Milan

The ultimate up-to-the-minute fashion statement? Simple elegance? Comfort and warmth? Whatever you are after, Milan has it in abundance. Tamsin Blanchard reports from the shopping capital of Europe. Pictures by John Fisher

Fashion week in Milan is as much about shopping as it is about catwalk shows. The city is bursting at the seams with an obsession with fashion, be it Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Versace or Fiorucci. On Milan's equivalent of Oxford Street, teenagers dress up for their weekend passeggiata, hanging out in gangs all dressed up in 4-in platform trainers, their Armani jeans pulled down low and their Dolce e Gabbana knickers hoicked up and riding high above their waistbands. If you go to the right cafe your panini are named after your favourite designer: ask for an Armani and it will be filled with tuna, rocket and tomatoes; a Versace comes with chicken salad, a Prada with ham, tomato, and olive paste.

Farther upmarket, on the equivalent of Bond Street, the area between Via Monte Napoleone and Via della Spiga, Italians in fur coats and sunglasses shop for labels that their friends will recognise. Japanese tourists troop around Gucci and Prada buying up shoes and bags as though they are cans of baked beans in Tesco. But during fashion week, the shops are well and truly cleaned out by locust swarms of fashion editors and models. Between shows, the real action takes place and something close to mass hysteria breaks out at the cash registers of Italy's most prestigious luxury stores.

First stop, Prada, for a million lire's worth of skinny-fit black nylon jackets, a pair of velvet wedge strappy sandals, a satin bamboo-print bag, and the fashion victim's dream shoe, a pair of precariously high ankle-strap sandals with leather flowers encircling the heels. At Miu Miu, the cheaper Prada lines, American fashion editors were to be seen fighting over the last pair of gold skinny-strapped high sandals. They were two sizes too big, but they had to have them anyway. At Gucci, the bag to buy was a practical shopper with bamboo handles. And for those prepared to stray away from the really big labels, two or three pairs of high-heeled strappy shoes from Sergio Rossi were just the thing. Nothing will stand between a fashion editor and her shopping at the beginning of the season, especially when sterling is so strong against the lira.

Next autumn, Milan will be the scene of a similar madness as the clothes we saw on the catwalks last week go on sale in the shops. The rails at Prada, Alberta Ferretti and Blumarine will be full of lighter-than-air chiffon dresses decorated with sparkly beads and glittery sequins. If it's cold outside, there will be nothing for it but to button up a woolly cardigan over the top and to wear a knee-length coat over your ankle length dress. On her feet, the serious fashion editor will be wearing super-bitch 6-in spike-heeled shoes with pointy, winklepicker toes from Prada, or the dominatrix version from Gucci: steel-heeled, patent leather killer boots or pointy metallic leather mules. To any hardened fashion follower, shoes are a challenge, and the harder it is to walk in them, the more she will want them. A chauffeur-driven limo is also a must.

For those demanding a little more comfort and warmth from their wardrobes, Milan's designers are also finely tuned into making good, sellable, desirable clothes for women who don't want to teeter around on the verge of a twisted ankle. Giorgio Armani rarely puts his models in anything other than flat shoes. His mainline and Emporio collections between them included lean tailoring, perfect coats, smoking suits (the practical eveningwear alternative to glittery chiffon nighties that cropped up in many collections), wide trousers, shiny blue quilted coats, long silk monastic tunics that reach the floor and elongate and flatter the body, and some exquisitely beaded evening dresses and tops that looked as expensive as they were. At Gucci, too, there were clothes that could be worn out of the disco, alongside others - Lurex dresses, leather wrap dresses, black leggings cut asymmetrically to reveal a good chunk of erogenous hip, and Eighties sexy bondage dresses with hard, shiny, patent leather halter-necks - that could be worn hardly anywhere else. For day, there were big, sloppy trousers in chalk stripes, worn slung low on the hips with a loose-fitting flocked velvet shirt.

If it's comfort and luxury you're after, Jil Sander is the label for you. Her wide-legged grey wool trousers, bias-knitted cashmere sweaters, neat coats, wraparound khaki skirts and jewel-coloured velour dresses drape around the body rather than suffocate it.

Some collections in Milan don't move on much from one season to the next. In the cases of Jil Sander, Prada and Missoni, why change a recipe for success?

For Dolce & Gabbana, however, it's time for a change. We have seen the corset dresses, the gangster tailoring and the patchwork hippy deluxe looks too many times. Although they are all part of the Dolce signature, it is time for a new mix. And at Byblos, a change of designer with the incoming, Los Angeles-based Richard Tyler did not transform the label into a hot name, although the process is bound to take more than one season.

Tyler picked up on the Eighties revival that is dogging many collections right now, including Versace and Gucci. There were sparkly Lurex sweater dresses and short, liquid Lurex tunics split to the hip and worn over leggings and stilettos, along with wider shoulders and, Tyler's forte, strong tailoring.

Versace's chain-mail disco mini-dresses came in a rainbow of pastel colours that are just about passable in the brash environment of a glitterati party hosted by Donatella and Gianni.

Whether the Eighties ever went away in Milan, where who you are has always been what you wear, is debatable - but even the city of fashion and status may not be ready yet for the return of the high-rise shoulder and the Lurex sweater dress

Clockwise from top left:

flocked sparkly velvet shirt, worn with extra-loose, comfy trousers at Gucci; more comfort dressing as the Missoni family provide the ultimate in relaxed suiting and their signature colourful zigzag knits, spun into a three-quarter-length, double-breasted coat; luxurious Minimalism is still the order of the day as Jil Sander shows a khaki wrap skirt with a thick cashmere roll-neck jumper; sheer sparkling tulle 'coat' with embroidered flowers and beads is juxtaposed with a tailored, bias-cut skirt at Prada; sugar-sweet pastel knitwear at Anna Molinari; exquisite and expensive jet beading on lace-work at Ferretti; shiny Lurex disco tunic by Richard Tyler at Byblos; the perfect pale blue tailored coat by Giorgio Armani

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