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Dolce & Gabbana: Fashion — it all started back in Eden with an acquisitive woman and the lure of the snake. Now, all these millennia later, what’s so different? Not much, according to Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, who on Friday showed a terrific Dolce & Gabbana collection souped up with the help of that age-old enticing serpentine charmer.

Like others in Milan this season, the designers took their inspiration from Africa, while referencing late Seventies-era photographs by Irving Penn and, with unintentional poignancy, Richard Avedon. Along the way, they went ape over snake, working it the way Gap works khaki. That is to say, they made it the core of their collection, so much so that it’s unlikely any true Dolce girl will greet the spring sans at least a pinch of python. Certainly she’ll have plenty from which to choose, from the high-heat corset dress in which Naomi Campbell opened the show, to more versatile coats and skirts worked at least partially in snake, to wild new versions of the ornamented jeans the designers love, to a bounty of spectacular bags and shoes. And heavy-handed though it sounds, Dolce and Gabbana made it all utterly chic.

Chic, of course, in that high-heat manner intrinsic to everything these designers do. “Sexissimo!” Gabbana proclaimed the dominant look, while a T-shirt boasted, “Luxe is More.” And so it was — in both cases, as the pair reveled in lace, croc, denim, feathers, tweeds, animal prints and the novelty du jour, raffia, all combined to provocative effect.

Evening featured a dazzlingly diverse brigade from goddess gowns to glitter hearts a-go-go. And for all the sex, embellishment and material exotica, the collection delivered a certain polish, even refinement, while it radiated heat. Now that’s a trip worth taking.

Jil Sander: Though Jil Sander is in her third return-engagement season, in a way, the collection she showed on Friday felt like her true comeback; a spectacular effort in which she argued staunchly yet serenely for honest calm in a visual storm.

Diversity is the spice of fashion, yet who wouldn’t agree that the past few seasons have offered too much sameness? How lucky to have Sander back and in gloriously top form to provide a genuine, chic alternative this season to the widespread, deliberate exotica sweeping Milan. Her relaxed reserve felt as welcome as a breeze in August. Sander’s return has been marked by a newly softened aesthetic, and here it felt completely resolved, without a trace of phoniness. Thus, she built the collection around the idea of a man’s shirt — simple, unpretentious and clean. She opened with a group of soothing blue and white that transported one instantly to a dream version of the ideal summer day, with everyone dressed crisply, yet for ease — a roller-print shirt and hip-slung skirt; sensible belted trousers with a light-as-air pullover and shirt. And as if testing her ability to keep the shirt motif special, she went on to engage in a series of manipulations, adding a tightly packed placket ruffle, or a bold block of yellow to the front.

This story first appeared in the October 4, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Sander’s perfect sportif extended to sweaters that would befit the most refined Seven Sisters coed, and jumbo-wide pants made to look desirable. (Let’s face it, that doesn’t happen often.) As for her iconic coats — bingo! — structured but soft, some made more so with the addition of a scarf gathered and tied into a bow. She also gave fresh evidence of her strengthened comfort level with dresses, playing to the artistic ingenue in gentle frocks, pin-tucked in front. It all made for a supremely beautiful package, and in its quiet way, a blockbuster.

Versace: There’s a new day dawning at Versace, with a new ceo, a focus on growth and Donatella Versace more determined than ever before. To drive home that message, she kept her spring collection deliberately low-key, both on the runway and off — yoo-hoo, front-row celebrities: anybody home? — treading a deft line between the expected sexiness and savvy restraint. The result was a collection that glowed pretty and even ladylike, in clear counterpoint to last season’s nouveau punk. For the most part, it worked beautifully.

Of course, by Donatella’s lights, why shouldn’t a lady be a vamp, too? For spring, the designer fancied her “a goddess emerging from the sea,” but one plenty aware of her earthly powers, exercised here with less-is-more surety. During the design process, a momentary minimalist fantasy must have swept over Versace, resulting in some of the simplest clothes ever to hit her runway. Yet one would never mistake her Plain Jane for a wallflower; rather, she’s a bombshell without beading. And those iced pastel satin lovelies did her equal justice, draped and cut out to va-va-voom effect, a major halter haul revealing both décolletage and back. For more casual moments, Versace chose deliberately unfettered tailored jackets over bias skirts, and jet-set-worthy low-slung pants.

But no girl should go overboard with understatement. To that end, Versace broadened the range of the celebratory scarf print, from dresses with Midas-loving Medusa belts to a beachy halter-and-jams set. And while on the topic of snorkel chic, a delightful pink underwater motif got liberal use in one of the biggest, best bathrobes ever to hit the shore.

Still, in Versace’s world, every goddess worth her backstroke revels in the occasional big event. And if, by now, Donatella’s evening approach seems formulaic, it’s only because she knows exactly what the red-carpet set wants and sends it out in droves. Familiar or not, her crystal-encrusted spring flou still looked plenty see-worthy.

Miu Miu: For some designers, the words “Western wear” might conjure up visions of Marlboro men and their 10-gallon hats. Not Miuccia Prada. The Miu Miu collection she showed against a cartoon backdrop of desert cacti on Saturday romanced a kooky Palm Springs world, that, while retro, spun a splashy Sixties look into the future. Prada’s take on West Coast classics — polo tops, shift dresses and jams — exploded with geometric graphics of the sort David Hicks and Marimekko made fabulous, and which later might have spruced up, say, the coffee shop of a Best Western inn.

The look was jazzy from head to toe. Oversized chrysanthemums, loopy bulls-eyes and abstract arabesques bloomed across A-line dresses and tunics. Bold fruit shapes — bananas and pears — burst across sweaters. And it was all taken to the brink with modish plastic headbands, bold suede belts and zany patent shoes Twiggy would have loved. It was pure, unadulterated fun.

Miu Miu always carries an aura of deep-down cool. This time around, the clothes oozed with youthful savvy — even the stuff cut in silk shantung. If anyone can make shantung cool, it’s Prada. “It’s her substitute for tweed,” one editor proposed after the show. With deliberate irony, she decorated cropped shantung jackets and shifts with thick strips of plastic beading as in the glory days of yore. Lately, retro has become something of a slur in the fashion world. But leave it to Prada to turn any such notion on its head. Even when she glances backwards, it’s a leap ahead.