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Gucci: What was it that George W. Bush 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 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 from her Ford-like impact out of the gate. And apparently, her first collection achieved its goal, as Gucci sales are reported 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.

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 commercial giant, 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 Ozzie Clark and David Bailey and offered multometers of dusty-toned homage to William Morris (even curtaining the courtyard of his venue in an ochre 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 dress (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 many 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.

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

Prada: No one throws down the fashion gauntlet like Miuccia Prada. In her show on Monday, she thrust it and then stomped on it with her first look out: a black slip dress as austere as could be, save for the smallest edge of lace at the hem. An unequivocal return to minimalism from the woman who spearheaded the embellishment madness of the last several years.

Or was it? After the show, Prada said she wanted to “go back to more simple clothes,” with fewer frills and sans that now-familiar aura of romantic escapism. In fact, her shift toward the sturdy began for spring, and here she wanted something even “more serious, more deep, more human, more strong.” And darker, literally and figuratively; hence her reembrace of black, and apparent alignment with New York’s sober faction, specifically Marc Jacobs, who went Gorey-esque to great fanfare, and Tuleh’s Bryan Bradley, who took a frillier approach.

Unlike those two, however, Prada at first appeared to flaunt stark minimalism. After the slipdress came a sculpted black dress and suit, dressmaker seaming their only decoration. She moved from black to camel and back with the same restraint, until in crept a glimmer of deco, quietly spectacular — a yoke of jet beading on a fitted black coat. This led the way to increasing embellishment of the fashion oxymoron kind, low-key yet obvious. Where once Prada might have chosen crystals or a dance of mirrors, she now inserted countless grommets into a coat. In place of formerly delicate embroideries she opted for heavy passementerie trim. This went two ways: fabulous in black on dark colors; art-school awkward in high-contrast combos, especially those doily-decorated, droopy-boob variations. Not so the garment-dyed pieces, stark white bursting forth from beneath collars and inside pleats in a brilliant expression of graceful reserve. Throughout, Prada steadfastly avoided fluff. As close as it came for day was with retro-looking bags, some emblazoned with the house logo, and a series of breathtaking dark printed coats in intriguing moody colors — girly with a dash of woe. At night, however, Miss Woebegone lightened up in the high-impact dazzle of a jewel-encrusted chemise. 

Give or take a patchwork leather or two, Prada offered a wealth of gorgeous clothes. It’s a lineup that should give her stores a decidedly fresh look come fall. Despite the inventive bravura of the spring collection, retail is looking a little tchotchkied-up, all that robot gadgetry in serious cohabitation with peacock feathers. Which makes this collection difficult to review: beautiful clothes, seemingly more salable than the most extreme renderings of spring’s aviary theatrics. And beautiful, wearable clothes are what fashion is about. Except that, at Prada, it’s also about the bold, visionary thesis. One had the feeling that Prada longed to make such a definitive argument for fall, but then hedged, due, perhaps, to pragmatism or uncertainty. And that’s not something that happens often. 

Emporio Armani: Perhaps Giorgio Armani’s been kidding us all along. Not about understanding his customer, nor about showering her with timeless clothes for every occasion imaginable. And certainly there’s no joke to the phenomenal 30-plus year run Armani continues to fuel at retail. But he must have been teasing all these years when he insisted that only real clothes belong on the runway. Or he’s crossed over to the other side. Because the clothes Armani sent out in his Emporio Armani show on Monday afternoon looked anything but real.

We don’t even have to start with the hats. How about the wayward fringe? The Orphan Annie oxfords with skirts and bare legs? The he-loves-the-Eighties skintight cocktail shakers? And in what real world do these words belong strung together: pleated pinstriped shorts?

Armani’s program notes cited “a nostalgic past when the great movie stars were truly divine.” He thus went for a casually dressed-up attitude with mixes that attempted witty eccentricity, one that some of the calmer pairings achieved. Surely one can always find great clothes, here lovely jackets of all persuasions — short, long; lean, loose — some with charming details such as a loosely ruffled collar; a trio of cute, cozy faux furs and a fab high-collared khaki coat. And for any girl in the market for a short, sparkly evening dress, Armani’s her guy. (She probably won’t want to replicate his models’ eyeglass-flaunting gyrations, however.)  It’s just unfortunate that, with his increasingly peculiar approach to styling, Armani makes the bounty so difficult to enjoy.

Bottega Veneta: Who will emerge as Gucci Group’s next commercial powerhouse? On Monday afternoon, Bottega Veneta’s Tomas Maier stated his case in his first formal runway presentation. Certainly his house possesses blow-out accessories potential, and for fall he showed perhaps his best ever, including rose-strewn black bags with the moody aura of ultra-chic Goth for grown-ups. Yet Maier is intent on developing a full ready-to-wear house, and his greatest challenge is to create a viable, identifiable look around the accessories — no easy task. Bottega bags are among the most specific out there, and the whole notion of clothes-to-match-the-bag is counterintuitive, if not to the way the fashion business sells, then at least to traditional notions of creating a designer identity, and to how most women still get dressed.

Maier made an appealing showing, revealing an instinct for polish and a more dressed-up look than he offered last season. Thus, for day he went for sleek tailoring with narrow-shoulder, slim-lined coats and jackets. He paired these with fullish skirts, often pleated and weighted with decorative metal beads for rapid movement. He also showed gently cut jersey dresses and lots of crushed velvets, some lavished with metal paillettes. And if the overall mood was not exactly “a deeply private romanticism” as the program notes heralded, there were plenty of pretty, pulled-together clothes, including some flowy evening gowns that did indeed radiate romance.

Yet while most of his clothes could have broad appeal, Maier’s development as a clothing designer with a distinct identity remains a work in progress. Specifically, something about the show’s mood rang a bit too familiar in a Tom Ford kind of way. The first such glimmers seemed almost imaginary: the models with hair pulled into tight chignons; the lean belted coats; the way the girls walked in low-slung skirts (albeit roomier than Ford’s typical fare). But when you spot a guy in a colored velvet tuxedo (here burnt orange), your mind can’t not go there. Perhaps Maier went there accidentally. But it was unnecessary, since his clothes are strong enough for him to find his own way.

Just Cavalli: For a lover of pomp, loud luxe and over-the-top attitude like Roberto Cavalli, sending out an ode to the “contemporary czarina” is a natural. At Just Cavalli, his perfectly lush, perfectly-Cavalli melange worked folkloric skirts, fur-trimmed vests and swaggering jeans glittering with crystals. Of course, under different circumstances, these bold items could have built the backbone of a rich hippie collection or melded with any of Cavalli’s favorite rocking themes. But that’s the point. This designer’s customer loves a flashy jacket and her denim done right no matter what the designer’s whimsical theme of the moment might be.

This season, while she’s not likely to flip for his more overtly costume-y fare — when was the last time a Cavalli customer wanted to hide her perfected body beneath a heavy belled skirt? — she’ll find enough sparkle and flair to keep her fabulous through a Russian winter.

Blugirl: A frosted runway and a backdrop depicting Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid set the mood for Blugirl’s trip to Northern Europe. But rather than bulky shapes and meaty fabrics, Anna Molinari sent out a collection that was, as she described it, all about “dreams and reality.”

For the most part, that meant Cinderella-meets-Ice-Queen. Blonde and fair-skinned, Molinari’s girls came out in a plethora of dresses, tops and spunky miniskirts cut from dreamy silks or crushed velvets. These were paired with fur après-ski boots and trapper hats, as well as fur-trimmed capelets and puckered nylon jackets. Throughout, the clothes were showered with sequins, baby rhinestones and beads.

Molinari then headed to North Tyrol with ample loden capes à la Little Red Riding Hood; to Scotland with tartan and velvet party frocks, and Hungary for purple and gold brocade dresses trimmed in passementerie. Molinari’s Snow Princesses were pretty enough to thaw any deep freeze.

Mila Schön: It’s never easy to take over the creative direction of a mature brand and make it current. Just ask the design team at Mila Schön. With the company’s namesake sitting in the front row, eyeing every look, the anonymous team had more than a tangible reminder of the gap they’re trying to bridge. After presenting a directionless spring show, the designers came through for fall with a collection as pretty as it was contemporary.  Printed, crushed-velvet skirts, camel pants sparkling with Lurex and plush belted coats gave a soft glaze to the feminine collection. At times, such embellishments as pompoms on a coat’s hem, jeweled studs and satin bows seemed derivative of other designers’ personalities, but overall, this was a solid effort as the design team dug deeper into their own creative vaults.

Debora Sinibaldi: Debora Sinibaldi’s striking sophomore effort deserved a better time slot than early Sunday morning, but, then again, calendar issues are just one of many challenges a designer new to the Milan collections must overcome. The former assistant to Michael Kors showed an evolved eye for fall. Sinibaldi dropped last season’s tricky staging and focused instead on mixing up great pieces, such as geometric-print coats with painted raw silk skirts. A knot here and a nip there displayed her tailoring skills and the fact that she has enough sense not to over-indulge them. Judging by her eclectic mix of raw-edged shantung dresses and slim tailored waistcoats, this Italian designer, who’s a mother of three, has plenty of spunk.

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.  

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.

Anna Molinari: Rosella Tarabini’s show notes at Anna Molinari promised a “spectacular interlocking of aesthetics and techniques” as well as “extreme juxtapositions,” which is another way of saying that, even after reading said notes, you might be clueless. Then again, even those who saw the runway show might be hard-pressed to distill the designer’s message. The juxtapositions came fast and furious, and Tarabini’s aesthetics interlocked themselves right into a tangle. Butterscotch plaids opened the show, with a peppy and prim high-belted coat, then frothy layered lace followed suit and on and on — vintage-y trapeze coats, bloomers, featherweight fairy dresses and sculpted ruffled fare galore.

Along the way, Tarabini showed a smattering of good pieces, some with the sweet feminine bent that has been the hallmark of her collections. The worst, however, were looks so unabashedly feminine that they ran to the bordello side of boudoir.

Tarabini is clearly in experimental mode, searching out new directions for the brand while tinkering with the season’s new voluminous silhouettes. But if overexuberance were a crime, then the sheriff would have no choice but to lock her up and throw away the key.

Menichetti: Roberto Menichetti may have abandoned New York in favor of Milan for the third outing of his eponymous collection, but the designer hasn’t let go of his signature spare style. Menichetti chose to show in his headquarters and replicated sunlight by illuminating the mostly glass structure with floodlights from outdoors.

For fall, Menichetti opted to work textured fabrics into simple shapes, fashioning washed and wrinkled cotton into slim suits with crisscrossed back straps, a detail that alluded to the motocross obsession the designer has been prone to overuse. Not so this time. He rounded out this ultrawearable assortment with cozy, yet lean cable knits in cream or cotton-candy pink and a geometric-patterned, mohair wrap pencil skirt. Menichetti was at his best, however, when indulging in a little bit of romance. For example, silk shirts and shirtdresses in chocolate, navy, or baby blue benefited from small sections of smocking or bib fronts. As they say, it’s all in the details.

Borbonese: Remember “The Thomas Crown Affair” and Faye Dunaway’s slightly neurotic, sexy style? Well, Alessandro Dell’Acqua captured that mood in the Seventies glamfest he staged for Borbonese’s fall collection.

These are clothes for self-assured women who cherish opulent, steamy looks, whether they’re sipping champagne in a hip club or simply walking the dog. And Dell’Acqua gave them plenty of high-life ensembles. A wholesome knitted cardigan became sexy when worn over a white satin blouse and low-rise cropped jeans, and a tiger-striped pony-skin coat topped a sequined silk chiffon skirt and top. Fuzzy wool chevron coats were belted in gold over velvet-trimmed pants, and a white astrakhan jacket was paired with a silk chiffon handkerchief dress in Borbonese’s signature bird’s-eye print.

Accessories — the company’s heritage and forte — also got the glam treatment. Frog closures decorated suede boots; other boots sported gold or jeweled heels, and oversized ostrich bags were embellished with zebra-striped insets. And just for good measure, Dell’Acqua threw in lots of fur scarves, suede hats and chunky gold lariat necklaces. Hey, that’s how his dames like it.

La Perla: Alessandro Dell’Acqua just might be the busiest designer in Milan, splitting his time between a signature line and the houses of Borbonese and La Perla. So what’s a guy to do with such a full plate? Mine decades past for inspiration, that’s what. This isn’t a novel approach, but in Dell’Acqua’s capable hands, even the turn of the century, which provided inspiration for fall at La Perla, works perfectly when updated and shot with the sort of cheeky sexiness that fans of this hallowed lingerie house look for.

Dell’Acqua opened with a great coat followed by a swingy jacket, both lavishly trimmed in astrakhan, and perfect for any latter-day czarina. Then the Edwardian parade began. But these weren’t the sort of girls you might see in a Broadway revival of “My Fair Lady.” Pintucked satin in baby blue or champagne made for some pretty dresses and skirts, their sweetness tempered by a sharp military coat or cadet jacket. The ubiquitous frilly blouses were modern when paired with pinstriped velvet cut into skinny trousers or pencil skirts, and almost all were sheer, the better to show off your undergarments; this is La Perla after all, dear.

Pollini by Rifat Ozbek: Rifat Ozbek took inspiration from the roaring Twenties for his fall Pollini collection. Graphic Art Deco prints set the rhythm with bold coats, then Jazz-age silhouettes picked up the beat, including the best of all — Ozbek’s newfangled two-piece flapper dresses, cut in metallic lace or glittering with happy spangles. But while Ozbek’s third show for the house exuded a vintage attitude, he also kept things realistic — and wearable. The collection isn’t perfect, but Ozbek is well on his way to creating a solid identity for the brand.

Links to other Fall 2005 Reviews:
The Reviews – Fall 2005: New York
The Reviews – Fall 2005: London
The Reviews – Fall 2005: Paris