Fashion: Linda shapes up and goes to Hollywood: We've seen that curvy look before . . . Marilyn's made a comeback. And the Duracell-powered ultramodel is changing her image with the times again. Marion Hume reports from Milan

LINDA Evangelista's dye job is the most talked about sight of the spring/summer 1995 Milan shows. In part, that is because the wearable clothes have been rather uninspired. But it is also because of her persistent knack of turning herself into a sort of shorthand for the prevailing trend - which right now is for larger- than-life Hollywood fantasy.

Linda has again attempted to become the very image of the fashion zeitgeist, right to the roots of her hair. As everyone knows, she has already dyed from dark to blonde to red to brown again and, to the same rhythm, fashion has spun from sporty to sleek to hard- edged to grunge to glamour. Her new look is exaggerated, scaled up to fit the big screen if you are being gentle; a play on the fascination with drag if you are not.

Linda is not the only platinum blonde on the catwalk of course. Nadja Auermann, a mere supermodel to Linda's Duracell-powered ultramodel, has already transformed herself into a starlet. But Linda's new look is more audacious. She has attempted to appropriate the iconography of the most potent pin-up girl of all time.

Why? Because influential designers are convinced that a varoom-ba-boom shape fused with a babywoman charm - which made Norma Jean into Marilyn Monroe - is what is wanted now. The fall- out from grunge (which led to low maintenance clothes many women liked) has finally settled.

The notion that women found floppy layers rather comfy has not stopped fashion's wheel from turning. A year ago, Giorgio Armani's proposition for his younger line would perhaps have looked 'relaxed'. This week it looked drab and strangely proportioned.

The kind of garments men are supposed to enjoy seeing women wear now dominate. However, according to designers, this is not some sexist plot but their answer to the demands of women themselves. Flashback to the haute couture shows in Paris in July. There, that least feminist of garments, the corset, staged a spectacular comeback. Designers were categoric that it was the customers and not they who were demanding things tighter and waspier of waist.

Women without fortunes to spend are making similar demands. As sure as the Wonderbra - which looked old-fashioned and sexist when it was reintroduced - has been a success in the mainstream, so will the corset. In Milan, designers fixated on its hook-and-eye fastenings, its cross- lacing, its figure-enhancing stitching. Which accounts for Linda's hairdo. Think of visual references of curvy female forms and you are unlikely to overlook Marilyn.

I'd just watched Linda 'do' her at Gianni Versace's show, when I opened my Independent on Tuesday to see a photograph of the real Marilyn on the Health page. One Professor Devendra Singh of the University of Texas, had proved, it said, as a result of vigorous surveys, that men still find the waist-hip ratio of latter-day Marilyns irresistibly sexy. It is unlikely the professor has ever met Gianni Versace, who could have confirmed that women are happy to concur.

Versace is fixated with the waist and cinching it in. At his most racy, this means taking the corset, adding a sliver of fabric and calling it a dress. It is improbable that Professor Singh has ever met the design duo Dolce & Gabbana either. But the pair are on the same wavelength. The thrust of their show was corsets plus corsetry detailing. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it looked as if the model was wearing an old panty girdle. In any case, the desired waist-hip ratio remained the stuff of fantasy.

Underwear-as-outerwear is now an obsession. Versace also made it central to his second line, Versus, where models looked like Forties chorus girls caught by surprise in their tightly laced practice kit.

Whether one likes it or loathes it, Versace creates the axis about which Milan turns. Dolce & Gabbana can still stir up an exciting side show; Alberta Ferretti, Jil Sander and Gucci can provide outfits that might make you want to shop; but the force field of influence is Versace. In the past, Milan fashion week has meant a battle royal between the titans Gianni and Giorgio. Now the exuberant designer often deemed a vulgarian has the upper hand.

Which means that it won't stop here. Versace's influence will be writ large on copycat collections at all levels. Expect jackets with corsetry stitching or kittenish clothes to be everywhere next spring. Glossy magazines will continue to play with images of glamour, although the current relentlessly hard-edged pictures will be replaced by Vargas girls, chorus girls. And because Linda will capitalise on her dye job, expect to see major advertising campaigns featuring Evangelista as Monroe.

(Photographs omitted)

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