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Milan: Butch Vs. Babe

<STRONG>The Big Shape-Up</STRONG><BR><BR>It was butch vs. babe as the fall collections opened in Milan over the weekend. Dolce & Gabbana made good on their promise "to bring out the masculinity in a woman," while Gianni Versace turned his Istante...

The Big Shape-Up

It was butch vs. babe as the fall collections opened in Milan over the weekend. Dolce & Gabbana made good on their promise “to bring out the masculinity in a woman,” while Gianni Versace turned his Istante collection into a spunky, sexy romp.

At the heart of both looks is shape, the kind of shape a woman can spot at 40 paces across the retail floor. And key to it all is a slim, neat jacket that spotlights the waist via nipped-in tailoring or cropping. Yet designers are loathe to leave the impression that shape and fluidity are mutually exclusive. At Oliver, Valentino showed his versions of long jackets over floaty pants and short skirts, while Jil Sander plans to put them with little dresses that wrap and “float” over the hips.

“There’s a sense of construction without being too rigid,” says Genny design consultant Rebecca Moses, who puts the softest padding in jacket shoulders.

The red-hot Short Suit should be virtually everywhere. This girlish duet most often pairs a short, tightish jacket and skimpy skirt, usually flippy or A-line, but sometimes straight and spare as a Band-Aid. The suit starred in countless laminated renditions at Istante, and Versace will repeat it in his signature collection, in black or canary patent leather. If these takes don’t quite jibe with his professed inspiration, “the business world,” Gianni also offers gray flannel and pastels.

At Cheap & Chic, Franco Moschino crops a double-breasted jacket and continues the button rows down the length of the skirt. Anna Molinari of Blumarine says the Victorian era inspired the tightness on top of her suit, but the length is all Nineties — right down to the flurry of fringe at the hem.

The city’s designers still love the dress, too, often in short versions that fit snugly through the bust and flare out. And if some are second cousins to spring’s baby-dolls, there are also newer, more sophisticated versions.

Similarly, layering hasn’t gone away, but now surfaces in much more controlled melanges than before: jackets over micro vests over shirts, all kept neat and close to the body.

Many houses — Missoni, Complice, Biagiotti, Ferretti — profess a penchant for extremes of length, either very short or very long. But previews indicate that most are taking the short route. Giorgio Armani was among the few to give an early peek at long skirts.

Of course, Milan wouldn’t be Milan without pants, which turn up in versions from very wide to super-slim. And despite the strength of the little suit, unusual combinations are just as strong. “The perfect combination of different pieces, the obvious, is old,” Armani proclaims.

To wit, oddball fabric mixes should continue. In addition to the tweed free-for-all at Dolce & Gabbana, there are plays of rugged boucles with tissue-thin silks and sturdy brocades with lace. And there are likely to be more of the fake fur and shine stories that started at Istante and continued at Katharine Hamnett.

A little punched-up makeup should do its part as well.”Basta,” says Versace, “to ugly models and ugly clothes.”

Gucci: Going Mod

There are big changes going on at Gucci, not the least of which seems to be a change in fashion direction. Designer Tom Ford’s collection was younger and more aggressively trendy than previous efforts, even if some of the trends have already been well explored elsewhere. The flavor was Beatles-era London: Mod pantsuits with white shirts and neckties, Nehru jackets, Op Art mohair sweaters and A-line jersey micro-dresses with short brass-buttoned coats that Jean Shrimpton would have been right at home in. Gucci girls will be changing their riding habits next fall, trading in their horses for motorcycles, the better to wear those black-and-white leather motocross jackets with a new double-G logo emblazoned on the breast. Accessories were sparse, though some of the mannequins sported what could become the new status shoe: The classic horse-bit loafer, transformed into a sexy needle-toed, spike-heeled pump.

Dolce & Gabbana: Tailor Maids

Butch chic rules. k.d. lang was on the soundtrack and in the fashion air on Sunday, as Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana exited their romantic girly phase in no uncertain terms. For fall, they’re embracing men’s wear once again — this time with a big wink and a twist. From Kate Moss’s lacquered pompadour to fake ponyskin motorcycle jackets and a tuxedo worn with a white ribbed tank and leopard zoot shoes, the collection combined impeccable quality with a lighthearted rockabilly attitude.

Of course, there was that great D&G fit — the two work with men’s wear tailors to get it right — but the real news was in the fabrics. They’re crazy for patchwork, mixing together a swatchbook’s worth of beefy tweeds, sometimes tossing in fake leopard or sweater knits for good measure. All of this went for jackets, coats and vests. And sometimes the fake fur flew solo in the form of skirts, skinny pants and even a high-camp maxicoat.

Silhouettes were invariably close to the body, with waist-conscious jackets of all lengths over slim cuffed trousers. There were also gangster pinstripes (accessorized with brass knuckles), sweeping officer’s coats, and fitted ponyskin blazers worn over black vinyl pants.

But D&G also made sure that their cowgirls won’t get the blues when they want to wear something a little more flirty. The designers turned out some terrific suits with short, curvy jackets or sweaters over the tiniest skirts possible. And for night, they did full-fledged siren dresses, even though they were pieced together from velvet patches that could have hailed from a thrift shop in Tulsa.

Babes at Istante and Little Girls at Versus

Gianni Versace showed his Istante and Versus collections in the new million-dollar collapsible atrium he had built for shows. (The meter tallies up an extra $100,000 each time the glorious greenhouse goes up and down.)

While Istante may have been all babe, it was no Strumpet City. Instead, Versace embraced sweet sex for fall, exemplified by the newly demure Naomi Campbell, with her toned-down walk and simple, shoulder-length hair. Gianni went for flirty shapes and ice-cream colors with bushels of shine, shine, shine — right down to those pearlized pastel spike heels.

He’s also mad for coated fabrics and laminated just about anything he could get his hands on. In addition to vinyl and patent leather, there were trenchcoats and little skirts in metallic-varnished nappa leather with wool and Lurex metallic sweaters and baby-dolls in laminated Lurex. He even varnished shearling with silver. And what Versace didn’t laminate, he shot with sparkle, giving rugged tweeds and plaids well-spaced “diamonds.”

Much of this was worked into the Little Suit — the very Little Suit. Gianni kept it young and spunky, usually with A-line or circle skirts, but he tossed in a few tight numbers for his old-guard girls. And when the weather gets chilly, how does a girl warm those gams? If she’s one of Gianni’s Girls, she’ll do it with sparkly hose, from simple metallics to gleaming snakeskin.

Versus told a camp story in every conceivable take on fake fur. And when it was all piled on — the snow leopard trenchcoats, the cheetah dresses, keesocks, pumps and ponytail holders and Mongolian lamb bra and hobble skirt — it had the feeling of little girls playing dress-up. But Gianni and his sister Donatella, who designs Versus, should be careful. With so many fur pelts out there, somebody might just get the idea to start an anti-fake-fur lobby.