Fashion is nothing if not a wilfully contrary beast, so it should come as no great surprise that gold is the colour of the spring/summer season. Yes, when the going get tough, the tough tout gold and, recession or no recession, verily it is a gorgeous thing to behold.

"I wanted to go back to the primitive and explore women's obsessions," said Miuccia Prada of her summer collection, some of which apparently include the wearing of liquid gold dresses, skirts and bras, startling in their baroque exuberance – this is Prada, remember, and such a joyfully Italianate aesthetic is not what might be expected. The excessive nature of the metal is tempered, of course, by the fact that clothing is crumpled and fastened with nothing more structured than fluttering black ribbon. Were it not for the metallic shine there would be an almost bucolic simplicity to it all.

That is not the case at Dolce & Gabbana (right) where gleaming gold platform-soled footwear, overblown silk corsages and rich brocades are intended to evoke the spirit of a princess fallen on hard times, gathering all her finery into a single outfit in order to dress to impress under duress. "We imagined a woman, with an aristocratic background, who wears clothes and accessories that she created, using items that she found at home such as brooches and gold necklaces," say the designers and we could all be forgiven for wanting to reach out and touch her.

At Balenciaga, Nicolas Ghesquiere's take on the theme is more abstract but suitably scene-stealing. Gold and silver ribbon is used to explore the effect of light on a garment that shimmers like beautiful fish-skin. Add to this Ralph Lauren's golden safari looks, Chloe's oversized gold harem pants and John Galliano's gold fertility dolls – pendants, earrings and the heels of ultra-high shoes – and this precious metal's sartorial supremacy is assured.

So why gold? And why now? Perhaps because no other colour has such depth of meaning, a fact that the Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons who designed an entire men's wear collection in gold four seasons ago now is quick to point out. Gold makes us think of "medals, money, religion, authority and power," she told me at the time and of the be-careful-what-you-wish-for tale of King Midas which she was told as a child.

Gold is also essentially just lovely to behold, attracting the attention of everything from magpies to small children unable to resist its surface glamour and shine. And that, in the end, is the point: this is fashion designed to make the world a more desirable place to be.