If there's one message to take away from the Milan season, it's that black is definitely back. Dress it up Goth or Victorian, but in reality it feels like a response to the continuing dips and trips of the Euro. Today Italy announced an economic shrinkage higher than any other nation. You'd never know it from the catwalks. Black is reassuring, eternal, the colour all these beleaguered fashion houses want their bank balances to be.
Versace is of course no exception. But the predominantly black collection Donatella Versace showed for Autumn/Winter 2012 had nothing safe or reassuring about it. Brief, fitted silhouettes - nothing new there - were sliced in firm jersey, wool and astrakhan, generously slithered through with chain-mail, a Versace signature used for tailored daywear as well as thigh-gripping slips latticed like a medieval drawbridge, and a by-rote clutch of floor-length columns with gravity-defying chop-outs around the nether-regions. It was Middle Ages, but definitely not middle-aged. Joan of Arc died at age 19 - about the oldest you can be to get away with this Versace get-up.
But as one journalist irritably uttered as the huddled masses exited Casa Versace onto Via Gesu, 'Do you ever see anyone actually wear this stuff?' Why yes, yes you do. You see red carpet starlets and pop stars wear it. You very seldom see it make the leap from silver screen to reality, but isn't it all the more visible on those anointed bodies than us mere mortals? And that's really count for getting houses back in the black and hawking profitable handbags, perfume and make-up. It's a hype machine.
That's a touch harsh. Versace has always specialised in high-octane, high-visibility dressing for the privileged few. This show was glitz to the max, but there was an emotional undercurrent, a soul. The Byzantine crosses that studded dresses, coats and even boots weren't just spangly Elvira-meets-Elvis Goth totems, but a direct reference to the Autumn/Winter 1997 Atelier collection created by Gianni himself, a collection that would prove to be his last. Black isn't just a colour of security and reassurance, it's the colour of mourning. As models strode out glittering with gems and glinting with metal in brilliant, virulent, dangerous shades of tomato and yellow alongside all that black, the recurrent, throbbing thought was how much Gianni would have loved all of this. Nevertheless, this wasn't a memorial, it was a celebration. There was nothing Gianni liked more than a ferocious, powerful warrior woman - a survivor. That's exactly what Donatella Versace is, and in a difficult Autumn/Winter 2012 season for all she's coming out fighting.