AN EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES
AS THE MILAN COLLECTIONS CONTINUED, DESIGNERS WERE TAKING EXTREME MEASURES OF VARIOUS KINDS. SOME WENT IN FOR OVER-THE-TOP DRAMA, WHILE OTHERS PLAYED THEMES OR PATTERNS TO THE HILT.

Gianfranco Ferre: There’s excess and then there’s excess. And Gianfranco Ferre is a master of the latter. He designs for a fantasy world of fashion Valkyries in sexual overdrive, and seems not to give a hoot when people wonder why.
And that’s too bad. Because Ferre knows how to make beautiful clothes. He works hard, is a master of technique and has some brilliant ideas, often executed to the nth degree — these clothes must cost a fortune to put on the runway. But Ferre casts all of this in what can only be considered theater of the absurd. For example, this season, he must have stayed up nights figuring out silly new ways to play up a woman’s breasts and came up with a utility bra (two pockets), lace pasties to wear with colorful jeans and a few strokes of metallic paint where a top should be. He also got carried away with what his program notes called “superprecise structure,” in stiff dresses that must have been designed while he was contemplating a birdcage.
On the upside, Ferre displayed what is nearly a dying art at this point — the use of tailoring for dramatic effect. He cut shirts like redingotes, showed some nifty pants and actually laced the collection with moments of romance, such as his full-skirted finale. What a shame one had to do so much work to excavate the beauty.
Narciso Rodriguez: The invitation was written on a thin black leather belt, too small for even the most fashiony of frames. Was it a reminder not to overindulge in Milan’s glorious carb options, or a hint at an S&M moment yet to come?
Turns out, it was both. The collection Narciso Rodriguez showed on Tuesday had some beautiful moments, although throughout, the designer seemed to fight his own natural instincts. Rodriguez’s core belief is that sexiness and refinement aren’t mutually exclusive, and that clothes should make an alluring canvas from which a woman’s personality can shine. For spring, he started out true to that mantra, with a series of lean, filmy layerings in combinations of whites — mohair or silk gauze over jersey, sequins and wool. He infused the pieces with little intrigues of design such as uneven hems and fluid, flyaway fronts.
But Narciso didn’t just stay with the gentle stuff. He went Eighties with slim pleated pants over stilettos and urbane with new-looking sleeveless suits and a chic white leather trench. He also loves a provocative dress, and worked jersey with all sorts of twists and turns. While many of these were alluring, sometimes elegance fell prey to an uncharacteristic cheesiness, one not at all helped by those fetishist’s-dream shoes. But then, maybe Rodriguez’s clothes are just versatile enough to allow all sorts of personalities to shine through.
Moschino: Humor has its place, and when interpreted by the house of Moschino, it can be a ride through the funhouse. And that’s exactly what its team of designers delivered for spring — a festive frolic, even amid the rumors buzzing about that the design house is seeking a potential buyer. But onward and upward! Let others delight in Saint Laurent — Moschino, instead, found comfort in the characters of Peter Pan. Michael Darling was there with his big, round, black-rimmed glasses and top hat, donning Prince-of-Wales check frock coats, flippy skirts and slim pants, as was Tinkerbell with her pink sequin party dresses. And let’s not forget Captain Hook, the menacing pirate, who trampled this runway wearing ruffled satin blouses tucked into tiny HotPants or nautical striped shirts with low-slung belted capris, complete with eyepatches and all.
But Wendy Darling took the finale with versions of cute, girly patchwork — derived from the prints of a children’s bedroom wallpaper — in coats, dresses and hip-huggers, which were sometimes paired with sexy extra-small Ts declaring “Have Fun.” And fun it was, with a collection full of good, commercial clothes that should leave retailers having the last laugh.
Genny: Calling all artistes. It’s time to find a new voice, because, after flourishing for two years or so, fashion artsiness is looking a little artsy you-know-what. Josephus Thimister has a genuinely artistic sensibility, and he can’t be blamed for the fact that a slow-moving bandwagon with whistle stops at all points from bridge to contemporary to the East Village has cut in on his turf. But it’s up to the real believers to move beyond the tourist path and explore new territory. In the Genny collection he showed on Wednesday, Thimister didn’t do that.
Before the show, the designer said that the collection celebrated the grace of movement, mentioning ballet and Martha Graham. Translation: lots of fluid, floaty fabrics with trailing appendages and asymmetric details, sometimes decorated with abstract printed motifs. In other words, pretty, but we’ve seen it. Maybe Thimister is in transition mode, or maybe he thinks he can’t be too experimental in the commercial enclave of Milan. But he should try it out. Even Picasso couldn’t stay blue forever.
Trend Les Copains: Spring is the season of flowers, and at Trend Les Copains, they were in full bloom. Last season’s fashion-forward looks have given way to a garden of calla lilies, served up in every possible form. There were tiny beaded ones adorning the borders of crisp white sundresses, printed versions that sprouted up from the hems of cropped pants, and skirts covered with appliqued lilies. On an artsy note, there were even clear glass versions decorating small knitted tank tops worn with cropped white pants. But this collection wasn’t all sweet blooms. It veered off on a futuristic path with high tech fabrics and tons of plastic discs covering dresses, tank tops, hip-riding pants and sheer tulle coats. This wasn’t a journey through space, however, but a fresh and feminine take on spring.
Strenesse Gabriele Strehle: Milano may be going through the last days of Indian summer, but the real heat was on Strehle’s runway Wednesday morning. She offered plenty of flirting ammunition for these bronzed beach girls. Take, for instance, the itsy-bitsy denim HotPants, bra top and motorcycle jacket that opened the show — bellissima! — as was all the denim: capris, A-line skirts and a dynamite pantsuit. And don’t forget the chiffons, sexy halters, floaty blouses, breezy skirts — all chic and easy. Want real steam heat? Try her version of swimwear: maillots with cutouts that leave little to the imagination. St. Tropez, here we come.

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