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Prada gets tough at Milan Fashion Week


MILAN, ITALY — Being a woman is a blood sport, according to Miuccia Prada, who on Sunday showed her own powerful vision of the tough chic that is emerging as one of the biggest fashion trends for fall. And it didn't involve the rocker wear we've seen from so many other Italian labels, including Gucci.

The arena seating should have been a clue. Prada's vision suggested female gladiators dressed to kill in mannish, rust-colored coats slit up the sides like loincloths; jeweled, fringed suede tunic dresses and wool tabards with fur breastplates.

The cold, harsh world is no match for these warrior women, pounding the pavement in crepe-soled shoe boots, braving the floods in rubber gators and warding away the competition in killer heels with suede plumage.

Sexuality is also a fierce weapon, as demonstrated by a crimson burnout velvet dress with a deep V front, tweed skirt suits belted tight to emphasize an hourglass shape, a crystal-dusted workaday attache case and the scarlet glitter eye shadow revealed when models batted their eyes.

The clothes didn't break new ground for Prada, but they were wearable and thought-provoking all the same. It's been a hard few months for the female species, between the tearing down of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sarah Palin. They know better than anyone that fashion is one dangerous battleground.

Nightclub Gucci

To her credit, Gucci designer Frida Giannini started doing the retro '80s rock star thing long before everyone else climbed on the bandwagon this season. The problem is that she's never been able to elevate it to the realm of luxury. So Gucci continues to look like Bebe with a bigger budget.

This season was the same song, different verse, starting with unremarkable crepe de chine kimono-sleeve mini dresses in oversized polka dots or diagonal stripes sliding off the shoulders and worn with leggings or over-the-knee leather boots.

Fur jackets, some sprayed with color or crystal-embroidered, sparkly hoodies and jogging pants, and iridescent bags that looked as if gasoline had been poured on them completed the trashy-teen picture.

Giannini's suits are always her most compelling pieces, with skinny pants and shrunken jackets. The season's best came in micro-check jacquard or gleaming black, layered over Lurex striped shirts.

And while there was nothing terribly wrong with the crystal-studded, animal-spot and flower-embroidered micro minidresses inspired by Tina Chow's wild nights, women who want to look like walking disco balls are probably too young to afford these clothes. Besides, club wear is the kind of thing you want to be disposable so you can dance, drink and leave it in a ball on your bedroom floor at the end of the night. Which means you might as well buy Bebe.

Simons' surge

Thank goodness for Raf Simons. Just when the Milan shows were about to put us all to sleep, he showed some of the most forward-looking clothes of the season at Jil Sander.

But first, he paid tribute to the 20-year-old label's quiet minimalist aesthetic, reminding us that pieces as simple as a cream turtleneck dress and oatmeal-colored double-face cashmere coat can be the ultimate luxury, thanks to perfect cut and fabrication.

Then the music went down, colored lights started flashing and the real show began, the one in which Simons let his imagination run wild. Inspired by the work of French ceramist Pol Chambost, Simons' sculptural forms with contrast color pieces peeling away from, or spiraling around, the body were thrilling to look at from every angle.

Neon yellow, orange or green peeked from the asymmetrical hem of a black skirt and the funnel neck of a black dress. A white coat with undulating lapels was strong and graphic, as was a purple shift with a curving, folded collar.

The concept got the better of Simons with a few awkward volumes and flying hip flourishes that disregarded a woman's figure. Still, the creative impulse was electrifying. For a great fashion show, that's at least half the battle.


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