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SPRING 2004 COLLECTIONS

A lightness of being

October 06, 2003|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

Milan — Milan

The rainbow pace flags that dominated the landscape in March are now weathered and worn, and the moment for serious clothes has passed. For spring, dark and formal is being replaced by a lightness of being. The optimism that began on the New York runways last month continued here last week, with breezy, kinetic shapes propelling fashion forward, leaving many in the embattled industry hoping, as Neiman Marcus fashion director Joan Kaner said, "that the worst is behind us, whether that's really true or not."

When Zandra Rhodes, the British designer, said in London recently that she wanted to organize an exhibit of the work of textile designers at her new museum, little did she know that lively prints would take center stage at the mostly wonderful shows here.

Dresses also made a return. Many shows evoked memories of the floating chiffon creations of Rhodes and another British designer, Ossie Clark, whose inventive textiles from the 1960s and '70s are now on view at London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

Their spirits were everywhere at Fendi, where long chiffon dresses in watercolor prints -- some reminiscent of marbleized paper -- fluttered in the breeze, to stunning effect. The colors were muted -- soft oranges, pinks, golds and blues -- and at times iridescent. The loveliest styles had full sleeves and plunging necklines -- both signatures of Clark -- and were cinched with wide metallic leather belts. Some had trains too, which caught the air when the models passed by.

Everyone knows that at Fendi, clothes play backup to handbags. And this season, the new baguette appears to be ... a box? The rectangular leather bags were so ordinary, they looked like cases for wind instruments. Although the collection was mostly beautiful, there was a lot of hot air blowing; when maestro Karl Lagerfeld strutted down the runway in slow motion, sporting a smug grin, you would have thought he'd invented fashion itself. Apparently, the cult of personality is as alive and well in fashion as it is in California politics.

And speaking of cults, Roberto Cavalli based his collection on the many incarnations of Cher, with Apache-inspired feather capes, fringed and corseted python jackets, and rhinestone-covered rock star gowns with so much plumage that the models looked ready for their annual migration.

Cavalli's best pieces were body-skimming silk blouses and cowboy shirtdresses in Native American-style feather prints or Pompeii-style mosaic prints and more. Of course, Cher would not be Cher without Bob Mackie. But there was nary an explicit reference to the L.A. designer, neither in the show's notes nor in the 10-minute film montage of some of the singer's most memorable stage outfits from the 1970s. What a shame.

Another diva showed up at Versace -- the designer herself. Donatella Versace, well aware of her own kitsch value, made a Warholean silk screen of herself, and put it on a purse and a tank top in the collection.

Her collection was awash in wonderful, fluorescent floral prints -- Lilly Pulitzer on acid -- splashed on pencil skirts, second-skin satin blouses, jackets with corset-like bodices, and long cha-cha skirts paired with bustiers. A group of white jackets and coats had subtle doily cutouts in the back; vividly colored chiffon dresses were draped and ruched around the body, and slit up the legs. But at the end, a group of puckered mini dresses in slinky, iridescent brights sent the mind down the garden path to the seedier stretches of Hollywood Boulevard.

Despite the fact that the company's sales continue to sag, Versace took her own victory lap in a pair of tight black leggings with lace cutouts, waving to divas Mariah Carey and Beyonce Knowles in the front row.

Other designers spoke with more subtlety. Jil Sander made a triumphant return to the runway after a three-year absence with a romantic collection that was full of subtle, intriguing details. Filmy white sleeveless dresses were accented with clipped fabric ruffles or a shadowy gray floral print -- copied, she said, from a 15th century botanical etching (it was like catching a glimpse of a flower garden through a window curtain).

There also were charming little sheer black sweaters with ruffled short sleeves, and khaki or black coats fastened with one button, some with puckered ribbon accents on the wrists, others with empire waists and short, puffy sleeves. The references to the Renaissance were appropriate, since the label is now looking for its own rebirth under its original designer.

Miuccia Prada went on a rollicking summer camp romp at Miu Miu, with a pleated skirt in a print that brought to mind pressed flower crafts, a kelly green shirtdress reminiscent of a Girl Scout uniform, a khaki equestrian jacket, rolled-up shorts and riding boots.

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