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Change is good. Giorgio Armani’s new design manifesto included great jackets and lots of black, while Christian Lacroix presented a daringly toned-down Pucci collection. Consuelo Castiglione, for her part, played with volume for Marni.

Giorgio Armani: This paper has gone on record a number of times about Giorgio Armani’s tricky pants, so let’s not even discuss the bloomers. Aside from those (and it’s one hefty aside), the collection Armani showed on Tuesday presented plenty of strong clothes. More importantly, it played like a tour de force of brute strength from the man who remains one of the most powerful forces in this business. “A declaration of intent. A new manifesto” for women, he wrote in his program notes. 

However frustrated one may get at the repeated follies of an Armani show, millinery and otherwise, there is no arguing with his epic-caliber success. Armani remains in tune with what millions of wealthy clothes-buying women want to wear day in and day out, and somehow he manages to get away with silly-ing up that message on his runway. This show did indeed play like a manifesto, with a number of absolute pronouncements: black. Dressing up for day, with a major focus on the jacket. A show of leg. And, most importantly, the message of: “Trust me. I know what you need.”

That insight starts with jackets. They wax in and out of fashion, but countless women love them, wear them, collect them all the time. For fall, they’ll have their fill. Sexy, single-button blazers cut long and lean will turn Garbo glam atop Armani’s terrific retail-only trousers. He also showed short peplumed versions with a high flirt factor, often over short, tight skirts, some with gently gathered hems. Armani did his part for the volume movement as well, in boxy tops that slipped suggestively off the body as well as girlish pastel furs and a sweeping princess coat in rich blue velvet.

Surprisingly, Armani showed no major eveningwear, preferring to address such needs in Privé. But he did send out several appealing short black dresses with varying degrees of jeweled embellishment. This was not the collection’s only decoration. Throughout, Armani incorporated surrealist touches — a jeweled hand on a waistband; a single eye spying from a handbag. In this way he showed his artiste’s hand, one firmly fitted into the iron glove of might.

This story first appeared in the February 23, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Pucci: It takes nerve to tinker with a winning formula, especially in the brand-building stage. Under Christian Lacroix’s stewardship, Pucci has become one of the fastest-growing labels in fashion. And it also had probably the most limited signature of any well-known house — until now. In the collection he showed on Tuesday, Lacroix took a giant leap toward redefining Pucci as a complete collection in which prints play an essential role without being the whole shebang. He demoted giddy frivolity, too, from its former stance as house mood in perpetuity.

Lacroix delivered this daring two-part message with his first look out, a simple high-neck black dress worn with over-the-knee black boots embroidered in gold. He went on to show a hefty dose of black intermingled with newly muted prints, some approaching dark romanticism in earthy mixes of purple and brown. His program notes cited hybrid inspirations — the Florentine Renaissance with Sixties and Seventies simplicity — and certainly in soft, scoopneck printed dresses one could imagine a time-traveling Talitha Getty wandering in various frescoed haunts. But Lacroix saluted the Eighties as well, in nods to his own famous poufs; big, shawl-collared coats and flamboyant pants-in-boots pairings, some worn with demonstrative blouson jackets.

All of this may not sound like the stuff of sobriety. But, relatively speaking, it was, as Lacroix turned down the playfulness meter a notch or ninety. Perhaps this reserve reflects that, at this turning point in his career, Lacroix is in a contemplative mode, laced with a bit of fighting spirit. Or perhaps he’s just picked up on fall’s emerging sense of restraint. Either way, he showed the mettle to push Pucci to a place where it can continue to thrive once fashion moves past its current decorative overdrive.

But such resolve is not absolute. Lacroix closed with a brief but vibrant color show — draped orange and fuchsia goddess numbers and one blinding taffeta — as if to signal that he’s still an optimist at heart.

Marni: Timing is everything. The season’s focus on voluminous shapes and a more pensive mood meant the setting was right for a real Marni-fest. And Consuelo Castiglione took full advantage of the moment, showing a quietly graceful collection full of subtle innovations as well as swell renditions of some of the house’s greatest hits. Shrunken jackets in organic fabrics came tied around the waist with a modest bow. Gently belled skirts toyed with fuller volumes, without overdoing it. Boxy astrakhan jackets and coats were a reminder of how sleek and luxe a simple fur can be. All along the way, Castiglione kept her prints matter-of-fact, working in a vintage stripe, smart geometrics and a barely-there floral.

Other designers might give sway to eccentric moodiness this season, but Castiglione is no dabbler. She’s fluent in the poetry of bohemian chic.