From pretty, Forties-inspired dresses to refined pantsuits to striking evening gowns with twisted straps, there were plenty of appealing real clothes on the runways as the Milan collections continued.

Gucci: In her first big ready-to-wear collection for Gucci, Frida Giannini sent a major message: Elvis has left the building. She got the word out loud and clear, finally ushering in a new, gentler era at the house.

While Alessandra Facchinetti had the mandate to continue the Tom Ford legacy, Giannini's is to obliterate it and install a calmed-down, hosed-down operation. As her show notes spelled out, the new Gucci Girl is "unaware of her own sex appeal." That's some kind of turnaround, and Giannini executed it well, even if after so many years of high-heat Elvis gyrations, the gentle strains of a crooner take some getting used to.

The collection had plenty of strong clothes delivered in two primary directions. The designer favored sporty tailoring with tomboy spunk crossed with a touch of rock 'n' roll. That meant smart little jackets over lean pants and shorts worn with cashmere polos or, when the tomboy turned girly, sweet printed tops in motifs updated from the house archives. The second centered on Forties-inspired dresses, sometimes backless and slit to there in front. (The Gucci Girl may have shed her wanton ways, but she's not a nun.) These fell ever-so-gently from a strong shoulder and came in short, flippy versions for day as well as in graceful gowns for the big-event set.

Charming — absolutely. And with their appealing, approachable attitude, Giannini's clothes could develop into a successful commercial counterpoint to her already flourishing accessories, terrific new versions of which she also showed. But the Gucci brass is treading on delicate territory. Wisely, they want Giannini to create her own Gucci identity. Though she's off to a sound start, one could sense the push-and-pull of the commercial side in some of her choices. Gucci is at a crossroads right now. If it is to stay in the forefront of fashion, the fashion buck has to stop in the designer's studio.

Giorgio Armani: TODAY. The word leaped out in big, thick letters from Giorgio Armani's invitation. Yet the collection the designer showed for spring hardly proved a celebration of currency. Neither, however, was it a reactionary romp. Rather, the event offered yet another example of Armani's stubborn approach to staging fashion shows — that is, his way or the highway — to which he clings, whether or not it makes sense for him or his audience.

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