Gucci: Decadence is bliss. Just ask the archetypal Gucci woman, the woman Tom Ford has created, wardrobed and perfected over the past six years. She revels in the knowledge of her own glossy toughness and sexual power. So much so that Ford thinks she’s now ready to soften, not her inner steel, but its outward trappings. And while he exaggerates considerably in calling the look “romantic and sweet,” the stellar collection he showed on Saturday, with its dramatic new proportions and more relaxed, less blatantly aggressive attitude, does represent a bold leap for both Ford and his customer.
What hasn’t changed is this woman’s reassuringly indulgent belief that all can be right in a world in which one is well-presented, dressed, coiffed and made up to perfection. While Ford didn’t alter the clothes at all after September 11, he feels completely confident in his direction. “Beautiful clothes are important right now,” he said before the show. “Nobody wants to look subdued or somber or in a mourning state. Looking beautiful is respectful to other people because it’s reassuring.”
In this show, Ford flirted with the Seventies once again in attitude rather than specific references, recalling not the era’s familiar hippie chick, but its nouveau leisure generation. The not-quite supermodels of today — Carmen Cass, Caroline Ribiero — mimicked the groundbreaking mannequins of yore, Karen Graham, Lauren Hutton and Lisa Taylor, the women who expressed their era’s casual emancipation complete with the requisite fluffed hair, sultry cheek contours and precision arch to the brow.
Ford decked them in the kinds of clothes a Studio 54 regular would wear by day, whatever time that day might start. By Gucci’s standards, these clothes are rumpled and undone, worked mostly in pale washed fabrics. And once again you marvel at Ford’s audacity. A few seasons back, he got skewered for showing outrageous purple satin MC Hammer pants, but, undaunted, here he returned to the big side of life with pants that wrap, fold, bunch and sometimes — a rare mistake — sag in the crotch. These went with small, easy jackets, smartly cut and detailed for distinction. Throughout, Ford showed fabulous suede jackets and draped dresses, big, low-belted coats and plenty of sexy, skinny knits. He did his part for the emerging sleepwear trend with fluid pajama pants and a racy negligee-and-slip duet, and for a nod to girlish charm, he decorated crisp white T-shirts with cookie-cutter heart cutouts.
That motif turned more obviously sensual in a shimmery black satin dress and skirts with huge floral cutouts that put the natural feminine assets beneath on display. And Ford closed with a pair of glorious strapless chiffon gowns that floated gently over ribboned corsets, because in every Gucci girl, there’s a goddess.

Prada: A Prada show is never a blow-out, celebrity-studded event. Miuccia Prada has taken a different route to editorial divadom, one that even at the height of the frenzy always focuses on the clothes. Still, her showing on Friday afternoon was the first by a major designer that felt like business as usual since Marc Jacobs on September 10. Although she has recorded a video message to send off to retailers in absentia, her otherwise straightforward approach provided her audience with considerable relief, a major cathartic hurdle accomplished: It’s okay to get back to previously scheduled work, both physically and emotionally.
Of course, what makes Prada so brilliant is that, in the fashion sense, business as usual means the intrigue of the unknown; in the art of surprise, she is a maestro. Who could predict how she would address the various questions du mode floating around now: Have world events and a sour economy put glitz out of order? Is sobriety supreme? Are some themes, specifically those with a Middle Eastern flavor, taboo?
By happenstance, one assumes, since the collection was a long time in development, Prada answered all of the above in a beautiful, beautifully intelligent collection in which one of her most enviable gifts — the ability to make the graceful hip — came through in full flower. Fashion loves contrasts, the plays of such opposites as boy/girl, hard/soft, rich/poor. Here, Prada took on a more basic and more profound dichotomy: the relationship between the modern, everyday need for discretion and the primal urge to decorate. Miuccia took the position that the two can and should co-exist. She did it by employing both tried-and-true Western classics — lightweight cardigans, pajama tops, Aran knits — and rich brocades with a Moroccan and Indian feel.
Prada focused on layering — glittering vests tied in back with ribbons over sheer silk dickies and skirts; career-girl cardigans and prim shirts with contrasting facings tucked into skirts and pants. She kept plain fabrics in neutral or brown, as a calming backdrop for the glistening brocades in silver/navy and gold/wine, sometimes cut on the reverse side. And in perfect Prada anti-perfection mode, she sometimes pinned frilled jabots haphazardly onto blouses.
Although Prada approached retro turf in long-waisted shapes with Sixties pre-Mod propriety and the early-hippie union of East and West, her deft control made it all current. And while some in the audience found the styling limiting and the brocades overdone, nothing masked the wealth of great pieces. This is one of the smartest and most versatile Prada collections in some time.

Dolce & Gabbana: In place of the typical riotous Sicilian market or other visual overload motif, guests at the Dolce & Gabbana show on Sunday walked into a stark white space decorated only with an abundance of joyous roses climbing up one wall. Did this herald a similarly pared-down show? Get a grip. Or ask Stefano Gabbana.
“Funky sensuality.” That was his pithy backstage characterization of the collection he and Domenico Dolce were about to show. The guy has a way with words, since what better way is there to describe a convocation of warrior babes in electric chiffon tunics over undies, trust-fund hippies in rainbow-swirled leather jeans and Sicilian sirens cloaked in the silk and lace of seduction? Yet while it sounds like lots of fun, it didn’t quite come together, as if the characters of a film were all assembled, but nobody had written the script.
That said, there were plenty of wonderful clothes. These designers never fail to give both sides of the woman they celebrate adequate, if not equal, time. Most often they play to her girly pursuits, starting with corsetry. With its appeal now classic as designers everywhere want in on the act, everybody knows that these guys were there first, and they continue to show some of the most inventive looks around. Among the best here: a demure white party frock and a not-for-the-office pinstriped suit with a corset over a micromini. But sometimes the lingerie look just won’t do, so Domenico and Stefano give ample time as well to their terrific tailoring. For spring, the suits range from slouchy to slick, with often with small, vaguely Edwardian jackets and low-riding pants.
The designers also played into the mixed-messages of the boy-meets-girl variety. While the emerald green taffeta coat over denim coveralls looked like Rosie the Riveter’s take on day-into-evening, a sexy chiffon top always dazzles with a pair of tight jeans. Dolce and Gabbana worked the theme into a fluttering frenzy — one-shouldered, halter, floral, ribbon-striped and on and on. Yes, the impact waned with repetition, and when that happened, flou nearly turned to flu. But just in the nick of time, Karolina appeared with the perfect prescription: a small, crisp ribbon-weave jacket in bright blue and green worn over jeans.

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