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Milan Fashion Week: Behind the scenes at the catwalk shows

Glamour, excess and sex appeal are the key to the Italian look, says Susannah Frankel. Photographer Martino Lombezzi went backstage at Milan Fashion Week earlier this month to capture the action

If the heart of French fashion lies in rarefied haute couture, Italy is the spiritual home of ready-to-wear. From the 1950s onwards, family-run businesses pioneered techniques to translate a hitherto elitist craft form into a lucrative, designer-led industry that was as creative as it was polished.

Today, Milan fashion week, which takes place between the London and Paris collections, is the place to be seen dressing to impress: it is here, and only here, that wearing head-to-toe labels is not merely advisable but an essential part of everyday life.

As for the signature styles of this nation's designers, while they are, obviously, diverse, they tend to have in common an unashamed sexuality, opulence and declaration of status that no other place in the world can rival. This is not the place for anything even remotely dark and distressed.

Instead, body-conscious clothing (look no further than Versace), talon-heeled footwear (Salvatore Ferragamo has been catering to the rich and famous for years) and, of course, more fine wool (Missoni) and fur and rare skins than may seem, to an English sensibility at least, entirely necessary, are the order of the day.

Italian fashion also loves big, dark sunglasses – wear them all year round and not necessarily outdoors – ruby-red lips and long, glossy hair. It's all molto sexy, and glamorous with a capital G.