Milan Fashion Week: Prada's spring collection a fun mix

There was an assembly-line quality to the beginning of Miuccia Prada's spring show Thursday, the highlight of Milan Fashion Week. Set on a raised metal platform with industrial-style lighting, the models came out one after another, wearing boxy short-sleeve tops and pencil skirts that were uniform-like in their simplicity. Industrial orange, then green, then blue. Each model carried a neon-colored fur stole, which could have been real or fake.

Was the designer making a sly comment on fashion's rapidly churning pace? Or the way that live webcasts and Tweets are turning runway shows into mindless content at the expense of true luxury and creativity? There's no way to tell.

But you had to chuckle when the stripes started coming out. More like prison stripes than Breton stripes (the street fashion trend that just won't die), they walked the line of good taste, especially because they shared space on shift dresses and button-down work shirts with cartoonish Italianate cherubs and monkeys. Call it Baroque Pop. Old World meets New, luxury meets banality — Prada's favorite themes.

It was bananas, and there were bananas, as the collection took a Latin turn, with banana-print cha-cha skirts, crisp cotton sundresses with a Carmen Miranda-like character on the front and striped sombreros.

The joy of Prada is that her work cannot be summed up in 140 characters or less. So her collection was, as it always is, an amalgam of ideas. And it was fun! You only had to look down at the kooky platform creeper shoes to know that. The party did quiet down at the end, with a group of little black dresses that were uniform in their chicness, with a gentle ruffled high collar or plunging neckline, in easy summertime cotton.

Elsewhere on the runways here, many designers served up the same trends we saw in New York — the longer '70s skirt lengths, clean sportswear and floral prints.

The message at Gucci, where designer Frida Giannini produced her most mature collection yet, was seductive. A trek through Marrakech, a neutral palette with a dash of spice, safari and tribal influences — there was more than one nod to 1970s-era Yves Saint Laurent here. But Giannini put her own spin on the look with luxurious-looking tailoring and handcrafted leather details.

The focus was on pants — a high-waisted jade-green pair worn with a wide bronze belt and cinnamon-colored jacket nipped in at the waist; fluid jodhpurs paired with a soft safari jacket and tassel belt; and textured leather leggings with tops of suede crochet or swinging fringe. For nighttime, jewel-toned dresses were covered in feathers and fringe.

It was refreshing to see a less aggressive stance from Giannini — and not a single Gucci logo. Instead, leather accessories had a more easygoing, natural feel — cage leather booties and sandals on skinny heels, for example, and soft totes and clutches with basket-weave details.

At Fendi, Karl Lagerfeld's take on the Me Decade wasn't so YSL reverential. Cotton dresses in soft shades of lavender, peach or mint green with airy, lantern-shaped sleeves, looked cheery and fresh, worn with sporty, two-toned belts and structured bags, or rainbow-woven leather clutches.

It was a midsummer night's dream at Alberta Ferretti, with sheer chiffon layers in subtle fern, flower and bird prints; floppy straw hats; and gladiator sandals with rope ties.

Soft jackets and shorts came in a nubby, natural-colored linen, and blouses and dresses were pieced together from bits of cream chiffon, lace and macramé for a charming, 1970s ladies-of-the-canyon vibe.

At D&G, designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana hit you over the head with the garden trowel. It was a floral fest of rose, hydrangea and freesia prints on bloomers, sundresses and kerchiefs, along with rope sole galoshes and the requisite red picnic-check totes filled with garden tools.

For a finale, the models came out in chiffon gowns, each one a different bouquet. Organic? More like engineered. It was one of those lightweight collections you could predict the moment the show invitation arrived with a packet of seeds attached. Talk about churning it out.