The first show sent out the warning signal; Dolce e Gabbana's swashbuckling costume parade ended with a line-up of nubiles in their nighties. On their feet, those T-bar shoes Shirley Temple wore to sing 'On the Good Ship Lollipop'; on their legs, thick black stockings visible up to the bare young flesh of their thighs.
From then on it was like being a Peeping Tom at a boarding-school. There were apple- cheeked girls in floaty pastel chiffons, flush- faced girls on the cusp of womanhood in their first little black dresses, schoolgirls in gymslips, sporty girls in tennis knickers or big white PE knickers and fey girls in teen bra and knicker sets, visible under see-through dresses. Then there were tomboys, in white shirts and grey uniform trousers, in cricket flannels or in their brother's football jerseys and skimpy shorts.
And then there were Versace's schoolgirls. The man who dresses women as virgins or whores, with no room for anything in between, was equally clear about his teenagers - they were either little innocents or they were the school slags.
Picture the scene. Versace's catwalk is so long the Americans are right to call it a runway. It is made of marble and at the far, far end - so you have to squinny your eyes to see - are steps that lead up on to it. The music starts. We wait, and we wait . . . for some Amazonian supermodel to come into view. But, oops, Kate Moss has been there all along, dressed like a tiny little schoolgirl in her tiny little uniform dawdling along with her homework in her satchel.
Then her friends catch up, in their little skirts, lacey tights banned by the headmaster and their flat pixie boots. Their satchels have safety pins plunged into them from when they got bored in maths. Next, a change of clothes. Out skip our St Trinian's girls in Benetton- bright civvies, clutching their pocket money and off to buy some Clearasil.
Help] Here come the truants, the bad girls who know just what they're up to - black leather minskirts under bare belly buttons, white lacey bobby socks and spindly stilettoes. Then you remember with horror that Versace is not interested in dressing kids like these at all. He wants to dress their mothers - to look just like them.
Versace can be the best. He is unsurpassed at those precision-engineered reveal and conceal evening gowns - slashed up to the thigh or down to the top of the buttocks and way over the ooomph Richter scale. But there are times - and this is one of them - when he is the worst. Paris, London and New York, where we will surely see our share of fashion dont's, have yet to happen. But I'll wager that no one, nowhere, will take us from outrageous tart's pumps to platform flip-flops borrowed from a Miami poolside in the space of one short show.
And as for punk, which ran alongside the schoolyard as the theme for the collection, it cannot be tamed like this. Butter-soft black leather with satin-backed slashes reinforced in buttonhole stitch do not anarchy make, as Gianni himself showed when he appeared to take his applause in comfy old slacks and a Val Doonican sweater. Only close up could you see this was a neatly slashed 'punk' sweater, and not just a cosy cardy with a snowflake
But back to the fourth form, whom Alberta Ferretti, Prada, Genny, Sportmax and Katharine Hamnett had all been watching through the school fence. Giorgio Armani took a peak and got momentarily confused about what his 'less is more' tag meant, and so sent out some teeny-weeny dresses for Emporio Armani. Even Jil Sander, a no-nonsense teutonic woman, the designer of choice to sophisticated and successful international businesswomen, made a brief dash out on to the hockey pitch with gymslips and visible white knickers.
Then came Rifat Ozbek, British designer of the year and the undisputed star of Milan's last season. The programme told us that Stella, who has her belly button and nose pierced, would be first out in 'a very little black dress'. Visualise a camisole. This was followed by cutesy baby-doll dresses and what Ozbek called his 'keyhole dress', micro-short and absolutely see-through.
But Ozbek, like Sander and Armani, is talented, wise, and commercial. He wasn't completely forgetting his customer. Everything in a show loosely inspired by gypsy dancers was either skimpy for those with great legs or low slung over washboard bellies. Coming from Britain, with our 'blink and you'll miss them' summers, the collections for spring/ summer can look impossibly abbreviated and flesh-exposing. But to Ozbek's legion of West Coast American customers, particularly the gym-toned Malibu set, these latest offerings suit.
Ozbek's outfits were as tiny as Versace's. But at the fashion show, the medium, as well as the clothes, is the message. At Ozbek, at Ferretti, at Armani, the young looks were fresh and light. At Katharine Hamnett, they were cheeky, but at Versace, the almost palpable presence of a man in a mac made the whole display sleazy.
There is no doubt that short is back, and it's sexy, but real women should be demanding something more empowering than pastel baby dolls.
But a baby doll by Complice has a whole tougher attitude. Complice (which is designed by Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana) was the best show in Milan - a multi-colour celebration of black style, from sharp, superfly gangster tailoring to rasta, ragga, and rap, from Ghana to the Caribbean. Out came Revlon's black spokeswoman, Veronica Webb, a model, a TV star and a businesswoman, in a ruffled baby doll in a rainbow of colours over a black T-shirt, sawn-off shorts and army boots. The signal was of style, confidence and power, and that's how to do short for 1994.
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