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More spice, less sugar

Prada's spare but sexy look jazzes up Milan Fashion Week, while Armani returns to form.

September 27, 2006|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

Milan, Italy — MIUCCIA PRADA brought sensuality back to the runway Tuesday night, putting her indelible mark on a season that until now had been all sugar and no spice. From the very first look, a scarlet red satin tunic worn with short shorts, sandals and the kind of chic turban only Prada could get away with, she showed us that sexual power could be suggested through silhouette and color, not to mention a whiff of exoticism, just as sure as it can be with silver studs and spikes. It was a far more effective way of shaking fashion from its light and airy rut than the G-strings and thongs that made an appearance on runways here in the first two days of Milan Fashion Week.

Models carried oversized nylon rucksacks like global nomads wandering the Spice Route and picking up stylish souvenirs along the way. There were lots of jewel-toned tunic tops, which will look just as great with jeans or skinny pants as they did with the shorts shown on the runway.

But at the heart of this collection was the dress, not the voluminous pouf we've seen everywhere else, but a sleek column in solid red or black, worn with a thin brown leather belt circling the waist twice. These hot numbers may have looked simple, but there were details there -- pin tucking around the shoulders of a khaki short-sleeve dress and a floating pleat down the front of a black version.

If the v-word (volume) has any place here, it's a minor one, though Prada did achieve an interesting fullness at the top of a dress with pleats radiating up from the waist creating a kind of croissant-shaped bodice.

Other than that, embellishment was minimal, with a subtle diamond pattern running down the side of one shift and jingling metallic discs that looked almost like flattened bottle tops on another. As for accessories, strappy suede platforms and colorful turbans that adjusted in the back like baseball caps suggested 1940s screen sirens. But there were also flat sandals with colorful pinwheels of raffia on top for more long-distance trekking. The newest bag is a brown suede tote covered in long fringe, which also showed up as trim on a shift with curlicue designs at the collar. It was all very spare but at the same time eclectic and sexier than Prada has been in a while.

Quintessential Armani

For the last few seasons, Giorgio Armani has been the topic of so many spirited dinner conversations, with his overwrought runway shows leaving editors and buyers alike tittering over their tagliatelle. He did bandage-like bra tops, he did harem pants, he did everything at age 73 that he could think of to keep himself relevant, though his climbing profits hardly made it necessary.

But on Monday, he went back to what he knows best -- soft tailoring, artful jackets and flattering pants -- in an elegantly understated show dubbed "The Quintessence of Armani Taste."

He kept the palette simple with navy, black and, yes, his famous greige. Jackets were long and fluid, scooped down low in front and nipped at the waist, some with knotted lapels, others with leopard trim. Trousers fell to the floor in liquid-like pleats. And the combination, the streamlined suit, was a sight for sore eyes in this season of silly dresses.

Armani also showed a few long skirts with soft tiers of ruffles, but the jackets were the thing in all shapes, including more boxy styles, one with attractive pale pink-and-white color blocking. There was more of a focus on accessories too, with oversized, structured leather bags and sheer scarves worn tied around the shoulders.

For evening, the best pieces were the simplest -- strapless gowns in beige, black or pearly rose with no more adornment than a modified bow at the hip or a few rivulets of chiffon running down the skirt. When he played with stiff ruffles that settled around the hips like hula hoops, well, that was a different story.

Still, as a whole the collection was sophisticated and respectful of women as grown-up, powerful beings. It was a welcome reminder of what made Armani great in the first place, especially in the context of the feast of flesh shown at D&G earlier in the day, when models strutted down the runway like cheap hookers, one in a lace G-string worn over blue jeans with boots that had gigantic silver spikes jutting out of the back like phalluses.

S&M was a theme at the Giles Deacon show in London last week, where it was done with a sense of humor. But at D&G, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana's lower-priced line, there was nary a wink. One-sleeved jersey tunics and clingy zebra-stripe mini-dresses belted over Day-Glo capri tights were an ode to 1980s club wear, but where were the T-shirts and jeans that are the line's bread and butter? And why would you pay designer prices for this stuff when you can get the same thing on Hollywood Boulevard?

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