Italian fashion house Prada sent models down the runway in military-inspired khaki dresses topped with bejewelled bras, while Roberto Cavalli showed a riot of neon and mismatched prints on Thursday during Milan's biannual women's fashion week.
Actors, models and designers flocked to a Milanese mansion filled with mannequins wearing ornate paper dresses, hosted by Vogue Italy and P&G Prestige to mark fashion week, which includes 74 official catwalks.
"The craft feels very ancient here," said Australian actress Cate Blanchett, known for her roles in films including "The Lord of the Rings" and the latest Woody Allen movie "Blue Jasmine."
"It's amazing to see ... the older houses continually surprising."
Models took to the catwalk for Italian fashion house Blugirl dressed in pastel-coloured shift dresses inspired by British actress Julie Christie in the 1965 film "Darling." The clothing was shown against a backdrop of a white sand beach scattered with umbrellas.
Prada's show, in an auditorium covered with murals of women's faces that were also emblazoned on coats and skirts, was partly intended to send a social message, designer Miuccia Prada told reporters.
"The intention was to set off this idea of women, of the strength of women," said Prada, whose brand generated 308 million euros ($417.11 million) profit in the six months ending July 2013, according to results reported this week.
"They are kind of fighters. We like to make men afraid."
Clothing, footwear and leather goods are a key driver of the Italian economy, and Milan-based trade body Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana forecasts the industry's turnover to be $58.86 billion euros in 2013.
That figure represents a 2.5 percent reduction in revenue compared with 2012, according to the CNMI, but the rate of decline has slowed from a 5.4 percent drop last year.
Roberto Cavalli said economic malaise has not affected his brand, which generated core earnings of 8.7 million euros in the first half of the year, but his country's financial problems had an impact on him personally.
"I think, especially in Italy, all the people they are looking for jobs, sometimes that depresses me and it doesn't help me create," Cavalli told Reuters TV before the show for his youthful JustCavalli line.
Milan's reputation for being the birthplace of globally recognized brands makes it an example for fashion events worldwide, said model David Gandy, who acts as an ambassador for men's fashion in London.
"Of course, in London, we're trying to catch up as much as we can," said Gandy, who appears in advertising campaigns for Italian design duo Dolce & Gabbana.
"We'll be glad if we can emulate just a little bit of what we have in Milan." ($1 = 0.7384 euros)