PUMPED-UP VOLUME, PUZZLE PRINTS AND COOL PRECISION
INFLUENCES FROM THE EIGHTIES PLAYED A ROLE ON THE MILAN RUNWAYS AS THE SPRING COLLECTIONS CONTINUED, FROM TOM FORD’S M.C. HAMMER PANTS AND CONE BRAS AT GUCCI TO NARCISO RODRIGUEZ’S SUBTLE VARIATIONS ON POWER LOOKS AND ANGELA MISSONI’S GEOMETRIC PRINTS AND DISCO LOOKS FOR MISSONI.

Gucci: What will Tom Ford do at Saint Laurent? That has been the most titillating question of this collection season. And now the query takes on new scope, because no one could have imagined the collection he worked up for Gucci — a dizzying, at times disturbing, display of hard-core something, but what? Eighties extravaganza? Hip-hop? Butch Chic? Misogyny on heels? Depending on whom you talked to after the show, it was all of the above.
In an interview back in June, Ford stressed that he would not ignore Gucci for Saint Laurent. Before the show, he said his goal was to find a new sense of proportion and volume, and he did it without a single retro reference. Yet volume merely provided a side issue, despite the onslaught of huge satin M.C. Hammer pants. As for retro — secondary as well, although show us a cone bra, and we’ll show you a Gaultier. This collection was all about Tom Ford’s sheer brass, his willingness to push the proverbial envelope to the stratosphere and back. And his insistence that Gucci, to paraphrase Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction,” will not be ignored. From the torpedo boobs to the gigantic utility pants, from the leather harness and cage bustiers to the swimsuit-and-boxing shoe motif, he had to recognize a level of aggressive oddness that approached perversity.
Of course, perverse knows different sides. In a post-show chat, one fashion editor, a man, cited elements “of a single Eighties designer,” while a young woman found it “sad, misogynistic and insulting,” noting the T-shirt and wet underpants look as an example. “Oh that,” countered the first, “Olivia Newton-John in ‘Physical.”‘
Such debate goes to the heart of Ford’s work, which ultimately is an ongoing thesis on sex. But since he works at Gucci and not Masters & Johnson, he’s got to support his arguments with clothes. And here, there were high points: the black net-over-nude corset dresses and more subdued corsets; army knits and sheer Ts (minus the bras); a cocoon top or two over pants. If they don’t grab you, you’ll always have Paris.

Narciso Rodriguez: Beyond cool, Narciso Rodriguez’s spring collection delivered steely precision. While his fall look was feminine and ladylike, this season he toughened up with a somber palette which — aside from one red dress — was limited to black, white, silver and gray. Pants and shorts were of the razor-sharp variety. Clean white shirts were crisp beyond compare. Sweet? No way. Sexy? Seriously. His leather shirts plunged and kept on plunging, while a metal sequin T-shirt was super-slick. Everything from his coatdresses and trenchcoats to a leather T and suede dress alluded to an Eighties power trip, but they also showed how a designer can be merely inspired by the decade and still do something real.
But we’re talking matters of degree here. Rodriguez’s reality, however perfect, did border on the boring from time to time. When he let the reins out — just a bit, mind you — he did it with a series of sack dresses, each pulled in on one side of the waist with a slim band of elastic, that was just this side of artsy. Maybe Rodriguez decided it was time to solidify things a little — and isn’t that what happens when water turns to ice?

Missoni: When you know your geometric prints as well as the Missonis do, you can afford to cut loose and have a little fun with it all. This season, Angela Missoni peered at the family’s signature designs through a prism and came up with something that was bright enough to rival a Cubist reverie — then she set it to a disco beat. Out came a graphic display of fractured-puzzle-print chiffons in red, white and blue; checkerboard knits, and a few sunny striped minidresses with what looked like an abstracted Calder mosaic splashed across their fronts. A giant diamond pattern also spread itself across a slim-cut coat and pencil skirt, and a plunge-neck swimsuit carried graphic prints in a daring new direction.
While the disco theme worked in the form of silky blouses and simple jersey gowns, its agonizing references soon took things far beyond the looking glass. Along the way, some skirts and dresses were ruined by bulging flounces that rode on the hips in homage to the era. What woman needs an extra flap of fabric there? Those ideas, along with the overly-exuberant styling, proved to be a deadly combination. Missoni can be so fantastically chic — hip even — without trying half as hard.

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