Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hurley burley Versace girlies: Donatella arrivedercis Milan

And so to the last show of Milan. Well maybe not the last last show but with a handful of less stellar names such as Love Sex Money and Alviero Martini left on the agenda, some of us would like to go out on a high. I'm seeing the 6pm show at the Versace Teatro, and it's still a bit early so I am cooling my heels at an adjacent cafe. Unlike the refurbed cafe next to the Prada venue however, I would describe this particular decor as haute nouveau riche: red faux ostrich seat coverings, gold tabletops and arguably the world's ghastliest stucco effort on the ceiling and walls. It looks like someone has taken a large sheet of plastic, scrunched it up, glued it down and sprayed it gold. I look down at the receipt the waiter hands me for my absurdly overpriced Coke (eight euros) and can't help chuckling at the establishment's name: Cheese Cafe.

I'm now inside the venue's foyer facing two gargantuan urns stuffed with white roses and foliage. The displays are each about 4m x 2m and there have to be at least 500 roses in each one.

Bang in the middle of a circular vestibule between the foyer and show space stands a large black rectangular vase topped with a metre-wide pompom of yet more white roses - this time sprayed turquoise. It looks like a bridesmaid's posy from The Land Of The Giants.

A projection of Versace's medusa head logo rotates on the far wall, like a large Roman coin.

Everywhere I look there are smart Italian woman wearing black coats, pants, skirts and opaque stockings, with impeccable black footwear and handbags, not all of it Versace. The scene sums up the Italian luxury goods market in a nutshell: superlative quality, sexual power and big hair.

Into the show space and there's electricity in the air. Photographers and tv crews are trawling the runway for celebs. Trudie Styler and some Italian actress are already seated. And Liz Hurley is somewhere backstage.

Ten minutes to showtime and crews start to gather around two empty front row seats. The 20-strong pack, myself included, climbs onto the side of the mirrored runway - normally a major no-no at any show venue as it scuffs the floor and can ruin photos.

This is the biggest media scrum I've seen all week. And it feels like it could get ugly at any moment.

"Get down! Get down! The runway is about to crack!" screams a security guard.

I head for my seat but the photographers head back around to the other side of the runway to take their positions opposite Hurley's seat which is in the middle of the row. Hurley suddenly emerges from backstage at the far end of the runway with fiance Arun Nayer in tow - who she'll marry next week - and stands there for the photographers, who then rush en masse from the middle to the end of the room.

Adding to the farce: Jackie Frank, the normally dignified editor of Australian Marie Claire, leaps out of her seat on the other side and in fact crosses the runway - an even bigger no-no - to start taking happy snaps. "I'm doing it for Sunrise!" she tells me later.

At the pace Frank hauled ass, she should be working for Today Tonight.

Hurley heads to her seat. Yet more pics.

The show starts - with a graphic series of white and black dresses and suits in a 'techno' Duchesse satin, with horsehair padding and articulated seamwork that sculpt the fabric into subtle, bell-shaped curves, yes curves. Trapeze-line capes and coats reek of the Sixties, but with a modern, minimalist edge. Funny that - the colour palette was, according to the show notes, inspired by American minimalist artist Brice Marden.

There's a lot of grey and silver, shot with lipstick red and turquoise. Of note, some of the season's sharpest shell dresses - the Sixties-nosed sleeveless shift dress, but with a rounded neck and nipped-in waist - the best in lipstick red. It exits with a matching fox coat with sculpted waist. There are also some very urban, skin-tight, wetsuit-look dresses in shiny black techno jersey, a striking gunmetal grey croc zippered blouson and a turquoise mink puffball coat.

The eveningwear features both silver-sequinned microshifts with graphic square necklines and bold, graphic cutouts at the back, one in a futuristic metal mesh, and trademark Versace goddess gowns, in grey, black, violet, red and white, with diaphonous, flyaway chiffon panels that trail behind the models as they walk. Picking up on the season's emerging bondage theme, the gowns' plisse bodices feature galvanised Plexiglass chains.

Strappy Mary Janes and sandals boast Space Age silver platforms and skyscraper heels.

It's a knockout collection.

I spot Australia's next top model, 17 year-old Catherine McNeil, in the show.

Although modelling for four years - and seriously for the last one - in just one week McNeil has emerged from nowhere to become one of the world's hottest new runway stars. In her first international season she has walked for Versace, Roberto Cavalli, Anna Molinari, Pucci, Max Mara, among others. This morning I watched her open Missoni - a prestige gig (she also opened Alessandro dell'Aqua).

McNeil is no doe-eyed, baby-faced Gemma Ward. With her chiselled features and smouldering, Vampirella-esque runway gaze, she's more reminiscent of an old-world screen siren, albeit one with a tongue piercing - and a second piercing at the back of her head that proved impractical with all the hair styling, she told me. McNeil has a kind of fierce beauty that synchs with the image of a tough, urban warrior woman who suddenly finds herself so very much in vogue.

Backstage I ask McNeil what the show was like from her perspective.

"Well it was scary because the shoes are very high, but it was a lot of fun" she replies.

And her first week in Milan?

"I'm glad it's over" replies McNeil, who is now headed for Paris but says she has as yet no idea just which shows she will do.

It's packed - and hot. I track down Hurley and manage to throw a few questions her way, while minders tap my back to wind up.

What did you think about the show?
Elizabeth Hurley: It was beautiful. I really thought that if Gianni were watching he would be so proud. Such pretty dresses, such beautiful coats. Long dresses and coats have always been my two favourite things and it's always been two things that Versace, I've always thought, excelled at. And sexy shoes, always.

Apparently they were hard to walk in.
I have a pair of them in my hotel room. I only got them earlier today. They really are - but worth the struggle.

They're real Take-Me-Homes aren't they?
They do beautiful accessories at Versace, they always have and they're stunningly beautiful. And there were the most extraordinarily, I thought, sweet little cloaks, little furry cloaks. I know you can't have them in Australia.

What do you mean?
No... oh you can wear them in air conditioning.

You owe your career, in one way, to a Versace dress don't you?
Yeah, I've had a long association with Versace. I wear lots of other things but I always come back to Versace.

I'm referring to that dress.
[Evasive] Lots of dresses. Lots of dresses.

I'm talking about the Versace safety pin dress [worn to the 1994 London premier of Four Weddings and a Funeral, pictures of which went all over the world]. Where is that dress now?
I think it's in a museum.

Versace is the one designer that I can pretty much put everything on and it fits. It's quite something. Most other things would be too tight in the rear or too high in the waist or too something. Versace suits me.

Donatella [Versace - the designer] seems to be getting her act together [rehab tends to do that].
I think she really has. I think she's evolved a lot and every year, every season, I think things just get more and more special. And this one really, very special.

How is your new swimwear line going?
Very well. A humble comparison to where we are today but it's actually going extremely well, thank-you.

For some reason Donatella Versace is even harder to get to. I manage however to squeeze in and grab a couple of comments before she is whisked away.

You've seen the pictures - but what you might not know is that Donatella Versace sounds exactly how you'd imagine Catwoman would sound, with an exaggerated, hyper-sultry drawl. It's so sultry in fact that, combined with all the backstage noise, I can't understand a thing she is saying while I'm actually talking to her and pray that I'll be able to make it out on the tape later.

Back in my hotel room, the Donetalla conversation is marginally easier to understand.

Exacerbating the problem is a technical malfunction, the result of which is that my tape recorder has started recorded background ambiance as well as what is directly in front of it. I've grown accustomed to tape recorders going on the blink when I'm on the road - having had to replace three of them now on similar trips.

Here's what I could make out:

What was the idea behind the collection?
Donatella Versace: I try to look at the future, what women will wear next. But I really..... the shape of the women's body... First of all I look at the fabric....

Was there a bondage theme?
No bondage.

We're starting to see a lot of bondage..
It wasn't bondage. It was about finding new materials.

It's time for a new tape recorder - and some sleep.

Tomorrow is a new day. And it will end in Paris.

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