Vulgar but not cheap, Cavalli satisfies his celebrity clientele

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Big hair, shiny patent handbags, micro-shorts and a zebra-printed chiffon housecoat trimmed with ostrich feathers stalked the Cavalli catwalk. Who said "bling" had died?

Of course, overblown fashion - exotic animal prints, faintly pornographic swimwear and lashings of crystals - is Cavalli's signature, and the Florentine designer has done well since his comeback five years ago.

His designs might often look vulgar, but never cheap. Cavalli's print techniques in particular are stunning, and for next spring his bevy of celebrity clients will be queuing up for his silk charmeuse bandage dresses in degradé shades of turquoise, flame and grass green. But this show, with its lavish catwalk decorated by a Bedouin tent and two mosaic-tiled swimming pools, reflected Milan's past glories, not its new future.

In the last day of the Milan collections, Max Mara's younger sibling brand Sportmax struggled to make sense of what might seem timely come next spring. The puffed-up sleeves of a striped blouse, long shorts in sandy shades and a crinkled white linen trench coat bridged the gap between autumn's trend for volume and next spring's predicted neutral shades and relaxed tailoring.

As with many collections seen this week, it was pretty, but familiar. The city's fixation with "molto sexy" dressing and the brash promotion of handbags, sunglasses and watches on the catwalk has made for a lacklustre Milan fashion week. The trends that have emerged - pale beige and grey, lacy frills, flashes of cobalt blue and Grecian-draped dresses - have made for easy-on-the-eye, but in no way new, collections.

Milan fashion week has also been beset with logistical difficulties. At the request of American Vogue editor Anna Wintour, the major shows were compressed into a five-day sprint, rather than the usual week-long marathon, resulting in traffic jams, and for many department store buyers, missed shows.

Milan is also lacking a crop of up-and-coming new designers who might inject fresh energy to the industry, an issue that is only now being addressed by fashion week organisers, with a young talent showcase "Who Is Next?" staged last Wednesday.

Many in Milan agree that, ultimately, there has been only one designer, Miuccia Prada, who has proposed any radically new ideas for next spring.

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