SUNNY SIDE UP
OPTIMISTIC? YOU BET. THE FREE SPIRIT LIVES THIS SPRING — IN LOTS OF INCARNATIONS. WHETHER IT’S WITH HIPPIES, GYPSIES OR WISPY FAIRY-TALE DRESSES, MILAN IS KEEPING THINGS LIGHT, BRIGHT AND UPBEAT.

Alberta Ferretti: If Elgar proved such an enigmatic success with his “Variations on an Original Theme” back in 1899, then Alberta Ferretti should have no problem playing the tune a century later. There was some fine music here, starting with her take on something light, airy and oh-so-pretty. And you know no one does that better than Alberta herself. Her signature diaphanous chiffon dresses were abundant — it is spring, after all — and came in enough variations to tickle the fancy of everyone from Tinkerbell to Courtney Love. Bias-cut and pleated, ruched and side-draped, Empire-waisted and wrapped obi-style were just some of her takes. For the fashion daring, Ferretti layered dresses over slim capri pants or offered floaty crop tops with pintucked shorts, and she sometimes topped her frocks with small, beaded-front suede jackets. Did we get the message? It wasn’t hard to miss with a show that droned on repetitively. But perhaps in this unsettling economic climate, a barrage of pretty, floaty dresses is a perfectly safe antidote.

Blumarine: It was all about solar energy, as Anna Molinari made not too clear in the declaration/show notes distributed before her Blumarine show. “The vital solar energy emitted by our sun begins with the same letters as the word ‘solidarity,’ she wrote, realigning her spring collection, in the wake of recent events, to transmit a sunny message. And glow did it ever, turbocharged with flower power’s optimism.
Tiered gypsy skirts, embroidered peasant tops and ruffled dresses all evoked the summer of ’69, while jeans came embroidered with small strawberries and folksy palm trees. A romantic fool in rose-colored glasses? No way. Molinari’s vision was of the candy-colored and kaleidoscopic variety. She mixed lush rose prints with eye-popping poppies and polkadotted raspberry, lime and orange chiffon. She used embroidery, sequins and lace with abandon. From time to time, her vision went Vegas — a sunny place, to be sure — but the collection’s fun certainly succeeded in transmitting her warmth.

Marni: Everyone knows that Consuelo Castiglione is a cockeyed optimist, so it was only a matter of time before her fascination with all things flowered turned to real flower power. Okay, the spring collection wasn’t Woodstock-worthy, but it was free spirited and had a real boho bent. And if anyone has a natural knack for the peasant dress — that hippie-girl staple — -it’s Castiglione. Hers were sweet but humble in faded florals, sparingly decorated with red stitching or simple as can be in unadorned cotton gauze. Worn under little striped blazers, lightly crushed bed jackets or tiny sequined vests, they looked just right. Also in Castiglione’s nomadic mix: a folkloric beaded leather vest, Baja striped pajama pants, Victorian-style underpinnings and skirts with pauvre pouch pockets that all looked as soft as the good old-fashioned bedsheets at grandma’s house. Think it would never work for men? Well, the designer also launched men’s wear for sensitive boys everywhere.
While in the hands of some designers, florals can look plenty saccharine, Castiglione knows how to steer clear of Martha Stewart and Holly Hobby alike. So one or two dresses looked a little kindergarten — and a couple of loosey-goosey numbers whispered hausfrau. Still, by banishing overtly retro references, Castiglione proved that she knows how to loosen up the Marni look and broaden its appeal.

Genny: It’s no secret that Prada chief executive officer Patrizio Bertelli wants to turn Genny into the more commercial collection of his designer stable. This is the first collection designed by a team after the exit of Josephus Thimister, but Yvan Mispelaere, creative director of Louis Feraud, consulted on this season’s effort and was hanging out backstage with Bertelli. Mispelaere is no stranger to Prada, since he was Miuccia Prada’s assistant for two years before joining Feraud, which remains his main focus.
So out went last season’s trend-driven, tough-chic babes and Eighties flashbacks, and in marched a flurry of play-it-safe looks, the kind that usually stay afloat in troubled financial waters.
Clearly, the team’s fashion vision is equally split between the blouse and low-waisted pants combo and the ruffled, wispy chiffon dresses that are just about everywhere in Milan. The sweet candy-pink blouses tucked into navy tab-front pants and the nip-waisted polkadot jacket with a matching A-line skirt, are the kind of clothes that will never make you feel out of place. For ladies with a softer side, there were see-through silk blouses over short skirts and cardigans tied around the shoulders. What will certainly turn into a tough sell, however, are the floral-printed white silk blouses with a gold metallic sheen over matching skirts sans the shine.

Strenesse: Oversized? Try supersized. In Gabriele Strehle’s hands, big is beautiful, as she proved with her clever spring collection for Strenesse. Proper men’s shirts were cut as dresses and worn solo or under big baggy jackets, and curiously cool twinsets hung way down to the knees. Strehle swiped a few of her big, big brother’s T-shirts and added hoods to anoraks and pullovers to create still sportier numbers, though her sense of largesse meant voluminous shirts, a grand belted trenchcoat and plenty of draped knit ponchos and capes, too. But here’s the catch: While her look may have been saggy, it was never sloppy; it was slouchy and smart. Call them comfort clothes — it’s a look that’s shaping up to be one of the season’s biggest (get it?) trends.

La Perla: From the bedroom to the boulevard — that transition can be a big challenge for a lingerie company entering the ready-to-wear arena. But in her debut collection for La Perla, Icelandic designer Steinumm Sigurd avoided the obvious pitfalls. She kept the bedroom sizzle at bay and showed a simple collection that had just the right dose of sexiness. Sigurd’s favorite item is the bustier, and she worked it every which way: as a classic version topping low-slung pants; as a dress paired with layers of tulle, or a la Morticia Addams sprouting long wispy sleeves over a long, full skirt. She wove in bits of corsetry effectively throughout the collection: hook closures, boning and elastic insets adorning tops, a bra strap here and there and the occasional bra peeking through a tulle T-shirt.