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In Milan, fashion gets ready for fall

Dressing the modern schoolgirl in cropped jackets, skinny pants, short full skirts and jumper dresses, Giorgio Armani's Emporio Armani collection Monday gave a much-needed jolt to the Italian fall ready-to-wear shows, which sputtered along throughout the week.

Emporio is the Italian master's young line and it was very young, but pleasingly so. Jumper dresses and baby-dolls came in demure florals, in woolen knits and, for evening, in velvet with sequin tanks underneath, or in splotchy tweeds pieced together with smooth silks.

Short, strong-shouldered jackets, in velveteen with frog closures, were worn over slim pants. Often these jackets were worn with longer vests for an eccentric, layered effect. Short jackets alternated with longer, slope-shouldered designs, worn with tight vests and fluid trousers. Tiers of ruffles were a recurring "girlie" theme. Iridescent leathers added the season's all-important shine.

Dolce & Gabbana's collection had the hot design duo doing what it does best _ masculine pantsuits offset by saucy starlet attire. With Isabella Rossellini on the runway, the collection had a maximum of verve and a minimum of gimmicks. You could actually imagine women wearing these clothes and looking attractive, which is not something about which every designer can boast. Boucle miniskirt suits with tight little jackets trimmed in what looked like faux fur were as sexy as could be. Linda Evangelista, in a herringbone version, looked like she was off to Rome to star in a remake of some Fellini pot-boiler.

At Dolce & Gabbana, Lurex turtlenecks and sequined tops sparkled under sedate menswear-ish suits. A cropped tank in fuzzy mohair topped a floor-sweeping sheer slip. A long-haired shearling coat was deliciously mangy, Lassie cast as Superfly. The designers (Domenico and Stefano) managed interesting mixes of materials _ mohair and chiffon; faux-leopard and tweed _ and such accessible novelties as sweater sleeves sewn onto tweed jackets. Only patchworks of tweed and clear plastic seemed too farfetched.

Those forward-thinking fashion victims out there who've been wondering what they'll wear to the opening of The Flintstones movie need look no further than Gianni Versace's Versus secondary line. Overseen by the designer's spitfire sister Donatella, Versus took a twisted take on couture styles, dishing up lunch-lady clothes in mixed animal prints to the strains

of Nancy Sinatra's These Boots Are Made for Walking.

It was jaw-droppingly over-the-top, what with spotted jackets worn with leather jumpers, striped velveteen jackets over zebra pants, men in leopard pants, faux-fur change purses dangling off belts, doughnut-shaped pillbox hats. To be perfectly honest, this game of high-priced dress up just scared me.

Versace's other secondary line, called Istante, made the season's biggest case for shine _ whether the shimmer of metal or the gloss of patent. But it wasn't anything we haven't already seen from American designer Anna Sui. There were pastel metallics, a couple of beautiful long lame and Lurex pleated dresses, and a red crinkled patent minidress. Glen plaid suits were studded in rhinestones and worn over Lurex turtlenecks. But Naomi Campbell's tush was hanging out of her boucle mini wrap-skirt, and poor Veronica Webb looked like a transsexual. It wasn't a happy thing.