TICKETS TO RIDE
ON MONDAY, MILAN AUDIENCES TOOK A TRIP — BACK TO THE EIGHTIES, IN THE CASE OF MIUCCIA PRADA’S SIGNATURE COLLECTION, AND TO FAR-OFF DESTINATIONS, IN GIORGIO ARMANI’S EMPORIO COLLECTION, WHICH TRAVELED TO THE DESERT AND DEAUVILLE.

Prada: Stop the presses! Miuccia’s mortal! The collection she showed on Monday was a confusing affair, first because no one expects Miuccia Prada to go where others have already gone — in this case, the Eighties. Of course, once there she went her own way. Which is to say she never made the club scene, opting instead for visits to Azzedine and Yohji, often delivered in the spirit of butch chic.
The collection went from sexy to sober. Is Prada returning to her intellectual ways after flirting with the intentionally mundane and the mildly eccentric? Was the collection deliberately forced? Certainly Prada has decided that, at least for now, mere prettiness isn’t enough. Nor is the quirky femininity that made her fall collection so special.
Instead, this was a heavy-handed and odd collection, odd not in the intentional manner that helped forge her stardom, but in the sense that it seemed unresolved and a bit haphazard.
Nevertheless, as always Miuccia delivered some interesting ideas and some beautiful clothes. In fact, these clothes will look much better off the runway, freed of the constraints of self-conscious styling. Last season, Prada took a fancy to the waist, tying it up with little grosgrain ribbons. Here, that fancy grew to near-obsession, as she highlighted the midsection by baring it under minute black and gray cropped sweaters, sometimes in layers, or circling it with ribbed cummerbunds. Almost always, these went with skirts, and Miuccia’s preferred shape is gathered or pleated for fullness — dowdy on all but the thinnest of frames. She also tucked jackets into skirts with a deft touch. On the other hand, she closed with a group of austere tailored shirts and sometimes cumbersome skirts in combinations of navy or gray with black beading — perfect for a prison matron’s night at the hop.
For more delicate types, Prada also did a little “Our Miss Brooks” routine, and while the straight skirts and pastel polo sweaters recalled her recent past collections, they looked great.

Emporio Armani: Giorgio Armani didn’t go into this season with two shows on his mind, he had three. That is, if you count his upcoming extravaganza at the Guggenheim, now only two weeks away. Certainly one might expect to cut him a little slack this week but so far, none was needed. At Emporio Armani on Monday, he flexed that famous Armani muscle with the power of restraint in a casually elegant collection, one that offered a welcomed digression from spring’s trans-Atlantic Eighties trip.
Who knows if Armani finds humor in his precision choreography, which this season played rather sweetly, with pairs of girls fake-chattering down the runway or pointing off to unseen vistas? What’s more than obvious is that these fashions are destination clothes — destined to be loved and worn by millions of women.
While the travel motif turned up in his program notes — “allusions to far away places, colours and scents. The desert” — happily, Lawrence of Arabia stayed away. Instead, Armani went for subtlety, sometimes basking in the light of Deauville, where languid shapes, gentle argyles and even graceful wide-brimmed hats looked au courant.
The success of this collection lay in its ease: new, small jackets over cropped pants; a diverse lineup of tiny tops — Ts, tanks, strappy halters, accordion-pleated pieces, a one-shoulder number tied at the waist for a peplum effect; not-too-precious chiffon dresses and skirts. Throughout, he kept to relaxed textures, from his signature suits to skinny knits and supple suedes. The mood was utterly airy from start to finish. And for those who might have missed the point, he brought in a wind machine, to set three sporty sheer jackets wafting in the breeze over pale horizontally pleated skirts.

Neil Barrett is one crafty fellow. For the second season in a row, he simply scaled down his men’s wear in order to create his women’s line, and it worked to such good advantage that it makes you wonder why someone would choose to operate any other way. Leather motorcycle jackets were recut for women, as were hipster pants, parts of the line presented in the showroom this week. But Barrett also had another bright idea, cutting crisp pleated skirts and drop-waisted dresses in his men’s shirting fabrics. It seems to be doing the trick: Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue and Maxfield have already picked up the collection. “I’m not a young designer,” said Barrett, “I’m a new designer. I use my head.”

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