TOUGH COOKIES, PRAIRIE GIRLS AND REFINED YOUNG THINGS
EACH DESIGNER HAS A SPECIFIC DEFINITION OF STYLE AND BEAUTY, AND THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THOSE VIEWPOINTS WERE MUCH IN EVIDENCE THIS SEASON. AT GUCCI, FOR EXAMPLE, TOM FORD EXPLORED BOTH HIS TOUGH AND SOFT SIDES, WHILE DOMENICO DOLCE AND STEFANO GABBANA FOUND A RACY LITTLE HOUSE ON THE DOLCE & GABBANA PRAIRIE AND GIORGIO ARMANI CREATED A REFINED EMPORIO ARMANI LINE.

Gucci: “Sleep with me, like a man…you dog of a man.” So barked Syd Straw on the soundtrack at the opening of the Gucci show on Friday, setting everyone up for one of the hard-hitting, sex-driven collections typical of Tom Ford at his Gucci best. Then out came his first models done up in black regalia, the severity heightened by the sharp gleam of giant zippers and flat croc boots. Yet here, the Gucci woman’s worldly stance was crossed with a hint of angst-ridden girlishness and a penchant for punk. Ford used that attitude to set up one of those fashion dialogues playing out all over Milan, that of hard against soft, and by the end he had come full circle, with a lacy homage to Lolita. The entire trip looked great.
“There’s a theme of innocence running through the collection,” Ford said after the show. In truth, his work is neither childlike nor innocent. His baby dolled-up nymphet is less the real thing than a sexual sophisticate practiced in working a well-polished look in pursuit of her conquests. The suggestion that she would want to do so by recreating teenage wiles is disturbing to some people: Do real women want to look and act like girls in pursuit of either fashion or sex? Feminist issues aside, the short answer for many is, if you can pull it off, why not? But Ford has never been one to worry about such p.c. matters, and neither will the scores of starlets who no doubt are already queuing up for those Lolita lovelies. By day, all the zipper action — running down sleeves, the front of pants, or as tuxedo stripes — and lots of leather extras infused beautifully tailored clothes with that proverbial Gucci edge. And if it recalled Rei Kawakubo’s spring punk-fest at Comme des Garcons, Ford made it less political and more understandably chic.
He also knew when to say when, turning utterly sophisticated with a fabulous velvet tunic over a skirt, a small, shirred white mink jacket and perfect coats in black wool and fluffy, over-the top furs — allow Tom to get your goat, ladies? (Your sugar-pink longhaired goat, that is.)
For evening, Ford went structured with shifts cut from layers of grosgrain ribbon slashed into precision squares for a Sixties-flapper effect, and he reprised his controversial spring bra motif. But now, instead of conical Tough Chic, he put the most delicate unmentionables over those babydolls.
They looked spectacular — and that’s not kid stuff.

Dolce & Gabbana: It’s always a hot time at Dolce & Gabbana. Now, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana are riding high after the success of last season’s killer Madonna T-shirts, and her appearance at the Grammys in two of their Material Girl tops from their pre-fall collection.
Emphasis on the pre, because in the collection they showed on Saturday, they were wise enough to move on, even if before their show, Gabbana identified a bit of “Madonna in London.” The bigger reference, he said, was Chloe Sevigny, and the look, “romantic hippie nomad bohemian.” Translation: a little bit of a lot of stuff, and it made for a witty romp you couldn’t help but love.
As always, the designers fought the hated scourge of subtlety with everything in them. Their newest twist: a feisty ode to the pioneer spirit, with plaid flannels, distressed jeans and all sorts of rugged fur. Suffice to say that their adventurous miss is no calico wallflower, but the richest, most indulgent Pioneer Girl sexpot to ever take the West. By comparison, Miss Kitty was Sister Kate. And she’s savvy enough to have packed a few earthly goods back East before joining the wagon train. If a huge Davy Crockett hat keeps her warm, piles of dear grandmother’s pearls warm her heart. As for her penchant for showing off her racy, lacy lingerie, let’s face it, there are only so many extracurriculars a girl can engage in out there in the wilds.
Urban types will find this collection a cache of fabulous items: pants cut super-tight and extra-long to bunch up before flaring over shoes; charming little Seventies-Biba-Victorian blouses in lace or tiny prints; an Ali MacGraw hat-scarf-sweater combo; an officer’s jacket with big, glittering buckles. The designers showed fewer tailored looks than usual, but enough to remind everyone that the showroom holds plenty of more basic fare. Conversely, there was nothing basic about their furs, from skunk-fox-shearling combos strapped in with multiple big leather belts to the most delicate beaded evening robe, edged in goat.
The boys played to the moment with lots of corduroy — it’s everywhere — and the trend with more lives than Morris the Cat, sheer, with little floaty dresses over lingerie. But then, for Dolce and Gabbana, sheer isn’t a trend, but a way of life. And these days, as Roberto Benigni would say, life is beautiful.

Emporio Armani: Young refinement. Once upon a time, it was a goal, but countless counterculture youth movements have made it something of an anachronism. Giorgio Armani wants to champion a revival, and he’s starting with his Emporio Armani collection. The fall show he and his designing niece Silvana Armani staged on Saturday celebrated manners and propriety, while at the same time delivering just enough cheek to appeal to the young celebrities — Erika Christensen, Emilie Dequenne, Sarah Wynter, Aaliyah and Dreena De Niro among them — who populated his front row. It even had moments, perhaps unintentional, of humor, as some models role-played their way down the runway — a couple, with his arm around her shoulders; two businessmen on the rise, who just couldn’t wait another moment before checking their agendas.
Whatever the activity, the Emporio corps looked plenty stylish — which is the point. This is a vast collection with clothes for every possible situation — work, evening, hanging out. Armani played to the trends with casual corduroy, furs and shrunken jackets. He loves sexy little miniskirts and he went edgy with leathers — a motorcycle jacket and graphic bra tops in black and white. Of course, the tailoring was perfect, from the expected chic coats to a frivolous dotted jacket lined in ruffles.
That girliness carried over into evening with glittering slipdresses. And for the girl who doesn’t want to get too girly, there’s the asymmetric leather dress — a bit naughty and very nice.