One designer changed the look of her collection from tomboy to bombshell, while another divided his between great, real-life looks and wildly twisted styles. Still a third went for a theatrical historical theme ... the gowns and armor of 16th-century royals.

Gucci: A basic rule of fashion: Take all grand pronouncements with a grain of salt. Only last season, Frida Giannini declared her Gucci girl to be "unaware of her own sex appeal," and played to this newly modest miss with riffs on tomboy and Forties motifs. Well guess what? It took but a season for that lass to work discretion out of her system — way out. She's back in sky-high heat for fall.

Which is surprising, given the evidence, both anecdotal and concrete. On the former, this week, packs of eager shoppers have lined up outside the Gucci store on Via Montenapoleone waiting to get in. As for the latter, the numbers don't lie, and they're spectacular. So why Giannini chose to pull the switcheroo from spring's snappy sweetness is a mystery. Not a mistake, necessarily, but a mystery. One can only deduce that she or someone she answers to is questioning last season's initial 180, which banished all Ford-isms from the house, or so we thought.

Before the show, Giannini said she was inspired by "vinyl records, especially David Bowie in the Seventies and glam rock." Read that as supershort, flesh-flashing dresses and suits with lean jackets over wide pants — rock wear with a Seventies slant — right out of the Tom Ford songbook. Only Giannini's cover lacked the spit, polish and power of the original, while also picking up a chord or two from Versace and Cavalli. On the upside, a girl with great legs and a needle and thread (to add a stitch or two to those bodice slashes) should be able to work the dresses to a fare-thee-well. Then again, a few looks seemed destined for working girls only. And the separates — croc jackets, demonstrative chubbies, skinny pants tucked into boots — will work best when broken down.

Which is not to say that Giannini erred in her direction; only that a sexual identity crisis plays better in high school than on the runway. Giannini must decide the character of her Gucci, stick with it long enough to make the point — and refine it sufficiently to make people care.Emporio Armani: Giorgio Armani opened his Emporio Armani collection on Wednesday with something of a stunner — a smart-looking gray officer's coat over a simple shirt and skirt. It stunned in its directness, harkening back to the days when fashion shows were about real clothes, and Armani was master of the genre. He followed that first look with more terrific coats — a brown topper, nylon parkas, a short peajacket. Could it be that we were in for a happy dose of runway retro — a collection all about smart sportswear that chic women could understand and covet as shown?

Dream on. After setting his audience up for a reality-show thrill, Armani segued into a dissertation on silly hats and sillier skirts. Balloon skirts. Lantern skirts. Twisted, ruched and bunched skirts. Skirts cut every which way but wearable. Which is a shame, because they diverted focus from the assortment of appealing jackets. (So did the monster fur headgear, but chez Armani, millinery hope fled long ago.) Good thing Armani's customers are smart enough to figure out on their own what the heck to wear from the waist down and from the ears up.

Etro: The gowns and armor worn by 16th-century royalty inspired Veronica Etro's fall collection, her show notes explained. When the clothes hit the racks, however, her customers will be none the wiser for it, and that is as it should be. The best looks in Etro's show — and they were plentiful — didn't rely on dusty far-fetched fantasy for their appeal, but demonstrated instead the designer's understanding of modern-day exoticism.

The Etro penchant for paisley is legendary, and Veronica is one family member who knows how to use those prints wisely and with subtlety. She kept her palette murky, showing silky belled dresses and sash-tied skirts in watery prints or flocked velvets paired with gently tailored jackets or oversized coats. Etro is also a confident mix-master, and her interesting pairings of house prints and patterns were more successful than her matchy-matchy suits. Like those queens of yore, it's in her blood.

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