Versace makes sales pitch to Madonna & Co

DONATELLA VERSACE, the mistress of rock'n'roll fashion, kicked off the spring/summer catwalk 2000 fashion shows with her Versus collection on Sunday night in New York.

The catwalk photographers didn't know who to point their lenses at - the audience or the models themselves. After all, it wouldn't be difficult to imagine Madonna, who perched in the front row wearing a leopard-print cowboy hat, donning one of the Versus gold Lurex boob-tubes and thigh- high leather skirts and striding down the catwalk herself.

Sitting beside Madonna was Mary J Blige, eyeing up the models' hotpants and studded leather vests while the rock gods Steve Tyler and Jon Bon Jovi gave more than a passing nod to the Versus menswear - white drainpipe trousers and stretch mesh vests - the perfect on-stage ensembles.

The collection was an almighty sales pitch to the leading luminaries of the music industry. Not only was there a live performance by the French rock group Les Rythmes Digitales - a threesome entirely branded in Versus and elaborate tattoos - but, as if to ram home the message that fashion is the new pop, the models were indistinguishable from hardcore rockers themselves.

Instead of playing the latter-day serene queens of the catwalk, they slouched and pouted, showing off their pierced belly buttons and just- got-out-of-bed rock'n'roll hairdos. Needless to say, they carried off the clothes beautifully.

The spring/summer 2000 collections started, appropriately enough, in crisp millennial white with a touch of silver. Pretty vests, trimmed with broderie anglaise, or pin-tucked cotton fencing style jackets were worn with slashed-to-the-hipbone skirts or hotpants. After the fresh white, the collection livened up with an injection of lemon and lime knitted bikinis, worn on their own, or with short macs. But it was the finale - back to white, but this time with gold - that was vintage Donatella. Low-slung drainpipes, padded at the knee with gold sequins, or ruffled on the derriere with gold tulle was all a rock wife could hope for.

It wasn't just the roll call of musicians sitting in the front row who tapped to the beat of Les Rythmes Digitales "from disco to disco", there was also an astounding batch of non- musical celebrities looking for tips on how to wear trashy glam fashion. Minnie Driver rushed backstage after the show to congratulate Donatella, as did Natasha Richardson, Missy Elliot, Lisa Marie Presley, Julianne Moore and Juliette Lewis. Even Sylvester Stallone, flanked by four beefcake security guards, waved to Donatella from the front row when she took her curtain call.

The Versus show was proof, if any were needed, that music and fashion share a special relationship. Perhaps inspired by Donatella Versace, other designers are also getting in on the act. Tommy Hilfiger, who will show later this week, has the singer Jewel in his latest advertising campaign, Giorgio Armani has sponsored Lauryn Hill and Calvin Klein has recruited Shirley Manson of Garbage.

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