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Stuck on '80s Rewind

October 06, 2000

MILAN, Italy — In the age of instant information and easy money, the life of a fashion trend gets ever shorter. Shoppers tire faster of trendy clothes, and designers oblige with replacements every season. In the swirl, everyone grasps for the easy ideas--1980s! Cleavage! Belts! Real innovation, meanwhile, gets stuck on rewind.

The game is growing tedious as designers here unveil their spring 2001 collections. Even Gucci designer Tom Ford has had enough. "I'm so sick of retro, of vintage, of the '90s," said Ford at a pre-show news conference as editors nodded, "Amen!"

"There's a silhouette that has taken over the world. It's a long, lean silhouette--with tight pants and high heels," Ford continued. "When fashion hits a point when everyone is dressing the same way, you lose that edge that makes fashion exciting and a little shocking."

Ford reacted with a new-to-Gucci silhouette: peg-leg pants with a full, pleated front, and sharp-shouldered, nipped-waist jackets. He promised clothes that would accentuate structure and the female form, adding, "The most important accessory you will need this season is a bra."

Out they came--stiff little cups under sleek black dresses, translucent sweaters and fetish-like corsets minus the cups that made the breasts sit like cupcakes on a ledge. The models, with their slick hair and smoky eyes, could have been dancing behind Robert Palmer as he sang "Addicted to Love."

Ford may be sick of retro, but his pleat-front pants are a hallmark of the '80s (remember baggies?), along with padded-shoulder suits and cone-heel pumps. His cobalt or black satin cargo pants with pockets bigger than a September Vogue were pretty enough. But the idea is a little stale, years after John Galliano did a version for Christian Dior--and kids do them daily. His purple or black satin boxlike bags playfully recalled old-fashioned canteens as they bounced against his military-style jackets.

Some designers have taken themselves out of the fray and found new strength in the seemingly revolutionary idea of a classic silhouette done with simple, good taste.

On his 25th anniversary of his company, Giorgio Armani gave fashion a double treat, a new concept in superstores and a collection that nudged his trademark look gracefully forward. On the morning of his main show, the master himself led a tour of the three-level store, Armani/Via Manzoni 31, as workers installed lighting and unwrapped sofas. Under one big, Armani-ized roof, the designer installed departments for flowers, books, art, the latest Sony gadgets, a Nobu sushi restaurant, a new home furnishings collection, and the jeans and Emporio collections. Armani may open a Casa Armani housewares store in Los Angeles within the year, but not a superstore, just yet.

"This is a very expensive operation," he said. "Before I start doing it all over the world, let's see how it goes."

Hours later, he presented a fresh-feeling Armani signature collection that he described as having "nothing in common with the current ostentation." Except for the suspender pants, none of the clothes will look dated a year, or two or three, from now. He included current trends for shirring, asymmetry, extra-wide and deep necklines, and shaped jackets with sharper, wider shoulders, while offering several pant and jacket shapes and above-the-knee beaded evening dresses.

Earlier in the week, his similarly strong Emporio collection blended fun and simplicity. One giant quilted flower became a strap-on halter top, while fabric corsages anchored waistlines and necklines. Other key looks: shirred camisole tops, wrap-around loose pants and multiple suede ribbons used as dress straps or skirt belts.

Somewhere between Armani's classics and Gucci's '80s soldiers came Prada. The dual-themed collection lacked Miuccia Prada's usual wit, originality and must-have accessories but reflected the season's split personality.

Backstage, Prada explained that she blended the '80s with the '50s, and also presented two separate identities. "One is very serious, very tough," she said. "The other is just the opposite--feminine and colorful." One wore dull cotton, military-inspired navy shirts, jackets and knee-length pleated skirts. The other, silky pink raglan-sleeve blouses or floaty, two-layer dance skirts.

Her takes from the Reagan years: tiny swing jackets, flimsy tube skirts and pumps with acid-toned cone heels. From the Eisenhower era: full, pleated knee-length skirts in silk jersey, A-line tap pants and black anklets with sling-backs. Her new emphasis on the waist materialized in knit bands worn like cummerbunds over crisp blouses or with sweaters cropped just under the bust line. It hasn't been well received. Said one retailer: "It looked like what a girl wears to visit her cat or her invalid mother." "Prison guard," said another.

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