Prada explores cliches of beauty; Cavalli does Bauhaus

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MILAN — Shape and color engaged designers on the second day of Milan Fashion Week of womenswear previews for next autumn and winter, featuring shows by Fendi, Max Mara, Just Cavalli and Prada.

Some highlights from Thursday's shows:

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FROM ANIMAL PRINTS TO BAUHAUS

Roberto Cavalli is in the final stages of negotiating the sale of a majority stake in his fashion, and his CEO kept a watchful eye as the creative power behind the Cavalli and Just Cavalli brands held court with reporters during fashion week.

The brands earlier in the day reported a 4.2 percent increase in revenues in 2014, to 209.4 million euros, and with the sale closing to the Clessidra private equity fund the goal was to stay on message. Keep the focus on fashion, not financials.

It is perhaps the serious nature of the business that had the Just Cavalli label for the younger crowd taking cues from the German Bauhaus architectural movement, rather than Cavalli's usual omnipresent animal prints. There were geometrical references in prints and necklaces. But the collection also had a 1970s feel with a strong rust-based color palate and some hippie, Bohemian print long dresses, jumpsuits and blouses with ruffled sleeves.

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KENDALL STRUTS FENDI

Kendall Jenner is keeping up her runway streak, strutting for Fendi in one of Lagerfeld's puffy parkas with a matching mini-skirt and black fur boots. The half-sister of Kim Kardashian, who made her New York runway debut just a year ago, is becoming one of the most recognizable faces on the circuit.

In New York, she walked eight major runway shows, including for Oscar de la Renta in an elegant tulle and organza gown. In London last week, she took it a bit easier, modeling a gothic look for the brand Giles but also seeing how the other half lives from the front row of Topshop Unique.

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PRINCESS PRADA

Miuccia Prada explored cliches of beauty in her looks for next winter.

Her woman is a Technicolor 1950s housewife, perfectly dressed and coiffed, serving up neat trays of pink or green canapes, like the ones that greeted visitors to Prada's show.

Her double-breasted pantsuit, in a spongy, stretch fabric, had a Claymation effect -- part of Prada's ploy to explore the space between the real and the fake, like two parallel universes.

For Prada the exploration wasn't just about teasing out the irony of what is accepted as beautiful, as she sprinkled the looks with oversized sequins, bows and fur. It also becomes an indictment of the growing dissonance with the selves we project, or as she puts it, "the reality of us, and all the flatness as you invent a reality that doesn't exist."

Tweed suits, dresses and coats are festooned with rhinestone floral brooches as well as their parallel universe cousins, flat plastic representations that resemble shiny sprigs of parsley.

The most merchandisable pieces in of the collection were a series of ostrich skin dresses and skirts — but Prada couldn't leave well enough alone. She mutated that circular ostrich pattern into a wavy print on a vinyl-like material — pairing ostrich with what the designer cheekily called its genetic mutation.

Bold contrasting colors contributed to the unreality of it all — olive set against aquamarine, pink against flesh tones, and camel with gray and princess pink.

The looks were finished with long opera gloves, the kind that landed Alma Clooney under the glare of the fashion police at the Golden Globes, or a shorter, more utilitarian model. Shoes included boots featuring a wavy rubbery sole in contrasting color.


BIRDS-OF-PARADISE

No designer notes were prepared for the Fendi show. Better still, there were sketches by Karl Lagerfeld that underlined the collection as a study in graphic clarity.

That vision included a bird-of-paradise in every bag, animating the must-have accessory as if about to take flight, and reminiscent of the whimsical bag baubles that have become a Fendi tradition.

"He chose the bird-of-paradise because it is so graphic and sharp," Silvia Venturini Fendi said backstage. "It is also the symbol of nobility."

The collection was a study in the graphic construction of shapes and textures. The looks were often linear — skirts, dresses and coats constructed of panels, sometimes in contrasting colors and materials. Furry boots, leg warmers or arm cuffs weren't mere cozy additions but another graphic element that balanced the look.

The rigidity gave way, eventually, to fun looks like big puffy coats that finished in a gathered ruffle. And there was a little flounce in some femininely puffed-up pea-coats.

The focus of the collection was on the construction of the clothes, Venturini Fendi said.

"It is a great collection, where you really see his genius," she said of Lagerfeld.

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BEACH BOMBSHELL

Actress Kate Mara swept into the Max Mara show clutching closed her sea-foam green Max Mara overcoat like a blanket. Beneath it, she wore a matching sheath dress.

Her pose, down to the salt-swept hair, echoed down the runway, and the runway in turn echoed iconic beach photographs of Marilyn Monroe taken with the starlet wrapped in a worn Norwegian cardigan and a camel-colored blanket.

The Max Mara girl for next winter is a bombshell, a smart one at that: She walks along the wintery beach, enveloped in a large, luxurious overcoat and her thoughts, clutching both close. We know she is smart from her cat-rimmed glasses.

Underneath the rich outerwear, the silhouette is tight and sexy: sheath dresses out of the softest, wispiest cashmere or shiny quilting. Strapless, a nearly sheer cashmere sweater warms the shoulders.

The color palate was camel and ivory with sun-washed shades of green and blue. Monochromes were broken up by checks, houndstooth or animal print patterns. The shoe of choice was an easy-to-wear tasseled moccasin.

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Follow Colleen Barry at http://www.twitter.com/collbarry

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