The spring '96 fashion shows that began here last week with a Mod explosion ended with a bomb threat and an unfortunate reminder that fashion influence does not always translate into great clothes.
As guests arrived for the second of two Tuesday morning Prada presentations, word spread that someone had phoned in a bomb threat. Everyone was herded outdoors, and the bomb squad scoured the building, but located nothing suspicious.
No one inspected any of the Prada purses dangling from the wrists of fashionistas, or patted down the stark Prada jackets draped over their shoulders. And no one hesitated to return to the show for fear of being blown up. (It wasn't worth the risk, but more on that later.)
Oh, by the way, designer Gianni Versace is not dead.
Rumors had begun to spread among the French and Italian press that the designer known for dressing Elizabeth Hurley, Elton John and Sylvester Stallone had died over the weekend.
Things were getting a little odd all around. Under the influence of unseasonably warm weather, long days, large crowds and mass consumption of caffeine, fashion folks were testy. "Don't push me!" boomed one black-suited gentleman to another at a particularly cramped show, "or I'll slug ya!"
Thankfully, even if in the last few days civility had disappeared from the audience, it began to appear on the runway.
German designer Jil Sander remained true to her man-style tailoring in a fine collection of simple suits with fitted jackets and narrow trousers, breezy chiffon pants with paper-bag waists and sheer, ribbed polo knits. Sander concentrated on black and white, using luxurious fabrics such as silk shantung or georgette.
Giorgio Armani, too, offered beautiful suits. Trendy flat-front trousers loosely surrounded the thighs and had a subtle flare. Sheer shirts with Peter Pan collars had strategically placed opaque stripes. His jacket sleeves were shortened just enough to make room for a wide chunky bracelet.
While Armani's clothes were ladylike, restrained and elegant, Miuccia Prada's came off as stiff and stodgy. The designer sent out a collection of A-line skirts, skinny pants and manicurist-style jackets in unforgiving fabrics. Her intent was to transform the "banal into visual play." Instead, the banal stayed stubbornly . . . banal.
Earlier in the week, Mod ruled as the trendy imperative for spring.
It "seems to be the mood of the young designers," said Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director for Neiman Marcus. "The young designers seem to driven by Courreges and the '60s--and of course, the synthetics and techno fabrics which began in the '60s."
Tom Ford, the American creative director for Gucci who relaunched the look for fall, did late '60s hippie chic: bell-bottom pants and loose, flowing blouses.
Designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana injected mod into their secondary collection, D&G.; Aimed at logo-crazed Lolitas, the collection included suede trench coats, low-slung maxi skirts, floral print micro luncheon suits, hip-hugging jeans and . . . fringe. Sonny and Cher. "Room 222." Mod meets hippie.
Showing just outside central Milan's fashion ghetto was Junichi Hakamaki. The Japanese designer, in only his second season working under his own name, presented a collection misleadingly labeled "Yellow Trash." His laminated invitations suggested a cyberfashion collection full of vinyl, varnished fabrics and Space Age costumes. It came with this admonishment: No entrance if you support (French President Jacques) Chirac's nuclear testing.
In reality, this designer, who spent his formative years working at Calvin Klein, Ferragamo and most recently Gucci, blended minimalism, mod and a bit of his Japanese heritage for a collection with a trendy edge but a classic foundation.
His hip-huggers didn't dip quite so low as to reveal that troublesome tummy area that sit-ups don't seem to flatten. He cut the trousers straight instead of flared; one trend in a single pair of pants is plenty, he seemed to say. Shaped jackets had the requisite industrial zip front but a mandarin collar instead of a notched one.
Good jackets, simple sheaths, versatile twin sets and elegant blouses could hardly compete with the flashy fireworks of mod.
At Gianfranco Ferre, tailoring was sharp and strong. Jackets had broad shoulders; some stopped at the waist while others continued to just below the hips. Trousers mostly were soft and full. The collection, most easily worn by long-legged women with narrow waists, harked back to a time of Auntie Mame, cigarette cases and tomato-red lipstick. It had a grown-up point of view and aimed to evoke old-fashioned siren sex appeal. But it wasn't mod.
Krizia kept mostly to a navy and white palette and focused on trouser suits. Pants had cuffs at least four inches deep. Evening wear was all sequins and beads. Mod? No.
At Fendi, designer Karl Lagerfeld had too many notions simultaneously battling for attention. He offered sleeveless sun dresses with awkward crisscrossing straps at the bodice to expose the midriff. Matronly caftans had peasant-style sleeves. Narrow, crisp trousers were paired with unstructured jackets. Colors were dour earth tones.
It wasn't mod. But it was just about everything else.
Some venerable design houses have fared well in the face of mod. They've kept their point of view, noted the changing fashion and put their own spin on it.
Ferragamo, for instance, energized its reputation with easy polo dresses in Easter egg colors paired with pristine white golf shoes. Short and long coats came in shiny plastic-coated leather and in shades of bright orange and aquamarine. But the collection also included sleek trousers in off-white paired with a cropped, boxy jacket in orange with lime piping.
Gianni Versace gave fans his usual temptress dresses, but he also offered a more grown-up version of the season's hot look: Out came close-fitting, barely flared trousers in a Day-Glo rainbow of lemon yellow, lime green and tangerine, paired with matching shaped jackets and cropped, snug mock turtlenecks. The models were a virtual neon glow as they came down the runway.
* Next: Paris, and the collections of Thierry Mugler, Dries Van Noten, Christian Dior and Commes des Garcons.