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Christopher Bailey’s splendidly confident fall collection for Burberry Prorsum celebrated Brit “It” girls, while Alessandra Facchinetti showed a certain self-assurance for Gucci. And at Missoni, Angela Missoni created a put-together womanly look.

Burberry Prorsum: So many shows. So little news. So why isn’t Christopher Bailey the toast of Milan? One can argue reasonably against the merits of powerhouse basics on the runway, and Milan sprouts new designers about as often as Giorgio Armani shows real pants. Burberry Prorsum bucks the trend, an honest-to-goodness fashion collection from a top commercial firm, the work of a still-young designer with something to say that’s neither redundant nor dull, yet plenty wearable. Bailey came to Burberry intent on merging two disparate elements of Brit style — old-house spiffiness and young-hipster élan. Suffice it to say, the union is thriving. For fall, it played like a dream — which, ironically, may be the reason Bailey’s work doesn’t incite more frenzy. Unlike his onetime boss, Tom Ford, whose wow factor is woefully in absentia this season, Bailey’s strength in his work lies in subtlety, girlish but antipriss, street smart sans aggression. He celebrates the pop Sixties overtly but avoids retro camp like a bad trip. So, while he saluted Ossie Clark and David Bailey and offered molto meters of dusty-toned homage to William Morris (even curtaining the courtyard of his venue in an ocher print), he did it with an unprecious footing in the here-and-now.

Bailey’s Brit “It” girl works her wiles via a quite specific mix: flower-child dresses (the show’s biggest news in prints and pleated velvet); skirts in lightened-up but veddy proper English tweeds; layered shirts, sweaters and pom-pom scarves; an urchin’s nod to nautical; a newsboy cap perched to casual perfection. A limited look, yes, and young to boot. But when the ship sails on the baby-doll frock, as for every woman it must, the collection stays happily in port. 

Appropriate currency — perhaps the toughest challenge of the powerhouse fashion contingent. Despite his youth-culture motif, Bailey delivered much more than a cute runway romp at odds with his house’s retail reality. Women of multiple generations who approach Burberry with very different mind-sets can break out the plastic with equal confidence, as many of these clothes are ageless: trenchcoats with kilt-like pleating in back; an admiral’s coat hemmed with a wide satin band; a dark cardigan with a printed flounce at the wrist. It’s a lineup to thrill fashion-lovers young and then-some, and one that solidifies Bailey’s spot among the top tier of designers showing in Milan — an elite group, indeed.

This story first appeared in the February 24, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Gucci: What was it that George H. W. Bush always said? “Stay the course.” He might have been advising Alessandra Facchinetti, whose mandate in taking the women’s design helm at Gucci was to maintain the Tom Ford-instituted status quo, and thus keep the Gucci Group cash cow mooing nicely. Marching orders with apparent merit, perhaps, but also fraught with potential perils. Even that other Bush — Air Force One’s gung-ho tourist — knows that events sometimes call for a shake-up, or he never would have landed on the tarmac in Brussels. More to the point, while Ford brought tons of status to Gucci, it was hardly of the quo variety, no matter how little he changed his silhouettes. Because the essence of his Gucci wasn’t vested in a pair of skinny pants or a sexed-up, camera-ready gown. Rather, what fueled Gucci back in the day was Ford’s ability to rock the fashion world in 14 minutes flat. He didn’t do it with every show, but every show held the promise that he might — hardly a trait one can replicate on command.

In that light, Facchinetti’s position seems all but impossible. The collection she showed on Wednesday had some good-enough clothes and a more polished, confident attitude, but scant world-rocking potential. She said she sought a sense of “dualism, to show the two sides of the Gucci woman — rigorous and severe on one hand, feminine and poetic on the other.”

To that end, Facchinetti proceeded sensibly, if at times clumsily. Volume be darned, skinny women will want skinny pants come fall, which they can wear with sexy wench blouses. And since movie stars always want the latest hourglass, she closed with some major after-dark curvature, no doubt inspired by her Golden Globes coup, the peacock-clad Nicole Kidman. But Facchinetti did not ignore volume, putting it on top in full sleeves and coats and jackets that tapered inward from strong shoulders. Too often, however, the yin-yang motif led to overwrought clothes with big embroideries, borders, frills and structured lines all competing for attention.

It has only been a year since Ford’s swan song, a year of stunning change for Gucci and Facchinetti. No one could have expected  Ford-like impact from her out of the gate. And apparently, her first collection achieved its goal, as Gucci sales are reportedly strong. At some point, however — probably sooner than later — the coattail effect will fade. Some top-notch assistants become fine designers in their own right, à la Christopher Bailey. For all sorts of reasons, others — Calvin Klein’s brilliant Zack Carr comes to mind — are better suited to the role of number one-number two. The Facchinetti jury is still out.

Missoni: In one fell swoop, Angela Missoni said bye-bye to bohemia this season. Over the past several years — and several decades — a haute boho look has defined Missoni-style glamour. It was often a Talitha Getty kind of affair. And while it’s impossible to avoid a Seventies vibe working with the house’s signature knits, this season Missoni traveled as far as she’s ever gone from her roots.

The collection was womanly and confident, delivering a pulled-together, sexy new agenda. With a deft handling of the season’s emphasis on oversized silhouettes, Missoni’s nod to volume came on top. Slouchy V-neck sweaters were shown over slim skirts gently twisted at the hem. Bustling furs or generous cardigans topped cocktail dresses sculpted to skim the body.

Her way with the house’s hallmark prints and knits was just as agile. She worked in the prettiest of geometric florals, lending the look a faint Japanese air, and even transferred those famed zigzags into a zingy fur pullover.