SLICK CHICKS, PLAIN JANES AND AFRICAN QUEENS
VERSACE MIXED SEXINESS AND STYLE, WHILE MILITARY LOOKS WERE THE ORDER OF THE DAY AT PRADA, TUXEDOS RULED AT BOSS HUGO BOSS AND FERRE WAS ALL ABOUT AFRICA.

Versace: “Last season was about elegance,” Donatella Versace said before her show. “This woman is still elegant, but with less control.”
Perhaps so, but Donatella sure wasn’t speaking of herself. In the collection she showed on Friday, the designer was in total control, with a slick approach that made for one of Milan’s best collections. Donatella claimed, too, that the show was “pure Versace,” with nothing of the Sixties, Seventies or Eighties. But part of the Versace mystique lies in sex-and-sizzle Eighties glam, and she worked that mood to the hilt — minus the excess. Pure Versace also means star power, and Donatella roped in Christina Ricci and Courtney Love, who turned up with her daughter Frances Bean Cobain. On the other hand, Bruce Willis was escorted by some burly bodyguards to protect him from those dangerous fashion editors.
On the runway, the Versace vixens strutted their stuff with hair teased high into big, powerful French twists, their shoulders aggressive but manageable. Donatella kept the volume on top, cinching the waist with wide power belts over short, tight skirts.
She opened with white, insetting drapey jersey with strips of white leather, matte or patent. And she pushed the slick mood further with a patent trench and skirt that put the rich into the current Rich Bitch fascination. She also showed bold prints and enough fabulous Grecian draping to clothe Olympus. But then, while so many others this season have studied the classics with all the devotion of restless dilettantes, at Versace, they’re a hallmark of the house.

Miu Miu: Plain-Jane prettiness with a military touch — that was Miu Miu’s message for spring. And as a disappointing Milan season waned, it offered welcome relief from all the Mudd Club wannabes out there, many of whom have by now assumed a generic bridge-and-tunnel look.
After her recent preoccupation with romantic whimsy, Miuccia Prada is clearly in a subdued mode. At Miu Miu, that attitude stopped short of austerity, as Prada gave in just a little to a latent predisposition for flirtation: Really sober girls don’t go in for multicolor high heels worn with taupe ankle socks. Aside from that little flourish of color, however, and some touches of red, Prada worked almost exclusively in a palette of military anonymity — khaki, gray, navy, Boy Scout brown.
The shapes were sexy in a no-nonsense sort of way: tiny knitted tube tops and skirts, cargo microminis, jackets and shirtdresses shaped by wide cinch belts. And if those pleated and dirndly skirts will look dowdy on all but the thinnest of bodies, Patrizio Bertelli has gone on record with his lack of concern for older, imperfect customers. As for Miuccia’s penchant for fallish knits — if fur is okay for springtime, why not mohair? And while she worked mostly in sturdy cottons for everything else, she gave in to romance with wispy white dresses, gently flounced. Even the plainest Janes like to get their frills.

Gianfranco Ferre: Why Africa? Very simply, Gianfranco Ferre says he’s been seduced by it — even though he’s never been there. Before his show, he said, “It is a country full of energy and fantasy. This collection is my dream of Africa.” An elaborate dream, to say the least — sometimes spun with charm, but more frequently with excess and extravagance.
Forget about safari fare. Think opulence, body painting, ceremonial dress, tons of accessories. And who needs Isak Dinesen when you have the likes of Naomi Campbell? Ferre turned python into sexy fringed dresses or skinny, second-skin pants; put full body stockings printed with tribal markings under white shirtings; paired black and white caviar-beaded bustiers with blanket shawls or intricately constructed jackets; and, for evening, wrapped his women in yards and yards of rich Madagascar silks. Want more? How about armloads of bangles, African beaded necklaces, cuffs, towering heels and the finale — super-Masai Naomi in a sexy red minidress made entirely of strands of African beads that swished with her every move. Pretty heavy dreaming.

Boss Hugo Boss: Talk about a tuxedo junction — one that made for a strong debut of Boss Hugo Boss. In this season of relentless Eighties look-alikes, designer Grit Seymour took a novel approach — her own.
Throughout, Seymour dissected the classic look and its various parts, tweaking the jacket, reworking the cummerbund and riffing on the ruffled shirt. Her coats were slim-cut and buttoned low; her sleek coatdresses and narrow shorts showed off Boss’s precision tailoring.
When she moved beyond the tailored looks, Seymour, who used to be part of the Donna Karan design team, also scored with a series of sexy black draped dresses. She even used a little asymmetry now and then without getting too artsy.
According to her show notes, Seymour’s inspiration was her hometown of Berlin. Maybe so, but her no-nonsense, confident approach hinted at the work of Hamburg’s hometown heroine, Jil Sander. But Seymour interpreted pared-down chic her way, and her cool reassessment seems like the right fit for Hugo Boss. Next spring, New Yorkers will get to judge for themselves when the new collection hits major stores as well as Boss’s new flagship on Fifth Avenue.

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