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STYLE & CULTURE | FALL 2004 COLLECTIONS

No stars, just glamour

Their show conflicting with the Academy Awards, designers display a flair that is well suited for Hollywood's red carpet.

March 02, 2004|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

MILAN, Italy — As the runway shows ended here over the weekend, the fashion crowd couldn't help but feel a bit down and out. The biggest fashion show on Earth was happening half a world away in L.A., and it wasn't even on TV in most hotel rooms. This year, the newly early Oscars conflicted with the Milan schedule for the first time, which meant most editors had to miss out, though a handful (from InStyle and Vanity Fair, of course) fled the runways for the red carpet before Milan's fashion week officially ended, only to turn around and fly back for the shows in Paris.

The new schedule is a pity, because on Saturday, Dolce & Gabbana gave Hollywood's fashion parade a run for its money. Call it demi-couture or just plain bling-bling, but the designers' taste for embellishment was intense, from a coat dripping in orange and gold stones that looked so weighty it could be a workout to wear, to a burgundy velvet skirt worn with a hand-embroidered Donald Duck T-shirt, one of several character tees that no doubt will be the most expensive versions of the retro Disney trend.

Pumps sparkled with jewels, black lace skirts were done up with chain belts, and coats, in black or lipstick-red patent leather, had split personalities -- they were fur jackets on the top and trench coats on the bottom. One of the duo's famous corset suits came in gray wool, the jacket with a black lace bodice and a brooch tucked into the decollete, and the skirt with panels of black lace running down the sides.

Roberto Cavalli too went down an opulent road, by way of Tangier and turn-of-the-century Venice. The dresses were so exotic, one wondered if an elephant or a puff of opium might come down the runway after them: A cascade of black roses tumbled down a dark plum satin column, an embroidered bird perched on the side of a strapless purple gown, and a red feather creation looked as if it might sprout wings.

For daytime, a fur coat with crystal-edged circular cutouts around the waist was layered over jewel-toned paisley satin pants tucked into satin boots. A lush velvet robe, tied with a gold tassel belt, was thrown over velvet jodhpurs, and slouchy chiffon tunics in gilded Byzantine prints were fastened with jeweled suede belts at the hip.

Many designers this season seem to be making clothes like they make accessories, realizing that to sell, a garment must have the irresistible, candy store, Topshop quality of a handbag or a pair of shoes. The accessories business is the segment of the luxury fashion industry that is doing well, and there's little point for most designers to waste their time on basics, since so many women buy those at stores such as Gap and Banana Republic.

In New York, the clothes-as-accessories trend manifested itself at Derek Lam, in the form of a cream jacquard coat in a tile-like pattern with crystals around the waist, and at Oscar de la Renta, where one dress was a web of gold embroidery with a sable hem, and indeed came with a pair of matching boots. In Milan, Miuccia Prada is the master of the covetable piece, and this season she offered military jackets with black crystal elbow patches and skirts in swirling multicolor galaxy prints, sequels perhaps to her popular Venice and Rome souvenir-print skirts for spring. Prada is a clever one; the souvenir prints can be found on skirts, shirts, shoes, bags and scarves. She knows a hit.

Although 1950s femininity -- ladylike coats with three-quarter sleeves, pencil skirts and prim cardigan sweaters -- gathered momentum in New York (at Perry Ellis and DKNY), Prada was one of the only designers to pursue the look in Milan, in her Miu Miu line. Unfortunately, she's been striking the same note for several fall seasons now, and the rust, gold and brown-toned coats (in what resembled upholstery fabrics), taffeta straight skirts, crumpled leather trench coats, glittery midnight blue sweaters, tapestry-print shoes and floppy hats with sad flower pins offered few surprises.

At Burberry, Christopher Bailey's collection seemed to suffer from a lack of strong vision. It had its moments, namely a liquidy rose-gold Lurex wrap dress (designers can't get enough of gold and silver skirts or dresses, for day and night) and a ruffled paisley chiffon scarf worn with a multitiered green suede coat. But some of the clothes were just plain dull. (Why do a gray wool trench coat, a green cable-knit sweater with brown leather buttons, and a purple heathered wool pencil skirt need a runway?) And though clever when they first appeared for spring, Bailey's capelets in ruffled pastel chiffon, paired with wool sweaters, look silly now. They bring to mind the superhero capes one fashioned out of mom's skirts as a kid.

Missoni's 1970s-era flame-stitch scarves certainly are experiencing a renaissance (several editors were wearing the new versions in Milan), but designer Angela Missoni didn't dwell on the house's signature technique in her show. Reinventing the 50-year-old brand for a new generation, she offered a pink and green speckled knit jumper with contrasting circles running down the front and a rainbow-striped peacoat that were more in tempo with the Marc by Marc Jacobs line.

She also proved that she can design gowns with the best of them in Milan. A lavender stained-glass print silk dress that was carved out at the waist and had crystal-encrusted straps that crossed in back was breathtaking, and for a pop star, a psychedelic zigzag knit dress with fringed bell sleeves was accompanied by Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb."

Although she sent several dresses for consideration, Missoni didn't have any red carpet hits at the Oscars. Oh well; there's always another year, another starlet.

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