In 99% of cases, if a fashion show is really, really great, you know it as soon as the first model hits the catwalk. There's something about the winning combination of that opening look, that inaugural blast of music, the first chink in the armour of secrecy around a designer's vision unfolding, that immediately separates the wheat from the chaff. At least, that's how it used to be. Couple the Milan dual-show system with access-all-areas press passes and a fashion press eagerly embracing Twitter, Twitpic and any form of instant dissemination inbetween, and the vast majority of the audience knew Giannini's latest offering was shaping up to be a bona-fide blockbuster before they'd even entered the venue.
Then again, Gucci S/S 2011 was a fine argument for the supremacy of the fashion show. No blurry backstage snapshot or 140-character pithy summary could spoil the moment when Giannini's first model hit the catwalk, hair lacquered into a sharp chignon, lips glossed red and body swathed in jewel-toned silk charmeuse knotted up with a fat tasselled obi belt. Those belts were the big news for the opening segment of the show, in bronze cobra wrapped high around soft satin dresses and trousers with a vaguely oriental feel.
Think opium den - in fact, think Opium, and the Yves Saint Laurent couture collection it inspired. There were shades of mid-seventies Saint Laurent exoticism throughout the show - best in the opening outfits, where Giannini reworked the master's celebrated colour clashes of paprika, jade and rich amethyst. Equally fine was her requisition of Saint Laurent's Safari chic in butter-soft suede, crocodile and some masterful macrame mini-dresses trussed up with more of those chunky tassels). For evening, Giannini upped the luxe, chopping apart black evening gowns and jumpsuits, punching them with gold eyelets and lacing the lot back together. A leather skirt bristled with jangling hardware; leather and gold fragments meshed together to form a breastplate down the front of an evening jacket. How to top that off? All-out showgirl excess - a million feathers, a billion beads, miles of fringe and ruffles compressed into half-a-dozen showstopping cocktail dresses destined to be singed to high heaven by thousands of flashbulbs.
That's a whole lot of description for a whole lot of decoration, and a whole lot of hyperbole for a truly spectacular collection. It was homage, never rehash, to Monsieur Saint Laurent, but as much homage to those iconic images by Bourdin and Newton, and indeed the disco decadence of the era as a whole as to YSL himself. Why did it feel right for now? Because it acts as the perfect antidote to the fretting and fussing of the fashion industry, to the safe and staid clothes we have predominantly seen from London and New York, and to the general mood of doom and gloom around the Milan collections. I couldn't help but smile at Giannini's audacity: filching from French fashion's greatest treasure to single-handedly resuscitate the Italian fashion industry. Enough rhetoric. Remember what I said about really, really great shows? This was unquestionably one of them.