Versace: “Let’s get back to normal.” As everyone Stateside knows, that has been the battle cry from government officials at every level. Still, this continues as an uncomfortable collection season, with designers not wanting to appear callous or frivolous in their presentations. Hence, the dearth of parties, until now. But then J.Lo got married, and what was her friend and frequent couturier Donatella Versace to do?
By tossing a big bash at Lake Como in honor of Lopez and Cris Judd, Versace was determined to do just what political leaders have suggested: Act normal. For her, hosting lavish parties is as normal as pots of pale lip gloss and tight pants. Still, she was conflicted, not only about whether to throw a party, but about the tone her collection should take.
“It’s tragic. I feel very close to the American people, New York, especially,” Versace said before her show. “I thought maybe I should make a more sober collection, with no color. But then I thought, to give in to that, the terrorists have won, if we stop doing what we do. Women want to be beautiful.” Versace also had some thoughts on the opinion one hears now and then in Milan that American policies helped trigger the attacks. “Stopping America is stopping all of us,” she said. “America saved us twice in the past.”
Does that sound like someone ready to temper her impulses? Not a chance. This collection was Versace to the core — flashy, sexy and lots of fun. Unlike other designers here, Versace is not buying into the slouch motif. She likes her clothes tight and tighter, including plenty of suits with hook-and-eye closures. Her only digressions from tight were racy mini-trenchdresses that oozed power babe with every swing of the hips. What Versace did pick up on is the rumpled look, and she put it in a whole new context: Washed, wrinkled cottons have never looked sexier, in, for example, a snug jacket over an eyelet leather skirt. But sometimes such juxtaposition just won’t do. Then it’s time to break out the snazziest leathers around, a spectacular fringed white coat and suits and dresses in hot-hued eel.
Versace kept the colors coming in prints; nobody ever said a little black dress can’t be splashed with eye-popping daisies. And she maintained the fabric interest with numerous nets and eyelets, often worn in layers. The Versace woman lives to shine after dark, and she’ll do just that in floaty dresses and gowns, cut low and laced in back. And speaking of back action, as Versace took her bow she was, as always, a distinctive study in blanc and blonde. As she turned to leave the stage, she offered her final shot: Her pants were embroidered with a dazzling crystal-beaded thong. Business as usual chez Versace. Thank goodness.

Emporio Armani: The world may not be ready for it, but Giorgio Armani has come up with a new, all-purpose, go-everywhere item: the grass skirt. In the Emporio Armani collection he showed on Tuesday, there were legions of them. For spring, the designer wants to transport his Emporio Armani customer to a Polynesian paradise, and what fashionable traveler would risk getting caught without the right wardrobe on holiday?
Armani opened with what looked like a seafaring distaff Sergeant Pepper, perched on a white deck chair in a naval cutaway coat over a polkadot dress, her beret perched just so. Anchors aweigh, as HMS Emporio embarks on its exotic journey. What to wear? A multitude of saucy nauticals, of course, with a delightful offhanded attitude. Armani let loose with an exceptional lineup of jackets, often with girlish touches on small, controlled shapes: romantic flounced sleeves; a tiered, ruffled hem; a strip of ribbon at the waist. He carried the sailor theme through in deftly flounced chiffons and knits. Most of these were worn with languid pants that looked best minus the demonstrative flap-front sailor touch; athletic stripes added an extra-casual touch.
But once on this island, the Westerners embraced the local culture with too much gusto du moda. They slipped those grass skirts (actually made of endless fringe) over pants, under dresses, with everything from T-shirts to bed jackets. But the problem is, like anchovies, grass skirts just don’t go with everything. Unless they’re with a bra top and gardenia lei at a luau, they feel a little forced. Still, one could find plenty of evidence of the smart style that makes Armani such a powerhouse: little fringe-trimmed knits, chiffon T-shirts, sexy silk dresses. Even the swishy grass skirt had a golden moment, pulled up into strapless shimmy dresses with flapperish appeal.
Armani finished with a quartet of black-clad hula types looking as if they could sing backup for Don Ho. But instead of Don, out came one self-satisfied Fletcher Christian, soon surrounded by his bounty — that bevy of beauties who couldn’t keep their hands off of him. Aloha, Oy-vey.