Prada, Jil Sander, Marni and more show off blindingly bright ideas in Milan

Donatella Versace explores shoulders as a new erogenous zone during Milan Fashion Week. The Italian designer declared shoulders the 'new erogenous zone' for her Spring/Summer collection.
By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 28, 2010

MILAN -- Brace yourselves: The favorite colors of the spring 2011 season are safety-cone orange, iridescent chartreuse, retina-searing hot pink and luminescent violet. They are a test of aesthetic acumen, as well as social courage.

These are not easy colors to wear or even to countenance. These are acid hues that recall '70s new-wave bands, the kaleidoscopic chaos of a preschool classroom and cheap party-store candy that floods the mouth with sweet-and-sour goo. They aren't soothing, nor do they exude power, intellectualism or even sex appeal. Yet they do draw the eye . . . but in a manner our culture has deemed unseemly.

Serious people do not wear such delirious shades. Indeed, it seems fair to say that antifreeze green has never made an appearance at the State of the Union address. So it's with no small amount of audacity and optimism that designers proceed down this color-drenched path.

To wear such vivid, unabashedly joyful and occasionally silly colors goes against everything we have been taught about what it means to be an adult in civil society. When we see some creature on the city streets trussed up in a bright fuchsia suit -- her clothes practically throbbing with radiation -- we dismiss her as an eccentric. We are suspicious and assume she must be a little kooky and irresponsible. A flaky artist? A flighty performer?

But maybe she's just fearless.

The designers here are daring women to cause a stir -- not just an aesthetic one, but also a taboo-breaking one -- in fuchsia trousers, violet wind coats and work shirts emblazoned with bright yellow bananas.

When designer Miuccia Prada put her spring collection on the runway last week, it was a complete rejection of the ladylike reserve, hourglass silhouettes and tradition-bound sensibility she offered for fall. Instead, she playfully blended Latin style with baroque grandeur, street-vendor ephemera and childlike naivete.

The runway, in her urban loft, was an imposing block of gray cement and metal raised some five feet off the ground. Her models provided the dour room with a bracing jolt of color and electricity. They were dressed in boldly striped dresses in shades of orange and green. Work shirts were decorated with a banana print; comic book monkeys danced across other frocks.

Bananas! Monkeys! For grown-ups!

Sometimes crinolines were tucked underneath the skirts, forcing them outward so that their brilliant colors seemed to explode around the body. Crayola-bright sombreros hung down the models' backs, and even their shoes were divided into individual blocks of cheerful yellow and red.

The collection was a perfect balance of glorious kitsch and pitch-perfect sophistication. The prints and colors looked as though they had been cribbed from souvenir trinkets that might be hawked on the beaches of Acapulco or Rio. But the silhouettes -- streamlined and classic -- made clear that these were wearable clothes. These clothes were no joke.

Prada's fall statement focused on the power of femininity. It asked women to be proud of their female form and to revel in its classic sensuality. Spring's collection is a pure declaration of one's presence. It gives rise to no deep intellectual conversation about sex, power or gender. Yet it makes a profound request on the wearer's behalf, one that most people can't bear to make: Look at me!

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