Modelled on the catwalks of Milan ... coming soon to Britain's high streets

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The Independent Online
Milan fashion week focuses around the collections of just a handful of designers who are some of the most influential and directional in the world. The clothes they send down the catwalk this week will be absorbed by magazine stylists, photographers and other image makers, as well as by the companies that mass manufacture High Street clothes that don't cost the earth and that most people buy and wear.

Prada, which showed yesterday morning, is one of these super labels. Such is its influence that a model need only cough on the catwalk and the rest of the fashion world will break into mass coughing fits. A single unassuming 40-something woman, Miuccia Prada is responsible for much of what we have seen on the High Street for the past few seasons - from the current crop of antiqued leather shoes that are featured in chain stores from Miss Selfridge to Ravel, to the strange Seventies' abstract prints in stores like Oasis.

It all happens in a tiny white showroom in a back street in Milan. The crowds gather early, desperate for a glimpse of the Prada look for spring/summer 97. Deadpan models walk down the catwalk like automatons, dressed in wispy lengths of sheer chiffon and Imperial Chinese style three inch platform wedge sandals.

The detail of the shoes is important - only a small number of women will be able to afford the real thing, but the style will be copied and mass marketed in a shop or market stall near you by high summer.

The collection also includes mandarin collar chiffon cardigans, transparent empire line chiffon dresses that would have been worn as underslips by a Jane Austen heroine, bamboo brocade, silk skirts and narrow Cheongsam dresses worn over floaty chiffon trousers, oriental flower embroideries, and the Prada trademark military uniform. Prada's success has been increasing every year since the introduction of a women's wear line in 1989.

Before that, the privately owned family company set up by Miuccia Prada's grandfather, specialised in leather goods. By the end of the decade, cosmetics, perfume, lingerie and the home collection will have been added to the empire. This year, the company plans to expand worldwide adding 35 new stores to the existing 61. By next year, sales are expected to increase from this year's pounds 500m to pounds 730m.

Design duo Dolce & Gabbana and stylist Krizia today unveil their latest collections.