THE SPICE GIRLS
DONATELLA VERSACE AND CAROLINA HERRERA SPICED UP THE FIRST FEW DAYS OF THE AMERICAN SPRING COLLECTIONS WITH FLESH, FLASH AND — AT LEAST IN THE CASE OF DONATELLA — A BIG PARTY.

Versus: The sincerest form of flattery? In a social moment obsessed with the fashion-music-celebrity connection, one house owns the franchise — Versace. Before the VH1 Awards, before InStyle launched a thousand imitators, and long before other designers discovered marketing through music — musicians in ad campaigns and live music at shows — the Versaces invented the game. They didn’t mind when front-row star power muscled in on their runway limelight; they welcomed it. This was fashion at its most compelling, put in the context of a make-believe real world of star-studded glam, glitz and that proverbial edge. So let others ride the wave; nobody does it like the original. On Sunday night, the machine was in overdrive: Madonna here, Spike Lee there, along with, among others, Minnie Driver, Natasha Richardson, Julianne Moore, Rupert Everett, Jada Pinkett Smith, Lisa Marie Presley, Mary J. Blige and, oh yes, Sylvester Stallone. Add in live music by Les Rythmes Digitales, and you have a typical Versace celebrity-fashion orgy. And even after all these years, it made for a whole lot of fun.
Everyone settled in for a night of partying at BondSt, but not before watching one of Donatella’s strongest Versus collections in some time. Of course, the clothes were sexy and rock ‘n’ roll, for neither the faint of heart nor fleshy of body. But then, those markets have never interested Donatella. “It’s fun and funky and very New York, ” she said before the show. It was also fresh and feminine, as Donatella crossed tough-chic attitude with girly charm. She focused on — what else? — spare, bare little pieces done up with stuff — ruffles, rhinestone grommets, pleats, tucks and fluorescent flower prints. With micro-minis, hankie halters and low-slung cropped bell-bottoms turning up again and again, the focus was on flesh, especially on bare tummies that peeked out from a smoothie palette of lime, peach and lemon.
And while not every designer might feel comfortable translating a couture idea into diffusion, as far as Donatella’s concerned, if an idea works, why not do it on the cheap? Remember that fab white couture coat done up with giant gold paillettes on the sleeves? Versace translated the look into white pants and short-shorts decked with the gold spangly stuff. In fact, she loves white, and showed lots of it. “No black,” she said. “The new black is white. Rock ‘n’ roll has always been black. Now we need something new.”

Carolina Herrera: These are lean times at Carolina Herrera — lean as in spare, sporty and very sexy. Already this week, the designer has made news by buying the Givenchy building on Madison Avenue to house her first boutique. And if it opens in time for spring, it will be filled with a bounty of reed-thin, sexy sizzlers. Ladies, start those diets now!
Fashion’s broad-based embrace of the sporty life has infiltrated all levels of fashion, and recently Herrera has evolved her collection gracefully in that direction. Now she seems totally comfortable with dressing down, so much so that she’s ready to dress it back up again, taking simple shapes, little tops and skirts, for example, and luxing them to the nines with lavish embroidery. What made the collection work was its offhand spirit, starting with glossy patent leathers in white or beige. And while some of the jackets may have a hint of Gucci behind their high collars and military lines, who cares? Carolina delivered them with a refinement all her own. Then there were sliver skirts with asymmetrical halters or little curved tops, suede bikinis under coats and all sorts of politely low-slung pants and skirts. While these became a bit repetitive, they always looked appealing.
Throughout, Herrera maintained a pleasant play of opposites: ruffled organza against sequins, a gown cut in yellow suede. And while she’s definitely challenging her ladies to dare with hints of flesh here and there, she was also careful to balance things out with more covered versions for those conservative types. As for her dazzling embroideries, these were surefire winners, which she infused with new punch, opting for interesting Moroccan motifs over more familiar themes. So pack up, Givenchy. Carolina’s moving in.