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Lost amid all the details

Designer Frida Giannini takes a step back with Gucci, presenting a collection that is just too fussy.

September 29, 2006|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

Milan, Italy — IT'S no secret that the designer fashion business is driven by accessory sales that are in turn fueled by the kind of desire only a slick runway show can create. But rarely is the designer who makes the bonbons also the one who has to cook up the meat.

That's exactly what has happened at Gucci, where Frida Giannini, the brand's powerhouse of an accessory designer, was promoted to creative director for all collections after a couple of unsuccessful successors to Tom Ford.

Last season, it seemed she was on her way to achieving the sexy sophistication that had become a Gucci hallmark. (One gleaming gold suit from that glam rock collection is still seared in the memory.) But for spring, she lost it again. The show began with an unfortunate parade of mod mini-dresses and skinny capelet coats that looked like doll clothes. The 1960s were the inspiration, and you could see it in the opening look: a skinny, thigh-skimming black mackintosh with fuchsia satin piping. Mini-dresses came with folkloric flowers appliqued at the hem or around the shoulders, one with silly chiffon wings sprouting from the shoulders, and all cinched with wide web belts.

Things got more grown-up for evening, with a few of the skinny suits Giannini is so good at in a black and silver jacquard, and black dresses, both short A-line and longer column styles, with metal studs on the shoulder straps. A red-tiered chiffon baby doll provided a flash of color, and a long, layered chiffon gown in a paisley print, with scarf points floating around the legs, a hint of maturity.

Of course the accessories were the high point, including low, chunky-heeled black patent leather shoes with colorful trim, silver Beatle boots and gladiator sandals rendered as stilettos. There were also a few chic clutch bags with geometric mirrored details.

But Giannini's clothes were just too fussy, especially in the context of the Indian summer happening here. Really, now that warm temperatures stretch into September and October in more places, shouldn't dressing be easier?

Standing out

Maybe that's why the Marni collection struck such a chord. Who would have thought that Consuelo Castiglioni, fashion's equivalent of an abstract expressionist (think dresses in painterly prints with uneven hems and ties every which way, and voluminous coats that obscure the body rather than celebrating it) would offer a much-needed reinvention of sportswear?

What Castiglioni did was a major spring cleaning, banishing surface embellishment and focusing on shape, the basic tenet of design. The foundation of this collection was the tunic sculpted with asymmetrical darts, let loose in back and belted in front, as easy to wear as a paper bag, albeit an artfully creased and folded one. In light cotton, they looked more real world than the satin versions shown at Prada. And layering them over racer-back tank tops or cropped leggings with racer stripes, instead of the cheek-grazing shorts at Prada, added a comfort factor.

The color palette was basic white, navy, terra cotta, khaki and gray, with the occasional flash of red or yellow patent on square-toed pumps with block heels or oversized bags with small oval handles. A black anorak had the lightness of a parachute and a sporty rope trim, and a color-blocked sweater with zippers up the front brought to mind a wet suit. A bustier added to the athletic feel, worn atop a rose-colored crinkly silk skirt. And instead of the fussy beaded and feathered necklaces from seasons past, she strung stones on leather cord and wrapped them around the models' wrists.

Alberta Ferretti brought a similar ease to eveningwear, beginning with a dove gray draped chiffon tunic that gently caressed the body, worn with the ever-practical jeweled flat sandal. She went on with the mini theme, offering a thigh-grazing beige chiffon shift with a sprinkling of crystals at the top and a sash tied casually at the hip, and another covered in dime-sized silver sequins. (Spring could be a tough sell for anyone with a pucker of cellulite.) There were a few full-length gowns, which were just as easygoing. A liquidy column of raspberry silk pouring to the ground, gathered ever so subtly at the back and tied with a bow, was a standout.

Elsewhere, the collections continued to be so dull that editors and buyers had to make their in-between show espressos doppio.

Matthew Williamson played it safe at Pucci with lots of sexy jersey shifts in the house's signature swirls, as well as a new print, the Marina, inspired by a mesh of seashells. Wedge sandals with clear vinyl straps and mirrored platforms were interesting. And bathing suits with geometric plastic pieces holding them to the body were so cool they could show up in a paparazzi shot of Lindsay Lohan at the beach next summer. It was all very jet-set glam, down to the canvas tote with a Capri beach scene, which is all anybody wants from Pucci anyway.

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