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Italian designers go tight, short, sexy

Gucci, Pucci, Versace and the like unleash fresh, modern, form-fitting collections.


MILAN — This season, Italian designers reclaimed the jet set, challenging the dominance of French labels such as Balenciaga, Balmain and Givenchy in driving this flashy, body-conscious moment in fashion.

Although two strong collections suggested an alternative recipe for seduction -- Raf Simons' passionate take on deconstruction at Jil Sander, and Tomas Maier's spare and sculptural approach, nearly all white with broad strokes of curve-highlighting color -- the overriding message of the spring 2010 shows that ended Monday at Milan Fashion Week was this: the tighter, shorter and more see-through, the better.

The sexpot was back at Versace, where Donatella Versace smartly revived some of her late brother Gianni's most iconic design codes and kept everything looking fresh and modern.

Baroque prints in fluorescent brights were splashed across tight-fitting jersey tops and postage-stamp-sized miniskirts, some with an overlay of peekaboo clear plastic. (Start trolling vintage stores for those old Versace Medusa prints now.) Mini-dresses were no more forgiving, with corset lacing, metal mesh or pink triangle leather inset details.

Form-fitting jackets in black-and-white optical prints, worn with leggings, were a nod to the collection's "Alice in Wonderland" inspiration. With all the hype surrounding Tim Burton's coming film version of the story, Versace's timing couldn't be better.

The show culminated in a tableau of gorgeous gowns in candy-colored chiffon, with metal mesh insets or silvery chain details highlighting every curve.

The white dress that opened the Gucci show may have looked innocent enough -- figure-hugging with striking white cutouts at the waist and neckline. But little did we know what Frida Giannini was about to unleash.

Out came a woman ready for action in techno sport leggings with Velcro ankle tabs; anoraks or blazers with cinch pulleys, laced cords, mesh inserts and utility pockets; and pencil skirts fastened with stretchy cord versions of Gucci's classic horse-bit belt. I half-expected the models to pull out throwing stars, or pluck one of the silver metal embroideries from the cage-like jeweled harnesses on their sexy silk jersey evening gowns, and use them as weapons.

It was a clear vision of a tough babe, even if the details felt a little overdone at times. Still, this collection was a confident step forward for Giannini. And if anyone ever decides to make a film with a female version of James Bond, they will know whom to call for wardrobe.

In his second season at Emilio Pucci, Peter Dundas went strong and sexy too with draped mini-dresses and miniskirts, lace-up white leather corset pants and cropped snakeskin jackets that had a 1980s North Beach Leather vibe.

This collection was less tricky than Gucci's with a minimum of surface embellishment, save for a sprinkling of sequins. Dundas struck a balance between sporty separates (tulip-shape pants with gold snaps up the sides), sexy evening wear and covetable boho tasseled accessories.

Whereas last season he practically ignored the house's signature prints, this season he reinterpreted them in a modern way, blowing them up in size, in some cases infusing them with metallic color, and splashing them on floaty racer-back gowns, swimwear and scuba-inspired cropped jackets with peekaboo cutouts.

It all made for a fast-paced, high-impact show that should put Pucci on the path to becoming the next new-old "it" brand.

When the Milan collections weren't in-your-face sexy, they were softly romantic, with lots of peachy boudoir hues, sheer layers and underwear-as-outerwear.

At Prada, barely there silk short-shorts and pleated baby doll tops in vibrant photo prints depicting sand and surf conjured a romp in the sand, especially with the models' Brigitte Bardot hairstyles. But in true Prada form, all was not as it seemed: The photo prints were actually of a man-made beach in Japan, blurring the line between fantasy and reality.

Miuccia Prada's obsession with combining the cutting-edge fabrics with couture-like shapes was reflected in shiny steel gray swing jackets, lady coats and Bermuda shorts with a stiffness to them, almost as if they were sculpted from neoprene. Prada's whimsy also came across, in clear plastic handbags and crystal-covered jelly shoes, to go along with mesh tunics strung with chandelier drops, worn over leotard-like underpinnings.

With so many lingerie layers and boudoir influences on the runways, it was only natural for the originators of the look to return to their greatest hits.

Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana went back to their roots, playing their house style icon, the sexy Sicilian widow, for all she was worth. Peekaboo transparency was a recurring motif. Fishnet layers skimmed the body, and black crosses hung from satin ribbons around the neck. Black lace skirts and dresses, swishing fringe, topped satin bras, slips and corsets, while macrame jackets and straw bags added a rustic touch.

Androgynous suiting was also in the mix, with kinky jodhpur pants and tailored riding jackets finished with flat velvet slippers.

But when it came to the finale, it was time to strip down. All the models marching down the runway at once, each dressed in a different satin corset, may be the most lasting image of the Milan season.


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