Milan Fashion Week, through thick and thin

Milan Fashion Week kicked off Wednesday with a study in contrasts, from Briton John Richmond's sassy 1960s throwbacks to Gucci's austere classics and Elena Miro's full-figured goodness.

Richmond set the tone with the Beatles 1967 hit "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" as he sent his models down the catwalk in hip-hugging pin-striped bell bottoms, slit to the calf.

Also redolent of the era were stark black-and-white numbers in a show that restricted colours almost exclusively to the models' bright red or green or blue platform shoes.

Teasing peekaboos came in many variations - a one-button jacket or waistcoat offering glimpses of bare breast, a see-through black chiffon top over a sensible pencil skirt or a black leather grid on the back of a pair of jeans.

The silken evening wear played with classic draping or soft pleating, also drawing the eye to bare thighs or shoulders.

An emerald green evening gown with a black-and-silver neckline capped the show to enthusiastic applause as 1970 hit single "My Sweet Lord" by ex-Beatle George Harrison played in the background.

Gucci preferred classical music to accompany its parade of rich colours like emerald, jade and copper, trimmed with gold accessories such as a wide cinch trailing tassels behind it.

The models, their hair slicked back into buns, wore bright red lipstick to complete a look of detached chic.

The impression they gave of cool sophistication bordering on dominatrix lite was emphasised by multiple variations of black leather cut into fine strips.

A show-stopper was a black decollete suit jacket over baggy low-crotched trousers.

The contrast could not be starker with designer Elena Miro's happy-go-lucky collection of frocks for "plus-sized" women.

Her voluptuous models took to the catwalk flaunting their full figures, ample breasts and thighs, as well as their coquettish smiles, against the backdrop of a romantic black-and-white cafe scene decorated with real flowers.

The independent show was a riposte to the fashion house's exclusion from the official programme of Milan Fashion Week after opening the event for the past five years.

It harked to the 1950s, "when the beauty of women, the round shapes and soft bodies" were de rigueur, the designer told AFP backstage before the show.

"Every kind of woman should be represented on the catwalk," said the designer, whose real name is Elena Miroglio. "This kind of soft woman likes to dress like everyone else."

Miroglio, who herself is diminutive and quite thin, recognises that designing for larger women is more challenging than for the more linear, but said that through her 25 years of experience she had developed the "knowhow about proportions and shapes".

A move towards more generously sized models has gained momentum since the death from anorexia in 2006 of Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston, which shocked the fashion world.

Leading fashion magazine Elle, in a reflection of the expanding market for women who defy the super-slender ideals of the catwalk, put out a special issue in March featuring larger models - and sales jumped.

A member of Miroglio's line-up, 19-year-old Tegan Stum of Texas, called the fashion world's standard thin model "a bit unhealthy".

Stum, who also models for plus size labels Evans and Simply Be, said she decided to accept her shape because she had never succeeded in losing weight. The plus side of being a plus size? "I eat whatever I want!"

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