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Spring 2003 / Milan Collections

A Mini, Mini, Mini World

With the short, short skirts and the gangster-inspired wear, it's '60s deja vu. And then there's gladiator chic.


MILAN--Sometimes you just have to stop and listen to the music: the Beatles at Gucci, Lou Reed at MaxMara and again at Dolce & Gabbana, and Jimi Hendrix at Emporio Armani. While many designers in New York were time-traveling to the 1940s and '50s, designers here can't get enough of the 1960s.

In an apparent nod to Paco Rabanne, whose retrospective opened here just last week, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana showed a chain-mail miniskirt and a fur coat with chain-mail insets. At Prada, stark-white modernist mini-dresses decorated with chunky plastic beads harked back to Courreges, and the silver metal collars that anchored MaxMara's jersey dresses mixed references to Pierre Cardin's work with another of the week's emerging themes: gladiator chic.

Gucci's Tom Ford managed to capture both the glamour of 1960s jet-setters and 1980s "glamazon" supermodels without looking too retro. There were soft, silk tunic dresses with fluttery sleeves and super-short, tight skirts; tulle kimonos embroidered with hummingbirds and cherry blossoms; and streamlined flight pants tied at the ankle and accessorized with metallic silver wedge-heel pumps, aviator glasses and bamboo-handled rectangular calfskin bags. His piece de resistance was a kinder, gentler bondage dress that wrapped the body (at least to the top of the thigh) in strips of fabric woven out of pinkish gold metallic thread.

With news last week that Gucci Group's profits are down 55% in the second quarter, there's a lot riding on the bum-grazing hems of Ford's skirts, but he seemed confident that his customers will be willing to show some leg and spend some cash for that special piece.

Miuccia Prada's take on the 1960s was more literal--sleeveless white or black mini-dresses with sculptural plastic beads sewn onto the collars like necklaces; slim Bermuda shorts in Sgt. Pepper-like pink satin brocade; and a hot-pink cheongsam top paired with an acid-orange satin miniskirt.

Accessories were equally dramatic--flat silver sandals with metal cuffs around the ankles instead of straps, and rectangular or half-moon-shape bags with similar metal rings for shoulder handles. (And you thought YSL's Mombasa horn handle was uncomfortable!) The collection will probably be a little much for most tastes, but it succeeded at capturing the excitement that comes from finding and wearing a one-of-a-kind vintage piece, minus the mothballs.

Emporio Armani's collection, although exhaustive as always, was all about an ease reminiscent of Faye Dunaway's clothes in "Bonnie and Clyde," complete with beret-wearing models holding unlit cigars. Wide-legged trousers, some gathered at the ankle following an Armani fall trend, fitted blazers in muted stripes that hit just below the waist, suede bomber jackets and long skirts ruched partway up the sides, were some of the most wearable clothes to come down the runways here thus far. But with so much to look at, it was hard to remember any of them.

At Fendi, Karl Lagerfeld presented the sophisticated warrior dressed in goddess-like tunics in a painterly, blue and purple abstract print, accessorized with metallic gladiator sandals, arm bands and chokers. Lean blue-suede pants were slashed across the legs to reveal a touch of skin, and deep V-neck chiffon blouses were held together across the chest with silver chains, which also dangled from hobo bags and decorated the sleeves of a leather motorcycle jacket. It was a stunning collection of clothes for the woman who fights her battles not on the field or even in the boardroom, but in the back of a chauffeured car.

MaxMara's collection began with a smart, olive-green patent-leather trench coat before moving into fair-weather cotton tunic dresses with back ruching. Nighttime looks included '60s-era bra tops that were a nod to Rudi Gernreich, and more goddess dresses, these anchored with silver collars, and sparkling slouchy silver-mesh turtlenecks, all worn with gladiator sandals, this time with straps that buckled around the calf.

Dolce and Gabbana introduced the teen warrior in their D&G diffusion line, offering T-shirts with "Roma" in gold lettering across the chest, over an image of the Roman Coliseum, fun visors with Mercury's silver wings on either side and gold clutch purses with the word "slave" scrawled across the front. The now-familiar toga-like dresses were shown over T-shirts at D&G and sliding off bare shoulders in the designers' main line.

At the main line Dolce & Gabbana show Sunday, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs took a front seat for the designers' dizzying mix-and-match of 40 years of fashion that included motorcycle jackets and clunky boots weighted down with more silver studs than you'd find at a Sex Pistols concert, astronaut-like silver-lacquered muslin anoraks sprinkled with zippers, and off-the-shoulder striped sailor shirts.

The designers also used the show to launch a small new line, Dolce & Gabbana Vintage, that included black, side-laced tube dresses and other creations inspired by their archives. After 17 years, why shouldn't they recycle? If fashion is going to continue to dip into the past season after season, designers may as well start referencing themselves.

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