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In a season that held tightly to feminine wiles, a handful of designers set out to break the prettiness barrier, for better or for worse. From sexy club divas to deconstructed dreamers, Milan’s runways had the right attitude to match any personality.

Ichiro Seta sent out his first collection for Gibò on Monday. He had previously worked for Jean Paul Gaultier and Yohji Yamamoto, and his training showed in such clever items as beachworthy jersey dresses that twisted and tied. What didn’t work as well were looks garnished with shaggy, mossy trimmings. But Seta is off to a strong start.

With so many fashion houses channeling last-season Prada, it’s refreshing when a designer charts his own independent path. That was the case with both Gilles Rosier and Neil Barrett. Rosier’s slumbering girls awoke from a rose-petal covered bed in slightly rumpled, dreamy dresses that hung away from the body, asymmetrically buttoned shirts and faux-layered tops and knits. Although Rosier crafts complicated clothes, draping, nipping and using straps to build pieces around the body, they rarely looked overwrought, but rather peacefully at ease.

Neil Barrett makes no secret about it. He’s a men’s wear designer and quite a popular one as of late, dressing Brad Pitt for a slew of premieres and last month’s Emmys. Yet Barrett also crafts a small, focused women’s collection that is influenced by his fierce tailoring. In a season when everyone is in pretty mode, Barrett stuck to what he does best: shrunken jackets, super-lightweight knits and washed leather outerwear. He offers real functionality and an urbane alternative to all those circle skirts.

For spring, Iceberg designer Paolo Gerari called his collection “MetroFolk,” mixing gypsy and ethnic flourishes with a techno spin. Crinkly white silk dresses printed in florals with lace insets were pretty, while satin hoodies paired with sparkly Hello Kitty T shirts were perfect for any aspiring club kid. Denim came in bleached-out tie-dye, the kind of do-it-yourself girls may have already tried at home. With all the bright color and exposed skin, the Iceberg girl is definitely not the shy sort.

This story first appeared in the October 1, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Subtle daywear? Soft, feminine dressing? Not in Exte’s hyperaggressive world, where clothes that command attention rule. The company’s design team layered leather straps on silk dresses to create a harness effect, while cropped tailored jackets with chiffon insets and long cuffed pants gave power suits new authority. Sure, the collection at times roared more like a lioness in heat than a sex kitten, but, then again, Exte’s girls are unapologetic about wanting it and, more importantly, flaunting it.

Laura Biagiotti took a trip Down Under for spring, channeling Aborigine motifs for her signature knits. She layered cashmere and linen tricot tops over fringed mesh skirts and kept colors earthy and natural. While at times things got heavy-handed, her beautifully tailored jackets and asymmetrical skirts with circle cutouts were in top form.

Summer for Mariella Burani means many things: dancing till the wee hours in a hot club on the Costa Smeralda, working the city scene day by day, attending a session of flamenco dancing or heading out to the countryside with prairie-girl nostalgia. All of that came together in a hodgepodge that went from poppy-printed minidresses over matching stockings to a trim leather jacket over polkadot cotton pants, from rose appliquéd black dresses to flouncy white lace skirts and tank tops.

Although GF Ferré is still in evolution mode, the spring collection progressed forward, abandoning the overwrought silhouettes of past seasons and sticking to simpler fare instead. Slinky jersey dresses, cropped metallic jackets and white canvas pants nipped in the back of the thigh are the stuff that second lines are made of.