velvet or lace, and in the colours purple and green. Both full skirts and pencil dresses, and a generally more severe silhouette will be de rigueur, as will anything with Russian-style folk detail and fringing.

Unlike the spring collections, however, where floral romance and fantasy emerged as the prevailing mood, this time around there were opposing trends. In one corner, maximalism – everything but the kitchen sink loaded on to elaborate and dramatic designs. In the opposite corner, minimalism – the cool, calm and collected alternative for those who would rather not wear their glamorous credentials on their (designer) sleeves.

Backstage after her show, Miuccia Prada said that "people keep talking about the return of minimalism, but it has to have a twist now". In this designer's hands, that twist lay in the use of decorative fabric such as lace – chosen for its surface interest – to create the starkest of shapes. By combining strict 1940s film noir silhouettes on dresses, skirts, shirts and bib-fronted coats, with unlined lace in black with accents of orange, putty, powder-blue and gold, the show exuded an austere sexuality. Prada's lace is, of course, custom-made, so difficult to copy. Nevertheless, itchy-scratchy imitations will be all over the high street like a rash come autumn.

Minimalism of a more direct variety was on offer at Jil Sander, courtesy of the designer Raf Simons. He upheld the label's traditional clean lines with sculpted sheath dresses, short coats with high, folded collars and super-slim trousers in dark shades. Discreet detailing such as barely visible patchwork seams whispered, rather than announced, luxury.

Understatement was also the order of the day at Bottega Veneta, where tailored and draped sheath dresses in wool and jersey provided further confirmation that 1940s-style fitted shapes are likely to be key for autumn. Meanwhile, numerous other designers plumped for exuberance – this is the Italian fashion capital, after all. Averyl Oates, buying director at Harvey Nichols, sees it as "a season of contrasts, with a new version of minimalism in one camp, and opulence and luxury in the other. But you also have labels like Marni, which feel more individual, and say what the wearer wants them to say."

There has always been a dichotomy between flamboyant baroque labels, and more austere, constrained ones in Italian fashion. However, while the split was in evidence this week, some designers had defected to the opposite side, and the idea of a new minimalism at times made it difficult to work out who was fighting for who.

For instance, Donatella Versace, the artist previously known as the queen of glitz and bling, continued to exercise an increased restraint, as her show featured clean, single-hued silk minidresses with origami-like folds. Marni used simple, loose shapes but the mix-and-match layering of fur, leather and bonded fabrics, as well as confectionary colours, bordered on the maximal.

It was easier to identify the arch-maximalists, however. Gucci fused Russian folk detailing with 1970s groupie chic. Skinny velvet trousers tucked into Cossack-style boots, shaggy coats and embroidered jackets made the models look like the coolest kids on the catwalks, and with Russian folk costume again a reference at Roberto Cavalli and Etro, and velvet appearing on fluid, floor-length gowns at Alberta Ferretti, and velvet harem pants at Giorgio Armani, this show looks to be a rich source of inspiration.

With an exuberant aesthetic rooted in southern Italy, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana are normally firmly in the maximalist camp, but this time, although the designers went for more-is-more layering, the pared-down colours and lack of flesh on display left some of their corseted fans in the audience bemused. Their use of cord-effect fabric, stack heels, jerkins and skinny knits did, however, confirm one of the biggest trends of the week: the 1970s revival.

This was reflected at Ferragamo, where new designer Cristina Ortiz embraced all things disco with satin jumpsuits and flares; at Burberry, where Christopher Bailey's paean to the trench coat was teamed with purple and green shot-silk flares; and Seventies-style tufty fur coats appeared at Marni and Dolce & Gabbana again.

"The wonderful thing about fashion today is that there are no trends," Oates muses, "because there's room for everything and something for everyone." Heart-warming words indeed.

Autumn's hot accessories: hairnets, wellies and satchels

First, if you want to get ahead, get a leather lattice hairnet/ shower cap à la Prada, or a headband with floral earmuffs, like those at Marni.

Second, jolie-laide footwear marches (or perhaps hobbles) on. Prada's flame-like ruffled-leather shoes looked part-Art Deco, part-Futurist sculpture; while Marni showed clumpy stacked heels, toe-less boots and heeled wellies. Patent platforms, be they courts or Mary-Janes, were ubiquitous; and Ferragamo came over all daring with silver ankle boots with clear Perspex no-heel heels.

For handbags, Marc Jacobs' giant double bag from last season might have seemed like the kind of accessory only its mother could love, but Marni came up with its own version in yellow leather. Patchwork satchels appeared at Dolce & Gabbana, and oversized bags featured at Burberry, which has staked its claim to a new "It" bag with the suitcased-sized Lowry.

Burberry is also the brains behind what will surely be the most easily copied accessory of the autumn/winter 2008 season – a nice woolly hat.

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