By  on February 21, 2008

Frida Giannini's fall Gucci collection was intended to be a bohemian-rock 'n' roll hybrid. And there definitely was loads going on — as these tight, be-ringed pants, tucked into boots and shown with a dramatic fluffy jacket and shiny necklace, illustrate. Over-the-top or not, one thing isn't in doubt: Giannini's looks are big winners at retail.

Two very different visions of style and luxury came courtesy of Gucci's Frida Giannini and Marni's Consuelo Castiglioni. While Giannini went for broke with splashy Seventies redux, Castiglioni opted for understatement with high-sheen fabrics and romantic ruffles.

Gucci: Talk about fascinating. By objective standards, Frida Giannini's still-young tenure at Gucci is a wild success. Her numbers are gaudier than Tom Ford's ever were, with not only the accessories fueling the frenzy, but the clothes, as well. Business is booming around the world, exploding in Asia-Pacific, Russia and the Middle East, and as for the U.S., adjusting for currency, sales leapt 14.7 percent last year.

That mind-boggling litany of facts made sitting at the show Giannini staged on Wednesday night a confounding experience because it made one rethink one's own judgments. What is luxury? What is chic? What should high-end fashion look like? Quite simply, Giannini's collection didn't fit easily into standard notions of any of the above. Not a slam, but an observation. It was overwrought, garish, at times derivative of her Gucci Group colleague Nicolas Ghesquière, and though beautifully crafted, didn't look at all rich from the runway, but more like a fun, contemporary romp in which a girl can indulge briefly and then move on. Certainly not a collection in which to sink serious money. But the numbers don't lie, so who's not getting it here?

Giannini called the show Gucci Boho, and said she wanted to create a bohemian-rock 'n' roll hybrid with a "profound sense of rich decadence," and with elements of the Twenties and more obviously, the Seventies. She opened with a series of racy jackets over tight pants tucked into boots, everything fringed, furred, passementeried and with more metal work than a periodic table. Not a bad look, but handled with no particular deftness. Similarly her dresses, sexy little drop-waist numbers in evocative, earthy prints, looked plenty appealing at first glance, but too often these also got the kitchen-sink treatment with embroideries, epaulets, belts, studs and dangling charms.It was a few ideas with a whole lot going on, resulting in a visual frenzy sparked in part by the character potpourri that is the The Citizens Band, whose pictures inspired the designer. But that group, alas, is a latter-day vaudeville act. Nevertheless, Giannini's message was one of flamboyant mayhem with a hefty price tag, and if this reviewer didn't quite get it, the Gucci coffers offer ample evidence that millions of women around the world will.

Marni: Restraint isn't all about gray sheaths and slick, ladylike glamour. It has a more poetic side as well, a side Consuelo Castiglioni put on full display in the delightful Marni collection she showed on Wednesday morning. Castiglioni shelved the techno-athletic elements she has cottoned to of late (but not the unmistakable nod toward Prada), making way for a more overtly romantic expression of her artsy signature, one that might be taken for eccentric were it not for the careful calculation behind the clean cuts and precision layerings. These created a graphic prettiness and, along with furs of the modified au sauvage sort, perfectly tempered the show's girly undercurrent.

This collection was all about texture, color and the occasional abundant asymmetric ruffle, worn in unfussy multiples, often belted. Furs came big, shaggy and in flamboyant pastels or earthy naturals, many in terrific capes or vests to show off a slick green leather tunic or topping a belted jacket tucked into pink tweed pants. Throughout, woolly plaids and tweeds played against more refined suitings and high-sheen fabrics, combinations Castiglioni was able to work with gusto given her penchant for dressing in pieces. Still, she offered a lovely assortment of faux prim, optical-print dresses. And she did her part for the glitz-for-day trend with sequined collars that were both bold and charming.

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