MILAN — Mod vs. Mum: It’s the latest fashion battle in Milan. And it’s a squabble that might be called “divide and conquer” by some, or “covering the waterfront” by more cynical types. One designer, Gianni Versace, was able to do both, since he has so many collections to work with. The Istante show he presented Saturday night was an ode to the Mum — a souped-up, sexy Mum, to be sure — while Versus was full of crisp, CourrAges-y looks delivered with street-wise, sullen attitude.
The mod motif was all over Gucci — and is expected to get a big boost later in the week when Prada presents its collection…or at least that’s the rumor.
In a city where the stylist rules, Prada has the biggest name, Joe McKenna. He and his assistant, Marie-Anne Oudejans of Tocca dress fame, are reportedly going to make a major mod statement, just as McKenna did earlier this month at CK Calvin Klein, which he also styles for the runway. But that gig may be history, since Miuccia Prada has reportedly demanded his exclusive services from now on.
Whether such stories are true doesn’t really matter. The point is, top stylists are the true stars of fashion today, and can earn $30,000 a job. Their every move is followed with rapt attention by all the other stylists and editors in the audience. In fact, the highest compliment a collection can now receive is “so editorial.” “It’s all a big cabal,” says Gianfranco FerrA, who doesn’t use a stylist. “A lot of them also work for the magazines, so if you use them, you get a lot more attention in the magazines.”
These days no one wants to mention the word “commercial,” and retailers know they have to go back to the showroom to see the clothes they’ll be selling next season.
But when the new system works, it works like a dream. Prada is one of the hottest names in fashion, and business — especially the accessories business — is booming. In fact, just about every fashion editor makes a bee-line from TWA to the Prada boutiques. At one point on Sunday, you could see a black cloud of fashionites hovering on the Via Sant’Andrea, just outside the Prada doors, which had to be locked to control the crowd. Such a frenzy cannot be explained merely by the 30 percent editorial discount.

Dolce & Gabbana: For their show, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana grasped onto Conservative Chic almost as tightly as Newt has seized the balanced budget amendment. “One no longer plays with clothing,” they announced in their program notes. “Clothing is treated with the seriousness it deserves.” And, with the exception of a few sets of naked breasts, they stuck to their word with polite suits, perfectly cut coats and simple, chic dresses. It was a beautiful — though occasionally dull — collection, and it established a new level of sophistication and workmanship for Dolce & Gabbana.

MOD ABOUT SHOE: It might be the shoe of the season. First, Calvin Klein showed the ultra-mod calf-high black boot with much of his CK collection. And on Saturday, it turned up again at Versus, where Gianni Versace sent it out in white as well as black, with the addition of a little bow.

Istante and Versus: The Lady also ruled the day at Gianni Versace’s Istante, which picked up right where his couture collection left off. These clothes are about polish, starting with the fabrics — a good wool tweed, a glistening satin, which these days has more staying power than superhold hair spray. But for all its discretion, this collection does require a small leap of fashion faith. With its pastel palette and endless bare arms, a conservative constituency — not to mention some retail brass — might find the clothes more suited to Easter services than autumn lunches.
But if she lets herself go, a lady will look great in double-faced wool and satin coats, slim dresses with sweaters tossed over the shoulders, curvy suits and jacket dresses — you know, like the Queen Mum wears, only with a tighter sheath.
After a Madonna interlude on video, Versace crossed over to that other camp. For Versus, he sent out a Mod Squad decked mostly in bold red, white and black checkerboards. It’s for girls who like their fashion with edge, but mostly it’s for those “editorial” moments Gianni and Donatella just live for.