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MILAN, Italy — Giorgio Armani broke from his characteristically understated vision Thursday night, presenting a fall collection that was excessive in the best sense of the word.

Nearly 400 outfits, worn by 75 models, were paraded before a black-tie audience of 1,200, down a 150-foot-long runway. The word extravaganza comes to mind.

Though beautifully cut suits and jackets were a substantial element of the collection, the most intriguingly shaped lapel couldn't hold a candle to the show's more opulent offerings: heavily beaded chiffon tank dresses and body stockings, cut-velvet pajamas, brocade evening ensembles. Any one of them would look perfectly at home at this month's Academy Awards ceremony.

To compete with the aggressively luxurious clothes, models were aggressively made up, with heavy eye shadow, thickly mascaraed false eyelashes and dark red lipstick.

The shift in aesthetic gears for Armani fairly burned rubber.

Who got left in the dust? Designers whose idea of evening wear is the barest bit of sheen.

And while one could fault Armani for ignoring the minimalist Zeitgeist that reigned supreme at the fall fashion collections, which ended Friday, give the designer credit for recognizing a woman's appetite for fantasy. Besides the beaded pieces, which sparkled wondrously under the spotlights, Armani showed silk charmeuse bias-cut pants, sumptuous cut-velvet pajamas, Asian-inspired coats.

If the entire production seemed to have gone a bit Hollywood, it was no accident. Armani was reportedly so happy with his show last year for L.A.'s Fire and Ice ball that he decided to stage a sequel.


Gianni Versace's show Tuesday night was just as glamorous in its own way. Presented in a covered courtyard adjacent to the designer's Milan home and studio, the setting was a Hollywood mogul's fantasy screening room. The audience rested its mostly skinny derrieres on individual blue-and-gold velvet cushions, decorated in the manner of Versace's new home-accessories collection. Richard Avedon's photos of Nadja Auermann and Kristen McMenamy from an essay appropriately titled "Two Tall Women" were projected on a massive screen, making the aforementioned women even taller.

So, too, did the 4-inch heels on Versace's pumps and satin boots, which perfectly matched the models' pastel and white patent leather purses. In fact, traditional fall colors were nearly completely absent at most of the shows here, replaced by pale blues, yellows, pinks and true reds.

Versace used these hues in neat double-breasted suits, monochromatic pants outfits and checkerboard-patterned, Courreges-inspired shifts. Sensuously draped evening dresses, too, were sherbet colors, such as lilac and apricot. They were also ingeniously constructed over built-in corsets that made models Helena Christiansen and Claudia Schiffer look even more stunning than usual. God knows, the average woman could benefit from such tailoring techniques, if only she could afford the price tags that come with them.


At Prada, a woman must bring her own good structure with her. Otherwise, the clothes, which at their worst look sort of school-uniformish and at their best appear pleasingly mod, don't provide much camouflaging.

Under designer Miuccia Prada, the house pioneered the recent wave of minimalism two seasons ago, and the fall show continued in that spirit. What's interesting is to see how the look plays out on a model like Schiffer. Along with the rest of the models, she was made up to look makeup-less. But unlike her less curvy cohorts, Schiffer had a hard time conveying the sort of innocent coolness the clothes require. Better was Kate Moss (who looked preposterous in Versace's goddess gowns the night before). She managed to look saucy in Prada's box-pleated, over-the-knee skirts and square-cut jackets.

A tomato-red coat and suit were a nice relief from all the blacks and grays, which we know fashion followers will gobble up no matter what other colors a designer attempts to sell. It's hard to imagine anyone, on the other hand, wearing Prada's tiny floral print dresses, coats, pants and jackets, unless at gunpoint.

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