Viva Versace! After eight years away, Donatella takes glamour back to the top

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Is the ultimate luxury label out of step with the times? Not at Paris fashion week. Susannah Frankel on a rousing return

For years the Atelier Versace collection was among the high points of the haute couture calendar, until it disappeared from the schedule. The late Gianni Versace installed a catwalk over the swimming pool at the Paris Ritz to show off his label's most glamorous collections but then times changed and such opulence fell out of fashion. Yesterday, the Italian status label showed its first Atelier Versace collection since 2004.

After Gianni Versace's murder on the steps of his Miami mansion in 1997, his younger sister, Donatella, became creative director. The first decade of the new millennium was a challenging one for the designer. Despite her best efforts, Ms Versace battled against personal, professional and more widespread economic difficulties. More recently, however, the Versace label, formerly synonymous with dressing to impress and high-octane glamour Italian style, has regained its stride.

Lady Gaga wore vintage Versace on several occasions last year and November's debut H&M collection introduced the house's signatures – baroque print, dazzling colour and silver and gold metal mesh included – to a whole new and, crucially, younger customer. While the second budget collaboration with H&M is being snapped up online, yesterday's collection was aimed at the customer who prefers her wardrobe to be filled with precious one-offs, hand-fitted, tailored and finished to suit her every curve.

Ms Versace dressed Angelina Jolie in a highly structured Atelier Versace column dress for the Golden Globes last week and it was this level of show-stopping style that set the blueprint.

The designer was thinking of "glamorous warriors" she said. With that clearly in mind, her models stalked a burnished gold podium in thigh-high python boots and gladiator sandals and wearing jewelled, embroidered gowns in liquid gold and silver with suitably fierce metal corsetry on display.

It was what a modern-day Boadicea might like to wear or, for that matter, any big-name Oscar attendee worth her red carpet credentials: Gwyneth Paltrow and Cameron Diaz both attended.

Alongside the requisite big entrance dresses were shorter, sharper designs in dazzling shades of fluorescent orange, yellow and green. They were finished with polished metal and Perspex, that proved hand-made doesn't necessarily mean traditional in the usual sense of the word. There were shades of Barbarella here too.

When asked backstage after the show why she had decided to show Atelier Versace again, Donatella Versace said: "Because I missed it." The injection of bravura that this collection demonstrated ensured that she is more than welcome in return.

Later in the day came the second haute couture collection for the house of Christian Dior since John Galliano's abrupt departure from that label last year. Once again, his long-time first designer and the man who has taken over his signature line, Bill Gaytten, stepped out to take bows at the end of the proceedings. Gaytten is acting creative director at Dior but has not officially been named as Galliano's successor. And neither does it seem likely he will be.

This was an entirely polite show that appeared to hark back to a bygone era that whispered of money and conseravtism: a time, then, long before Galliano got his hands on the label and with none of the audacity and spirit that characterised his tenure.

The haute couture schedule is the jewel in the crown of French fashion brands, the laboratory of ideas from which everything else springs. Here, more than anywhere else, a clear image is vital to promote a name. While lip service was paid to the Dior heritage – the wasp-waisted New Look, the houndstooth check, the overblown ball gowns – any vitality or sense of relevance to an increasingly fashion-knowledgeable couture customer was conspicuous by its absence.

Throughout the summer months it was thought that Marc Jacobs, artistic director of Louis Vuitton, was the designer most likely to take over at Christian Dior. More recently, Raf Simons, responsible for both a signature menswear line and for men's and womenswear at Jil Sander, has been cited as the most likely name in the frame. An official announcement is yet to be made.

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