They were like little children clutching their security blankets. At the Milan autumn/winter collections this week, the usually sassy superstar models shuffled out in layers of fuzzy wools and fluffy mohairs. This was comfort dressing - clothes to stay home in, the door shut against the harsh outside world.

What a change for Milanese fashion, where the norm used to be tops scooping down to the nipples and skirts sliced off at the knicker line. Or it was boardroom power dressing - controlled yet in control - in every colour as long as it was beige. Now, both have been replaced with cocoon clothes.

Why? Because Italy, which used to be so fashion-confident, is now running scared. After a year of political chaos and with the economy in deep recession, the designers' who show in Milan have turned their attention to softly, softly dressing. The dressing-gown emerged as the seasonal favourite.

It looked like the style equivalent of safe sex. The visible buttocks, the ample cleavages were absent. Instead, bodies were wrapped up against the big chill in voluminous cardigans, jumpers, sweater dresses and cashmere coats. Even when itsy-bitsy skirts did appear, it was with thick tights beneath. In the old days they were never scared to bare flesh, even in winter.

Over the years, we Brits, who see women in a wider context perhaps than those Italian fashion polarities of the lady and the tramp, have at times found Milan's offering wide of the mark. This time around everything was palatable, reassuring, easy to swallow. But, like nursery food, it was never going to win a Michelin star.

Everyone knew they wanted warmth and security, but they didn't all seem to know quite what to wrap when. Alberta Ferretti, known for her romantic, even girly style, had her good moments and too many bad ones. Nanny should have told her that the effect of endless sugar-almond chiffon baby-dolls with teeny twin-sets would be sickly sweet.

Nanny's presence loomed large. At her knee, we rediscovered sensible Argyll-pattern cardis and sweater dresses. We rediscovered bed jackets and pyjamas for day, as well as coats cut like dressing-gowns. For evening, there was not a sequin in sight. Clothes at Max Mara, at Industria, at Jil Sander, at Genny said 'time for bed'.

Industria, the no-nonsense label designed by the photographer Fabrizio Ferre (no relation to Gianfranco), was full of the new Milanese style: sensible, functional clothes including big chunky cardigan coats in knobbly grey wool, sheepskin, cable knits and soft suede. Hooded velvet coats and capacious stoles enfolded the body for evening. Even Jil Sander, the German designer, softened her clean, Teutonic lines with tufty knit camisoles, gauzy tunics and silk crepe dressing-gowns.

Past the half-way mark at the Milan shows, we felt so cosy that we were yawning like babies. But. As in all good children's stories, enter the big bad wolf, ready to corrupt the innocents. And who was that wolf? Why Gianni Versace, of course, the wicked wizard of highly charged, sex dressing.

Just when we thought it was safe to turn out the lights and snuggle up, Gianni whisked us right back to the days of ballistic glamour and vulgarity with plastic plisse baby-dolls and spray-on, enamelled, wet-look micro skirts. Short? Here were legs up to the armpits.

Versace staged his assault on the senses in a new venue, a tent that looked like a cathedral, with a catwalk so wide an entire army of supermodels could have marched down it. Think Valley of the Dolls.

Of course it was offensive. Gianni Versace's shows always are to any woman who doesn't feel the need to display her upper thighs in order to be feminine. But it was certainly the hottest show of the week, chock-full of ideas that will never be mainstream but which will appeal to wild things. Versace screamed out the message that glamour - big heels, glossy make-up and liquid gold - is staging a come-back.

But no need to rush for those spiked stiletto heels just yet. Most of us will be happier to snuggle up in the new dressing-gowns, inside or out.

(Photographs omitted)