As I sat waiting for Frida Giannini's Gucci show - and hence the Milan collections - to begin yesterday, I cast my mind back to the late 1970s. Well, I didn't cast it back to MY memories of then, I was just a glint in the milkman's eye, but I thought back to the state of the fashion industry in that period. Milan had exploded in a blaze of talent: the virtuoso tailoring of Armani, redefining clothing for an entire generation; the razzmatazz of Gianni Versace, racking up consultancies for Complice and Genny and flooding the catwalk with the brilliant colours of Raphael; and the statuesque, architectural technique of Gianfranco Ferre. That's not even mentioning the likes of Krizia, Basile, Fendi, Missoni. It was a time when dominance of the fashion industry could easily be wrestled from Paris to Milan, to these new labels backed by the mega-bucks of textile manufacturers and specialising in ready-to-wear rather than the outdated, outmoded system of haute couture.
That, as we know, didn't happen: Paris is still the centre of international fashion, and this season Milan seems in the doldrums. Last season, the schedule was compressed to a frantic four days. This time, shows are thinly-spread to assert Milan's position in a crowded fashion month. So what is the problem with Italian fashion? Perhaps the answer lies in the above - look at those late seventies names, and they're still alive and kicking, filling up the Milan calendar with no space for newbies. Granted they were augmented by a few newer labels in the eighties, but no real big guns have broken the Milan fashion scene in the two decades since Dolce e Gabbana.
At the same time, we still see great things here - especially for spring, which the Milanese arguably do better than anyone else. It's pipped to tip 30 degrees here - London designers for sure simply can't understand dressing for that kind of temperature (Mark Fast excepted).
Frida Giannini's show yesterday was an example of rip-roaring Milanese fashion at its very finest. She latched, hard, on to seventies Saint Laurent, and reworked it in the sexy Gucci mould, trussed up with tasseled bronze python belts and sexy stiletto heels. It felt confident, upbeat and terribly sexy, which is essentially all we really want Milan to be. Today, it's the turn of a handful of the big guns to show us what they've got, namely Dolce e Gabbana's D&G line, Karl Lagerfeld for Fendi and Miuccia Prada this evening.