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BY DESIGN : MILAN: Tarts and Taxes : The trollop look isn't the only news. There's also that little matter of corruption charges.


Gianni Versace's parade of bare buttocks on the opening day of Milan's spring and summer 1995 collections couldn't hold a candle to the scandalous doings off the runway.

Talk of hemlines and silhouettes has been overshadowed by reports of kickbacks and bribes that Krizia (Mariuccia Mandelli), Giorgio Armani and Gianfranco Ferre, among others, reportedly paid to tax officials in exchange for preferential treatment. .

The scandal set the stage for Saturday's opening of the Milan shows, which haven't been talked about so much in years. It also prompted designers to do the unheard-of--attend each other's shows.

In a gesture of solidarity, Armani and Donatella Girombelli, owner of the Genny label, turned up Sunday at the Dolce & Gabbana show.

"We have to stick together," Girombelli told reporters. "We have to show that fashion is more than just a business. It's about creativity and image." Armani, who has admitted paying $65,000 to tax inspectors, said prosecutor Antonio Di Pietro was "only doing his job."

And Versace, we suppose, was only doing his.

"It's true--the collection was vulgar," said one observer of Versace's secondary line, "but it was a studied, purposeful vulgar."

Dolce & Gabbana also teetered on the edge of trollop-hood, showing bustier dresses in sheer body-clinging chiffon, buttocks-hugging hot pants in black stretch silk and baby-doll slip dresses.

If this is what designers mean by the oft-repeated "return to femininity" this season, then it's a femininity American women will find anachronistic--to put it mildly.

Dressing for work in strappy stilettos (revealing perfectly pedicured toes), nude hose (sans runs) and a rib-crushingly tight jacket makes us think not of work but of an entirely different endeavor. . . . But, then, maybe that's the point.

"American women have a puritanical background," said fashion forecaster Marjorie Dean of the New York-based Tobe Report. "The look of femininity is what most women want. But don't make us look like tarts."

The French--not the Italians--deserve the credit (or blame?) for tightening our collective corset come spring. The summer's haute couture shows ran amok with shapely, sculpted suits and dresses--copies of which turned up almost overnight in American stores.

And it is to Paris, beginning Monday, that the fashion world will turn to see how the "womanly" look plays out.

"It's much too early to say what we might see," Dean said. "Everybody waits to see what Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld do. Lagerfeld is a genius. The sheer dresses he did that everyone thought were overly theatrical at the time have been one of the major influences in fashion--sheer backs, sheer pleats, sheer fronts. . . ."

What no one seems to agree on in Paris or Milan is length. Some designers are embracing the below-the-knee look that a handful of designers experimented with last season, while others prefer the mini. Such confusion, Dean suspects, will send women rushing back to pants. "It's easier for women if you spell it out very carefully."

But expecting a cohesive mandate from designers for spring is unrealistic. Deconstructing clothing may be passe--deconstructing the status quo is not.

Paris-based designer Martin Margiela circumvented the conventional shows in March, 1993, and unveiled his fall-winter collection, radically enough, in the fall--at nine stores around the world simultaneously. The idea, a spokesman said, was "to show the clothes in the season they are worn."

Myriam Schaefer--former right-hand woman to the irreverent Jean Paul Gaultier and the first ready-to-wear designer for the 62-year-old house of Nina Ricci--shares Margiela's disdain for the current fashion scene.

"It's not my thing," she told Reuters this week. "I just feel like telling some of these guys, 'Wake up to reality!' Behaving like a rock star, putting on shows with 90 models, appearing on TV--it's just out of proportion to what we do."

And nipping at the well-shod heels of Paris' high-end ready-to-wear shows are young Parisian style-mongers, 10,000 of whom flocked last month to the first "Who's Next" fashion fair. Staged beneath a circus tent, it was packed with inexpensive streetwear, club gear and techno-tribal-inspired clothes. (A hot seller, according to Women's Wear Daily, was Oregon-based Prison Blues T-shirts that read: "Made on the Inside, to Be Worn on the Outside.")

Meanwhile, the French are said to be counting on American buyers to place larger orders than in recent years. In fact, the American economic picture appears so bright to the French that Thierry Mugler reportedly plans to open a Rodeo Drive franchise by the end of 1995.

"With times being what they are, people want to conserve," Dean said. "But at the same time, if people want to spend a lot of money, they are going to want something to show for it."

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