MILAN: PLAIN AND FANCY
MIUCCIA PRADA FORMS AN INTELLECTUAL SORORITY, WHILE GIANNI VERSACE ZOOMS AROUND DANGEROUS CURVES AND KARL LAGERFELD CLEANS UPS AT FENDI.

PRADA: Sometimes the better part of fashion is discretion. And, at least for now, Miuccia Prada is the discreet school's headmistress. Let others go the slick-chic route. In the collection she showed on Thursday, Prada's cacophonous spring hipsters gave way to a more genteel, intellectual sorority with a vaguely English feeling. These are the kind of girls who might have gone to Oxford and studied hard--they're far more likely to spout Auden than cheer the cricket team.
The beauty of this collection--and beautiful it was--lies in its simplicity. There's a sense of calm, even innocence, about it all: Check your fashion pretensions at the lecture hall, Prada seems to be saying now. After two seasons that straddled very different--and not always attractive--sides of kitsch, she dared to present a collection that looked remarkably under-designed.
Miuccia proved you can be a Plain Jane and a knockout at the same time. She showed the simplest cashmere and silk sweaters in camel or gray over pants or midcalf skirts, refined peacoats and graceful high-waisted wool dresses. There were also diaphanous chiffon blouses with ruffled plackets. Everything was worn over colorful lace almost-argyle tights and Prada's new shoes: high, with sturdy, curved heels and a brownish vintage look.
The show was put together in the most seemingly offhanded way by Miuccia and her new head stylist, Alexandra White. (In the interest of frankness, it should be noted that White is also a freelance contributing editor at W magazine, sister publication to WWD.)
But few collections rate a summa cum laude, and Prada unfortunately slipped a grade by continuing her spring dissertation on prints. They weren't as ugly as last season's, but they came close, although the campy camouflage did have some humor. Yet she recovered brilliantly with the gentlest, most ethereal--and, yes, sexy--evening dresses imaginable, cut in soft-hued chiffon and inset with strips of beading. It was a dream come true for brainy, beautiful coeds, and, perhaps, Uma at the Oscars.GIANNI VERSACE: Plain Janes, of course, need not apply chez Versace. This is a designer with pizzazz, energy and more than enough glamour to light up several palazzos, not just his own. The truth of the matter is that Versace makes classic clothes look sexy. His suits and dresses are cut to show a woman's curves, not hide them. His bright colors are meant to beacon, not shroud. And his wild hair and makeup are meant to drive men (of all persuasions) crazy.
Think pink when you think of this season's Versace. You can also contemplate lilac, ice blue, yellow and mint green. Short and shorter are the preferred lengths, although Versace did offer some mid-calf skirts. His silhouette is always lean. It can be as low-key as a brushed wool pantsuit, or as high-pitched as a tiny purple leather and green lace dress. Leather is an absolute necessity. Versace showed it every which way, from bright red suspender minis to classic coats, jackets and skirts, often shown in brown-with-black combinations. Ever refreshing, Gianni says do with all of it what you will: "You can wear my leathers with Calvin Klein jeans, or one of my skirts with a Chanel jacket."
At night, all bets are off--the only thing you can wear with these babies is a killer body. Versace did the razzle-dazzle bit in pastel mesh and glitter leather. But hottest of all were the blinding beaded miniskirts edged in lace. Whoever dares wear these to the Oscars is bound to get plenty of air time.

FENDI: Karl Lagerfeld struck an iconoclastic note in the Fendi collection he showed on Thursday. He dubbed it "Labyrinthos," and it certainly was a labyrinth of style. "I've done a little bit of everything," Lagerfeld said just before the show--and about two hours after he jetted in from Paris.
He wasn't kidding. Lagerfeld did short and long, loose and sleek versions of every fur imaginable--more than enough mink, sable and Mongolian lamb to keep the ladies of the via Sant'Andrea--where fur is the preferred early spring wrap--toasty for many seasons to come.
Many of the long, voluminous coats were shown over long, cozy sweater dresses and bright rugged boots. But just when you thought that was Karl's message, he'd toss a mink over a sparkly silver skirt and midriff top. Both looked great. There were also suedes and shearlings and a diverse lineup of wool coats. There was, however, one clear direction: a newly cleaned-up look. "We wanted to inaugurate a new spirit," said Carla Fendi, "more everyday, less dramatic." That means that many of those little--and not so little--extras that so often embellish Fendi coats were nowhere in sight. As for Karl's longer lengths--we can expect to see a different take on them next week at Chanel. "I love them," Karl said backstage. "I'm so happy I did them first, and now everyone is doing them."

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