WEEKEND UPDATE

VALENTINO: Boy meets girl--it's an age-old story, in fashion as in life. Valentino took that theme of yin and yang and spun it into a lavish tale of opulent glam. "This collection," he said, "is for a fragile woman with a touch of the masculine." The story starts with a moral--Get thee to thy gym. In the lean mood of the moment, Valentino has whittled everything to the nines. His suits, cut with infinite bravado, are simply superb--mannish jackets over long skirts or graceful pants, and he also loves the long, lean coat. Throughout, he worked in a wealth of textures, some utterly discreet--tweeds, boucles, checks--others laminated, lacquered or somehow glitzed up. There was a touch of fur here, rhinestone buttons there, a frilled collar on a pinstriped suit.
In Val's world, a woman's feminine side definitely takes over at night, and that's when his penchant for discretion wanes. His eveningwear has it all. Valentino dipped into his archives and came out with a new spin on the frills he loves, ruffling up everything from organza coats to mousseline cocktail dresses. "These are soft," he said, "not the ruffles of the Eighties."
Valentino also went wild with beads, brocades, laces, velvets, crystals, ostrich feathers, a dash of nudity and more. It could look the epitome of chic, or it could set your head spinning. Either way, these clothes want to be noticed.

GIANNI VERSACE: Remember the bust collection, the bum collection, technocouture--all those brash, quintessentially Versace couture showings that revolved brilliantly around a single theme and left the audience utterly exhilarated by their daring and energy? These days, Versace seems to be reevaluating everything. He's broadening his rock 'n' roll circle to include all sorts of edgy artists, though the two stars at his couture collection on Saturday night were Elton John and Lisa Marie Presley, his poster girl this season. Versace's also considering buying a house in London and he's even got a new look--long hair.
Moreover, he's doing his part to temper all that legendary animosity among Italian designers: At his dinner during the men's wear collections last week in Milan, Versace put Miuccia Prada next to him. He also posed for photographer Karl Lagerfeld with Miuccia, Valentino and--believe it or not--Giorgio Armani. They all pretended to love each other--and to be members of a string quartet.
That same restlessness with the expected made its way into Versace's collection. Those anticipating--and hoping for--a singular burst of energy to jumpstart the season found instead a new sense of calm steeped in numerous ideas, not all of them fresh. Gianni's primary fixations are asymmetry and the long, sexy drink of water silhouette that promises to be a key couture look. He showed a zillion curvy dresses with interesting, odd-ball insets, amusing mixed prints inspired by his lower-priced Versus collection and some fabulous coats--long, skinny, with big fake fur collars.
If it sometimes lacked the brazen wonder of typical Versace, so be it. These clothes are still plenty sexy, and Gianni's girls looked every inch the supermodels they are.GIVENCHY: Forget Wickapogue or Ticonderoga. There's only one place a chic little fashion girl should spend the season--Camp Givenchy. Deep in the forest--literally--that John Galliano had constructed in a stadium on the outskirts of Paris, Naomi, Kate, Amber, Shalom, Linda et al played dress-up, Galliano style--and that means to the campiest hilt.
But even if all those rabbit stoles, faux monkey muffs and chandelier coiffures sometimes got out of control, they couldn't obscure two essential facts: Galliano is a blessing for the house of Givenchy, and he creates some of the most beautiful clothes in Paris. If you're expecting to finds odes to Audrey Hepburn or other traditional Givenchy icons in this collection, forget it. Except for a few bows, they're gone, and what's left of the Old Guard will miss them.
What there is is a new Empire silhouette done in the most delectable laces, tulle and embroidered mousselines, worn alone or under elaborate long coats or jewel-encrusted boleros. But instead of the hippie Empire that's circulating in fashion right now, Galliano's is one the Empress Josephine herself would adore.
The problem, of course: Big-breasted women need not apply. Nevertheless, it's a shape that other designers--equally unconcerned about the full-figured gal--are sure to copy. Needlepoint is another blast from the past made fresh by Galliano. His giant pink roses on suits and coats have just the right scent of bohemian whimsy. So do his velvet dresses in rich, ombred reds. Then there are the fake leopards, and are they ever wild: a short trench over a frilled hand-painted dress, a skintight suit with that fake monkey business going on, a deep border on a dramatic brocade coat.
Galliano produced a strong collection, but not a perfect one. The short, hookerish lingerie looks didn't work, and the pile-it-on styling is getting tired. Sometimes it's just so hard to see the forest for the trees.

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