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Hey, designers, we're still waiting to be impressed

February 26, 2005|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

MILAN — "I am sick, sick, sick of broadtail and I'm already sick of crochet!" This rant overheard after the Gucci show Wednesday night may sound like idle complaining (even if their ennui is over the fur of fetal lambs no less), but the sentiment is real. Because after several days of lackluster runway shows here, and a less-than-stellar season in New York, fashion watchers are still looking for the next big thing.

Like chefs throwing pasta against the wall to see if it's al dente, Italian designers are throwing out all kinds of clothes in hopes that something will stick. But most need to head back into the kitchen. What has been missing from the collections here is desirability. Nothing has emerged that is even remotely covetable compared to the last few seasons, when clothes with rich crystals, brocades and prints had the eye-candy quality once reserved only for accessories. Nobody is suggesting that more over-the-top opulence is the answer. Fashion is in need of a new direction, and so far, Miuccia Prada and Marc Jacobs are the only ones who have stepped up to forge a path.

Expectations were high for Alessandra Facchinetti's second go at designing Gucci following Tom Ford's departure last year. But her Gucci woman has yet to be realized, caught between Ford's sexy beast and her own softer, more romantic vision.

For now, if you buy one thing for fall it should be a coat, since that is what Facchinetti and other designers here are doing best. Hers marched out to a military drumbeat -- black and blue cashmere cadet styles embellished with black floral embroidery and finished with bands of velvet at the cuffs and hems. They were belted low over skin-tight pants and worn with stacked heels, or over miniskirts worn with high crocodile boots.

A shapely black satin jacket with a stand-up collar that fastened at the neck and opened into a keyhole over the cleavage also looked good. But sheer silk chiffon dresses withered, over-designed with multiple necklines and straps, Juliet sleeves, Empire waists and wrapped and ruched bodices. As if that were not enough, one aqua satin gown had silver sequin latticework over the top too.

Donatella Versace's collection was also a mixed bag. For daytime, she stuck to what she does best: fitted wool coats in ivory, black or purple, with dramatic shawl collars and raw seam details, worn over the skinniest of satin pants. Draped dresses in a snakeskin print stretch satin hugged every curve, and short fluttery chiffon cocktail frocks shaped at the waist with pin-tuck pleats were reminiscent of William Travilla's famous white halter dress for Marilyn Monroe in "The Seven Year Itch." But the long gowns -- in iridescent black, storm blue or peach chiffon -- are not likely to see a red carpet anytime soon. With fringe like tinsel icicles on a Christmas tree, and saggy nude fabric insets, they seemed better suited to an ice skating competition.

Karl Lagerfeld offered a more down-to-earth approach at Fendi than in past seasons, with a focus on bags, shoes and wearable furs that did not seem designed with the sole purpose of putting as many exotic pelts as possible on the runway. Fur was shaped into chubby parkas and sheared into horizontal stripes on a sleek trench. Tall suede boots came in black with lace insets or a swirl of colors and beads, and miniature fur duffel bags in vivid colors looked cute dangling from the wrist.

Max Mara's strength has always been outerwear, and this season was no exception, with thick coats in black and white houndstooth or cream mohair as superbly fitted to the body as a dress would be, and worn with wide patent leather belts. For evening, fall's bubble skirts came in taffeta and were topped with crew neck sweaters. There were also a few smart Prince of Wales check pantsuits with cuffed trousers. But the rest of the collection (ivory wool pencil skirts with leather fringe at the hips, sheer hooded sweaters and pointy lace-up shoes), was not only devoid of luxury, it was just plain goofy.

When Franco Moschino was alive, his clothes were always designed with a wink and a smile. But his successor, Rosella Jardini, did little to honor his legacy with her fall collection, dominated by a somber black and blue palette. There wasn't anything playful or inspired about a black cardigan with balloon-like taffeta sleeves and a navy blue cape, edged in black velvet and worn with cropped pants and studded Mary Janes, even if models did carry purses shaped like gingerbread men.

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