Fearless musketeers and seductive water nymphs sashayed down the catwalk at the Gucci show on Wednesday, kicking off Milan Fashion Week with a stunning array of velvet capes and see-through dresses.

“This is modern-day romanticism. A dramatic sensuality, a dark glamour. With subtle tones of provocative intellect,” said designer Frida Giannini.

And dark it was: models wearing a deep plum lipstick that was almost black stalked down the runway to pulsating beats, shooting looks to kill, in black leather capes and dresses in exotic animal prints and dark feathers.

The show opened with military-style jackets and equestrian-inspired trousers worn with flat riding boots and a bag closed with a stirrup clasp, before moving on to fur coats, mink-and-chiffon numbers and splendid flowing capes.

Bejewelled tassels and large bows hung from the neckline and waists of soft printed silk and velvet playsuits reminiscent of pyjamas and cut in masculine lines, as Gucci moved from “fearless femininity” to “dandy indulgence”.

The tone changed as Giannini unveiled her evening wear, with a stream of long flowing dresses in see-through wrinkled tulle and adorned with patches of tapestry and floral prints in black, forest green and plum.

A three-piece collection in blue and green feathers — a dress, skirt and jacket — sparked an applause from front-row critics and the soft saddlebags in black crocodile looked like they would be a fast favourite.

Giannini’s show kicked off the Autumn Winter 2012 collections which will see 72 Italian and international brands take to the runways in a week of dazzling shows and parties attended by the elite of the fashion world.