ELEMENTS OF SURPRISE
DESIGNERS ARE CREATURES OF INFINITE VARIETY. AND GIORGIO ARMANI AND MIUCCIA PRADA PROVED THAT ETERNAL VERITY AS THE MILAN COLLECTIONS GOT UNDER WAY WITH, RESPECTIVELY, EMPORIO ARMANI AND PRADA COLLECTIONS THAT WERE UTTERLY UNEXPECTED.

Prada: Is it possible to be both conservative and risque? Or classic and cutting-edge? For Miuccia Prada, such dichotomy is innate; nobody plays to the paradoxical sides of fashion with greater insight than she. In the collection she showed on Monday, Prada did just that, presenting a tour de force of chic irony.
There’s an air of Christmas-morning anticipation to any Prada show. It’s never same-old, same-old, but a bold and often unexpected gift, which — like it or not, is always impeccably thought out. This time, it was like unwrapping the package and finding an au courant production of Shakespeare on video — the new gloss drives home the material’s eternal validity. After millennial techno and army-meets-nature, Prada went back to the classics, and in this post-minimal moment, they delivered the punch of surprise, along with an attitude of polished, pared-down security.
“This was the only new thing possible,” the designer said after the show, “super-chic, classic, very ladylike. In the past, I’ve done so much experimentation, but you can only go so far. I didn’t want to push myself into being unnatural.”
Prada’s classics sometimes harkened back to the mid-Sixties librarian, and sometimes to Seventies Saint Laurent. Either way, sophistication ruled, and, if Miuccia hasn’t reembraced minimalism just yet, she certainly took a step in that direction, detailing the clothes with only the most discreet flourishes and assorted whimsy prints — polkadots, hearts, lipstick, voluptuous lips. She showed countless little sweaters over skirts, and worked the shirt two ways, in silk with plenty of flou, or in crisp cotton. Also on the jaunty side: sleek ostrich separates and a mackintosh coat over walking shorts. Prada showed her most understandable shoes in several seasons, interesting, approachable and very sexy, and her handbag of choice: a jazzy two-tone bowling bag.
As for the collection’s lesser irony, what librarian isn’t a vixen at heart? By night, she succumbs to temptation in knitted bloomers over fishnets, or filmy, see-through temptations, such as a black negligee-and-nightie affair. Sure, Prada’s done sheer before; it’s become a classic for her. And this season, she’s taken classic to the level of high chic.
Emporio Armani: Eccentrics unite! Has Giorgio Armani got a collection for you! Emporio Armani just might be the most flexible collection in the universe; austere, sportif, utilitarian — over the years, Giorgio has done them all, marking each with his unmistakable chic.
The Emporio collection he showed on Monday was one of his best ever, and his most curious. Armani may well be a master of precision, but here, a sense of randomness bordered on gentle chaos — accent on the gentle, because it all played like an ephemeral fairy tale, one with a lot of complicated characters. Yet while Giorgio gave free reign to his artsy side, he did it without the pretensions that so often accompany such runway pursuits.
In fact, it was the aura of girlish whimsy that elevated some of the more out-there styling moves — the neon-streaked coifs, for example — to a range somewhere between forgivable and charming.
But then, Armani is ushering in a fresh era. He recently hired former Dutch magazine editor-in-chief Matthias Vriens as creative director to oversee image; he is launching a special accessories division with Dawn Mello as a consultant, and, on Wednesday, he will christen his new show venue in a converted chocolate factory, when he presents his signature collection.
At Emporio, all of the Armani strokes were in place: the perfect jackets (he showed just enough to let us know they’re still there), the vaguely Eastern layering, the play of structure and softness. Yet the real message was about the imaginative pieces, and he showed plenty: tops came puckered, ruffled and jeweled; skirts, pleated and appliqued; pants, cropped and jeweled every which way.
Still, what was most compelling was Armani’s obvious willingness to let his clothes be taken out of context. Sure, total-look types will have their fill, and more (in the more category, there’s the blue cotton hook-and-eye jacket over a burgundy iridescent taffeta skirt over black-and-white buffalo-check pants). But even the hippest young Williamsburg artiste would feel appropriately eccentric in one of Armani’s countless quirky-chic skirts, worn with a wornout old jeans jacket and a sketchbook under her arm.

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