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The pussycat's meow

D&G and Versace ramp up the most tried-and- true trend of them all: Sex. Surprisingly, Roberto Cavalli opts for romance instead.

October 02, 2006|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

Milan — Blaring on the Dolce & Gabbana soundtrack, "SexyBack" by Justin Timberlake summed up fashion week here where the runway parade of pushed-up breasts, G-strings, bronzed legs and butt cheeks left only one thing on everyone's minds.

Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana's collection of vinyl corsets, cellophane-like bow-tie blouses and barely there miniskirts was the high-priced escort to their two-bit-hooker D&G show. Taken together, the designers' view for spring was so aggressive, so in-your-face sexual, that as a woman one almost felt violated.

Add to that the treacherous fetish footwear all over the runways -- patent boots sprouting deadly silver spikes at D&G, vertigo-inducing sandals with feathered totems for heels at Missoni, pointy pumps with razor-sharp platforms at Jil Sander -- and one had to wonder whether empowerment is a notion that has dropped out of the Italian vocabulary.

But as surprising as it all seemed, especially in context of the demure tent and trapeze dresses that were the stars of the New York season, there must be something to this new sexually charged mood, which is one part Pussycat Dolls, one part Dita Von Teese and one part Helmut Newton. Dolce & Gabbana are usually pretty good at reading what the kids are up to, and the look has also simmered up from some of the industry's youngest talents, including the bandage dresses at Proenza Schouler in New York and Christopher Kane in London, as well as the S&M prints from London's Giles Deacon.

Whether twentysomethings are fascinated by the bondage, studs and spikes so closely identified with the late-1980s and early-'90s club scene because they didn't experience it the first time or are desensitized to it because they have lived with virtual porn on their video-game screens all their lives, it's hard to tell. But clearly it has a lot of meaning to them.

"Sex sells," said Stephanie Solomon, vice president and women's fashion director of Bloomingdale's. "There is something great about seeing legs everywhere. The colors, the prints: It's optimistic. It's not serious or intellectual, and that's fine."

Although D&G seemed a bit slapped together, at least you could see the time that went into the higher-priced Dolce & Gabbana collection on a beautifully cut denim peplum jacket with black patent leather piping; an intricately worked, ruched satin corset dress with an exposed zipper ready to be fumbled with; and the hand-embroidered sequin caftans and jumpsuits that were the twinkling, Cher-circa-1970 finale.

The designers said in their show notes that they were inspired by the overly voluptuous female heroines of Japanese anime, which might explain the royal blue satin romper with a padded bum. Although it's unlikely anyone outside of a comic strip will be wearing these sculpted pieces, the designers are sure to sell plenty of those crinkly blouses, peekaboo plastic corset belts and sculpted clear plastic flower pins.

Roberto Cavalli typically makes skirts so brief, so transparent, that underwear just isn't an option. But in a season when he would have been right on target, he went the other direction with frilly bow blouses and embroidered Little Lord Fauntleroy pants suits. A floaty white chiffon empire gown had a dreamy Marie Antoinette feel, whereas Cavalli's signature peasant dress in a Wedgwood blue floral was more down to earth. A fringed brown suede shirt-dress was great looking, as was a black silk floral kimono dress with pleated insets at the sleeves. Even the gowns were reserved, with a corseted black sweep of silk reading romantic, not raunchy. As sweet and wearable as it all was, one couldn't help but wonder how Cavalli would have weighed in on the super sexy trend. Guess he's been there, done that.

In a week almost devoid of tailoring, Raf Simons' second collection for the house of Jil Sander was a revelation with surgically precise, pencil-thin suits in florescent yellow, cobalt blue, grass green and orangeade proving that minimalism doesn't have to be minimal. There's been a lot of talk about the future this week with unusual metallic and plastic materials cropping up at Fendi, Max Mara and other places. But Simons may have offered the most vivid future view simply by tweaking the classics in such a way that you couldn't help but take a second look.

At the heart of the collection were the suits -- grown-up and work-ready but at the same time thoroughly modern. Simons' design gestures were as quiet as whispers -- the raising or lowering of a collar line on a narrow navy-blue coat, the skinniness of a lapel on a boxy orange jacket, the fluidity achieved on a pair of skinny black pants -- but they spoke volumes about his talent.

Amid all the gentle fluidity, there was also a focus on geometry -- Simons' triangular daytime silhouette of a boxy jacket balanced atop skinny pants and platform shoes, as well as dresses with half-circle draped bodices and transparent backs offering a whiff of sensuality.

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