Within his Chinese-flavored signature collection and Indian-motif Emporio line, Giorgio Armani showed his trademark elegantly sporty looks…Christian Lacroix created playful clothes for Pucci…and, at Blumarine, Anna Molinari delivered the rich boho style that made her name.

Giorgio Armani/Emporio Armani: Megabrand or fashion brand? It’s a dilemma faced by only the rarified few, those designers who have achieved major fashion influence and over the years layered on the armor of explosive commercial clout and parallel longevity. Giorgio Armani grapples with the question season after season. If he chooses to flex his megamuscles, he might be accused of being dull. If he wants to flaunt his fashion side, the results can look forced.

There is no question that Armani makes fabulous clothes. He started to do so under his own name 30 years ago, and has delivered brilliantly ever since, developing a distinctive aesthetic, one that long ago came to represent not only his own power, but the power of the women who wear his clothes — and not just in the time-warp sense of the power suit. Rather, Armani’s clothes — whether suits, separates or glorious eveningwear — act as conduits for the wearer’s own sense of confidence, her sense of self, belonging at once to her and the designer in equal measure.

This is a reality of which Armani has long been proud, as he should be. So anyone present at either of his two shows this season, the Giorgio Armani and Emporio Armani collections, could not help but wonder why somewhere along the way he abandoned his long-held notion of runway veritas. Because in truth, it’s difficult to imagine the woman who would wear many of these looks as presented, especially in the case of Emporio.

That said, for spring, Armani showed a lot to love, starting with the signature collection. First, one had to get past an unfortunate homage to Elsa Schiaparelli in countless shell-shaped turbans, no doubt intended to hammer home the show’s title, “Shocking.” So ditch the shocking chapeaux and bring on the small, fitted jackets with oh-so-girly peplums; the long, fluid skirts, tiered and banded in ribbons or crystals, and the dresses in joyful floral prints. In his program notes, Armani cited “many cultural conceits and references,” particularly from China. While some turned up in Chairman Mao’s Cocktail Hour pajamas, others were more subtly rendered in rich embroideries and Confucius border prints. As for evening, Armani makes some of the most glorious dazzlers anywhere, inclusive of couture. This season offered its share of spectacular moments, albeit too often under the shade of molto peculiar coolie hats. These came in a group of dreamy, variously embellished white frocks and a pair of killer diamanté mermaid gowns.

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