Prada: If designers have their way, legions of women will look oh-so-pretty next spring. But pretty is as pretty does, and nobody does it like Miuccia Prada. She has long transformed the mundane into the provocative with the apparent ease of a wand-wielding fairy, a gift that has earned her the reputation as an intellectual designer — one she has at times chosen to play down.

For the collection she presented on Wednesday, Prada once again had her way with the ordinary — this time, common notions of pretty. Femme fatale and ingenue alike can easily revel in the sway of a full, rustling skirt, but few designers allow them to dabble in elements of jet set, hippie and Southwestern artiste. And, in fact, Miuccia’s combination took some getting used to, but strengthened with each passing look, working itself up to something spectacular.

Prada indulged a romantic’s wanderlust in location prints pilfered from the endless murals that surrounded her show space. But perhaps hidden in the landscapes was, along with a yearning for distant lands, a similar yen for gentler times. Certainly those full-skirted frocks swooshed Fifties, and one could envision Ava Gardner on holiday, working her off-handed glam. Yet Prada has long since ceased to play retro too fiercely, and modern Avas will feel just as comfortable in one of her fabulous shirtdresses, belted but unbuttoned over swimsuits, and, for jauntier times, a smart shirt and capris.

It all came not in the expected froth of pastels but in a subdued, even dullish, palette big on beiges, browns and reds. Prada strengthened that visceral side with madras plaids, semi-raw tweeds and imperfect ombrés, often washed for comfort and yes, that je ne sais quoi. And just when you thought you had it all figured out, out came a delightfully odd evening dress, an off-kilter descendant of Eighties fluff. Although its blue and green silk was gloriously strapless, shirred and poufed, it had clearly been rumpled up, and it was just that juxtaposition that captivated as much as it charmed.



Burberry Prorsum: Pretty in punk — now there’s a look. And when done right, it’s just about irresistible. For Burberry Prorsum, Christopher Bailey did it right, and then some. One would have been hard-pressed not to smile while exiting his show on Tuesday, a gentle romp of apparently simple clothes kept interesting, yet unfettered, by a series of charming quirks.But there was nothing really simple about this wonderful collection. When Bailey signed on with Burberry, he set himself up for a complicated balancing act, one that demanded reconciliation of his own streetwise, semi-urchin sensibility with Burberry’s deep-seated traditions. And he had to adapt to the reality that, on the runway at least, street-centric clothes can be viewed as a novelty act, one difficult to sustain over the long haul. This collection gave every indication that Bailey has pulled all of the opposing forces together with confidence and wit. In it, he captured with clarity and admiration the essence of a peculiarly British miss — a girl whose politely petulant swagger suggests a serious penchant for style, even if she wants her offhand air to say otherwise. No wonder he lured the ultimate British “It” girl, Kate Moss, back onto the runway to typify his ideal.

Throughout, Bailey worked a number of themes. His girl prefers loose, rumpled shapes, pastels faded to near oblivion by multiple washings and pieces put together to faux-haphazard perfection. While full, yoked cotton skirts and layered, stretched-out tanks make a favorite look, she might get a bit naughty with loose boxer shorts, or indulge the sex kitten within in a perky bikini. Most numbers came in fabrics light as a breeze — cotton shirtings for skirts, those gauzy knits, interspersed with the occasional bold ink print. As for the house standards, Bailey used them brilliantly, paying reverence with irreverent admiration. The famed check came in faded skirts, umbrellas and a barely-there skinny belt. The trench might be a trench, it might be chopped into a jacket or further still, into a cheeky tippet. In fact, Bailey loves the minicaplet motif, and worked it in flimsy silks and playful stripes, allowing his punk aristocrat to wink at her Jane Austen roots. It all made for a delightful flexing of the Burberry muscle — and that’s a great way to keep a house fit and vital.



Emporio Armani: Whoa, Nellie! as they say. Color! Vitality! Sports! All of these are laudable influences, especially now, with optimism a fashion mantra as, increasingly, designers want people to dress for a good mood. But you know what they say about too much of a good thing. And in the Emporio Armani collection presented on Wednesday, Giorgio Armani showed too much— way too much. The eruption of graphic, color-blocked, cutout euphoria was so overpowering, one couldn’t help but think that, somewhere along the line, bland lethargy had gotten a bad name.Clearly, Armani is in leisure mood this season, which worked beautifully for his signature collection earlier in the week. But Emporio lacked the cohesive focus of that show’s nautical motif — that is, unless one considers the onslaught of color and graphics a theme. But often the shapes were too complicated to allow for enjoyment of the palette, and all of the visual stimulation just got dizzying. Of course, there were some strong clothes — the jackets, tops, little skirts and vibrant, fish-scale paillette dresses — but sometimes they masqueraded behind inexplicable tricks. Among them were some odd bodice treatments such as a logo belt strapped around one girl’s breasts for a look that screamed, “Ouch!” Intentional or otherwise, comic relief came via a one-piece, cutout bathing suit, worn by a male model who with a handlebar moustache would have been a ringer for that iconic Lothario of yesteryear, the Man on the Flying Trapeze. But this one, like the Emporio collection, didn’t fly with the greatest of ease.

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