Cavalli sends out mixed messages

Milan Milan fashion week's grand finale as the biggest fashion houses project a sentiment that the best strategy is to party our way out of the recession.

Robert Cavalli's collection broke with the label's tradition of sassy red-carpet glamour.
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The canapés are finished, the hairdryers and make-up packed away and the models are heading for the airport as the fashion industry moves on to Paris this week. But the party is not over: during the past few days it has become quite clear that Pucci, Gucci, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana feel the best policy next summer is to party ourselves out of recession. And they were not alone. Moschino, Alberta Ferretti and Emporio Armani all put on their best frocks to dance the recession blues away.

Models in body-conscious dresses of black lace and prints strode up and down the catwalks to upbeat soundtracks as if their careers depended upon it. At Emporio Armani the party girls wore flirty dresses and bloomer-style shorts in exotic florals of electric pinks and blues that looked gaudy but fun. D&G was a fancy-dress bash, with a cowgirl who hangs out after hours in Wild West saloons wearing what could be mistaken for frothy white underwear from the 1870s, mini crinis and raunchy denim corsets.

Moschino girls, meanwhile, got playful with cherry-print babydoll dresses and quirky hats and a series of cocktail dresses jazzed up with sparkly crystals and lots of jewellery. You could just imagine them giggling naughtily about whatever high jinx they had got up to. Alberta Ferretti, on the other hand, was an elegant stylish affair: sylph-like creatures coolly wafting around drawing rooms in romantic Thirties-inspired chiffon tea gowns, like characters in an Agatha Christie whodunnit just before the victim is discovered in the billiard room. A pale palette of lilac, lemon, vanilla and lingerie pinks with Ferretti's signature delicate detailing of tiny pintucks and covered buttons was exquisitely demure and feminine rather than sexy.

The one Milan designer who can normally be relied upon to provide high-octane frocks for the jet set's party animals, Roberto Cavalli, broke with his own custom and the fashion pack's mood, abandoning his sassy girls on the dancefloor and ignoring the limelight of the red carpet. Instead, the backdrop was of a pretty garden loggia and the mood was delicately low-key. In place of foxy crystal-draped siren gowns he showed romantic vintage-style dresses in flower prints on cotton, chiffon and calico, which he inexplicably layered with mannish trousers and jackets, undecided between a masculine and a feminine influence. Neither side won, but he did reinforce the longstanding frocks-over-pants street trend.