Donatella takes centre stage


It is now almost three months since Gianni Versace was killed and inevitably the favourite topic of conversation in Milan this season is how the family firm will get along without him. Almost as if he had a premonition of imminent demise, a few seasons back Versace effectively handed over design control of the Versus line to his sister Donatella. She showed her first entirely solo collection for this label on Saturday night and everyone who had an invitation (and quite a few who did not) turned up to see the results. Choice of venue was that current favourite of the fashion crowd, a former warehouse on the outskirts of the city decorated for the occasion with thousands of candles outside and thousands of high-wattage lights inside. An impressive array of models appeared on the ramp to lend their support; Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Stella Tennant, Amber Valetta and Amy Wesson, the 19-year old currently accused of taking drugs by her American agency. She and almost everyone - and everything - else was enthusiastically applauded by the audience. This was not an event at which critical faculties were allowed to be on alert; anyone raising a dissenting voice would have been regarded as fashion's equivalent of royal secrets-seller Andrew Morton.

However, in the aftermath, it became clear that this was more an average than an exceptionally good or bad collection. For the moment, that is probably sufficient; another couple of seasons will show more clearly whether Donatella Versace has the ability to continue her brother's work. This time around, the entire range had a hard-edged quality reminiscent of Austrian designer Helmut Lang, perhaps as reinterpreted by young London labels and then given an immaculate Italian finish. Sheer latex was a particularly popular choice of material for mini - and longer - skirts, along with tan leather. The latter was also used for zip-front biker jackets and hot pants.

Sleeveless dresses were often shorter at the front than the back where an extra-long flap hung down to the knee or beyond. Jackets, and long sleeved dresses, were frequently slit at the shoulder to expose an upper arm, while the rear base of some pieces carried a burst of colour like a firework. For evening-wear, the latex was covered with a layer of flesh-coloured georgette, occasionally speckled with bursts of silver, and there were white strapless tops pulled in at the waist with drawstrings and teamed with nude-coloured, knee-length skirts. The Versace family has never been afraid of showing a great deal of skin, usually because their garments used so little fabric. In this instance, however, the diaphanous quality of the materials meant almost every piece was see-through, a trend which seems to hold designers in thrall but has so far had limited appeal among the buying public. Of course, Versus is not the main line of this Italian house. So far in Milan, what has been shown are predominantly the secondary collections - Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti, Prada's Miu Miu and, yesterday afternoon, Emporio Armani. The most anticipated collection of the week comes at its close. It is known that before his unexpected death, Versace had almost completed work on his signature line for spring/summer 1998.

That will be shown on Thursday evening.