washingtonpost.com  > Columns > Fashion

Milan Puts On The Dog. Woof.

Well-Groomed Prada Stands Out Among Pug-Ugly Clothes

By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 25, 2005; Page C01

MILAN, Feb. 24

As some of the world's most celebrated fashion houses debut their fall 2005 collections here, one is left to wonder -- over dinner, during delays and in the wee hours of the morning -- how so many experienced, successful and creative designers could go so terribly wrong. The runway presentations began in earnest on Monday afternoon, and if there has been a single trend for fall, it has been one of profoundly unattractive clothes.

This city has not been living up to its reputation for clothes that are either boldly and gloriously sexual or exquisitely and elegantly tailored. Giorgio Armani is dabbling in silliness just to get a little attention. Better to be mocked than to be ignored; that seems to be his logic. The magic is gone from Gucci; it's just another house struggling to find its way. Designers are clearly trying to evolve. They are looking to move on from the hyper-femininity and vintage-inspired shapes that have dominated for so long. They are toying with a darker, more intellectual mood. And aesthetically, they are exploring ways in which clothes can be minimal yet not frumpy. Fashion is in transition and it is an ugly, bruising mess.

Christian Lacroix ended with a whimper - or rather, a terrible bang - with this gown for Pucci. (Maria Valentino - For The Washington Post)

_____From Robin Givhan_____
After the Joys of Summer Are Gone (The Washington Post, Feb 18, 2005)
J.Lo Beneath The Bling (The Washington Post, Feb 13, 2005)
The Late, the Great, And the Plumb Wonderful (The Washington Post, Feb 10, 2005)
Designers in Short Pants (The Washington Post, Feb 8, 2005)
Michael Jackson,Tailoring His Defense (The Washington Post, Feb 4, 2005)
_____Arts & Living_____
The Fashion & Beauty section has stories and tips.

Certainly not every garment that has been sashayed down the runway has induced a look of jaw-dropping horror or a distasteful wince -- although many have elicited such responses. Tomas Maier mounted his first formal runway presentation for Bottega Veneta, the luxury leather goods house that is now dabbling in ready-to-wear. The clothes are as expensively rendered as the company's handbags, which have, on occasion, cost as much as $10,000. The clothes must compete with some dauntingly impressive purses. Maier cuts an elegant suit in charcoal tweed and applies an authoritative hand to a panne velvet tank dress with a sprinkling of glitter. But they are overshadowed by his exquisite crushed velvet T-strap shoes and hand-woven frame satchels with their leather rosettes.

Christopher Bailey offered a solid group of pleated wool skirts, flared woolen coats with insets of satin, and hippie dresses for the Burberry Prorsum label. They reminded one of days when certain young women ironed their hair and marijuana was something to be smoked illicitly, not voted for in a referendum. But even in their suggestive primness, many of the clothes had a tendency to turn a slender figure into a rather stocky one.

Consuelo Castiglione did not disappoint with her bohemian-style luxury for Marni. She may be the only designer with the ability to make broadtail and mink look impishly charming and a farm girl dress seem vaguely sexy. There were fewer of the awkward silhouettes that tend to mar her collections and leave folks scratching their heads in confusion. Why doesn't the right sleeve match the left one? There were several dresses with puckers and twists that offered perfectly pitched nonchalance. But ultimately, it was more of the same.


These collections were simply reassuring; women will not be forced to go naked or down-market this fall. Only Miuccia Prada, in her signature collection, offered evidence that fashion can still be inspiring, that it can grow and shift its moods in almost an organic way.

Prada presented her collection Monday night in the industrial bareness of her loft space. It was a stripped-down, spare collection that was introduced with a single black dress, its beautiful seams sensually tracing the body. Evidence of this garment's painstaking construction was clear. The essence of fashion -- the fundamentals of assembly -- was laid bare. This was not clothing that had been prettied up with a lot of flourishes, with ruffles, beads, sequins and the like. Here was a simple, pure aesthetic meal.

It is tempting to take the easy way out and to describe the Prada collection as minimalist, as an obvious swinging of the pendulum away from ornate clothes and toward something simpler. That is the way fashion tends to work, after all. Just when the industry gets consumers all juiced up for brooches and beadwork, it pronounces all of that over. But Prada is not that obvious.

These clothes are evidence of the way in which fashion can grow and evolve, of the way in which garments can reflect a designer's confidence and innate sense of style. There is no sudden and harsh shift in Prada's aesthetics. The same customer who was enchanted by slouchy cardigans glistening with crystals can find something to admire in a camel coat, its silhouette defined by inverted seams, or in another coat spared from banality by a storm of gold grommets along its hemline. These clothes retain the effervescence of Prada's more decorated collections. They tell the same story of conservative glamour. They simply do it more quietly. Twinkling crystals have been exchanged for industrial metal. Rainbows of rhinestones have been traded in for monochromatic ones. A neckline is traced by a seam instead of a spray of multicolored peacock feathers. A cape is made of lush, dark feathers instead of shiny sequins. Coats are decorated with crocheted teardrops instead of chunky baubles. Doesn't everyone -- except perhaps political pundits -- get tired of shouting? It is possible to use a stage whisper and still deliver a powerful message. It may even be a more effective form of communication.

In this transitional season, Prada shows seamless, incremental growth, while others show growing pains.


At the Gucci show Wednesday evening, designer Alessandra Facchinetti opened her collection with a promising group of overcoats. They were in dark shades such as black and navy and they were adorned with embroidery in a matching tone. The coats had sharp shoulders and stayed close to the body and buttoned low and tight on the hips. There they flared out, like a skirt, creating the effect of an overcoat as mini-dress. Woolen coats skimmed the torso and then transformed into sheets of alligator that sprayed over the hips.

They were worn with narrow trousers that created a lean and sexy silhouette. And for a moment, before one began thinking of the difficulty of putting a sweater or a blazer under such a form-fitting coat, before one began to wonder just how advisable it is for a coat to button so snugly around the derriere, this seemed to be an enticing collection.

But then along came the dresses with their romantic sleeves, off-the-shoulder silhouette, kick pleats, braid embroidery wrapping around the torso and ruched hemline. The problem was that all of this swirling, slipping, scrunching and whatnot was occurring in a single, dizzying garment. The dresses were overwrought and overworked. Somewhere buried below all of the razzle-dazzle were gloriously sexy evening gowns and cocktail dresses. If only the dresses were a smidge bigger so that they did not ride up the hips and appear to be choking off the models' access to oxygen, one could be supportive of Facchinetti's vision. But Facchinetti proved that having too many ideas is just as problematic as having none at all.

CONTINUED    1 2    Next >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company