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Simply Pretty & Pretty Ugly

Prada

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Designer Miuccia Prada thrusts clothes directly into the center of any conversation. She creates garments that provoke arguments on the nature of beauty, our definition of womanliness and our measure of what is appropriate. In the collection she presented Tuesday, she returned to a theme that has intrigued her and baffled many observers: ugliness. She revels in taking fabrics, prints, colors and shapes that are considered unattractive or valueless and transforming them into something precious by the force of her own aesthetic sensibility, her stature as an innovative designer and a fashion industry loath to suggest that the empress's new clothes aren't so swell.

For fall, Prada seated her audience on blocks of plastic foam arranged in a maze. The models walked along a pathway that resembled a tar-covered road. They wore fuzzy coats that made them look like Gund bears caught in the rinse cycle. There were charcoal coats with unfinished hems and "spray-painted" color patterns that looked so heavy they caused one's shoulders to slump just watching them pass by. Skirts and pullovers had the texture and sheen of something that one might find in a meat case cradling a family pack of chicken wings.

It was a jarring collection that left one's eyes reeling. These were not the sort of runway frocks that, while impractical and challenging to wear, raise one's pulse and leave shoppers desperate to see how this all might unfold in a more practical manner.

With each collection, Prada gives the fashion industry something to think about. Rare is the designer whose collection requires multiple REM cycles and, perhaps, a few stiff drinks, to fully comprehend. But after much contemplation about shag carpet coats and puckered dresses, spray-paint expressionism, cavewomen, Wilma Flintstone and primordial fears, it all comes down to this: These clothes are ugly. Really, ugly.

There is no redemptive magic. No intellectual rigor. No wry humor. If there is an inside joke, it is trapped so deep inside the mind of Prada that she is the only one chuckling.

Marni

The Marni designer, Consuelo Castiglioni, traffics in pleasure, in smiles and giggles and knowing glances.

The collection she presented Wednesday morning mixed her signature shapes in wools and silk with fabrics and silhouettes plucked from the ski slopes and schoolyard.

Wool blazers top ski jackets, which cover print dresses that drape easily over the body. Barrel-like skirts in mesh peek out from under wool felt tunics. Glossy coats that allude to rain slickers are trimmed in a thick band of fur. Mittens are covered in Persian lamb.

Castiglioni gives women something to think about in her collections. She challenges traditional definitions of sex appeal. She experiments with shapes, sometimes capturing the look of a dress caught in a gentle breeze through the manipulation of seams and pleats. And she challenges our notion of luxury by elevating fabrics such as vinyl and polyester.

Ultimately though, Castiglioni helps a woman feel good in her clothes and smart about the aesthetic choices she has made. And she does both without leaving a woman's brow furrowed in baffled contemplation about whether ugly can ever be pretty.


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