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Long on Charm – Gucci, Giorgio Armani, Missoni

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.

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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.

Some stores say that Armani’s clothes are selling up a storm, that women who want or need great suits for work — and legions do — feel abandoned by just about everyone else. Yet Armani, who once upon a time flaunted real-life clothes from his runway with pride, now seems intent on hiding that which he does better, and more successfully, than anyone else beneath a pile of tricks. So sad, especially that now, given fashion’s minimal mood, a stripped-down, simply chic Armani could have been a timely stunner.

Armani started strong with a series of refined gray pantsuits with small, nipped-waist jackets. He finished beautifully, too, his bounty of dazzling embroidered gowns the first high evening he’s shown in ready-to-wear since Privé hit the couture runway. But in between came a barrage of complicated, awkwardly mixed tailoring and flou, all frills, flyaways and endless tiers, often to cheesy effect.

Why Armani insists on subverting his innate elegance beneath such flourish is a befuddlement. If he does so in the name of hip, it’s not working. Besides, most of the younger designers who stage those hyper editorial shows would consider Armani’s estimated worth of $4.6 billion pretty hip.

Missoni: Missoni is a feel-good label full of eye-popping optimism and the kind of clothes that let the sunshine in. For spring, Angela Missoni took an especially exuberant approach with beachy bold stripes, fractal florals and those perennial knit zigzags. And she did it all with a sense of glee that meant even her most out-there combinations worked. Spangled dresses, some additionally appliquéd with flowers, could have given a “Cleopatra”-era Liz Taylor a run for her money, and baby-doll dresses in sherbet tones came banded with bitsy ruffles or a smattering of beads. These fearlessly flirtatious looks, however, were complemented by more seriously pretty fare, gauze cardigans and simple dresses sashed at the waist.

Throughout, the mood ran from feminine to giddy, though in Missoni’s flood of ideas, from time to time, the collection seemed to lack the focus of her best efforts. Out on the runway, one person’s eclecticism is another’s confusion. That said, gowns with gently twisting straps and wrapping sashes played beautifully into the dress revival that’s sweeping Milan.

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