Milan: Opulence and Simplicity for Fall

Times Fashion Editor

Picture Anna Karenina twirling in the snow, wearing an outrageously ostentatious ankle-length mink coat with removable sable sleeves. On her head: an oversize fake Persian lamb hat that can also function as a handbag once she steps off the steppes.

Now imagine your next-door neighbor in an impeccably tailored tweed jacket that's a little bit shorter than last season's model. With it, she wears velvet pants that are considerably narrower than the pleat-front trousers of '84.

This fantasy/reality trip is yours next fall if your fashion passport is stamped Milan.

A Contradictory Season

The disparities between the overtly opulent and the puritanically plain make this season one of the most contradictory in years, and highlight the differences between two of Italy's most famous ready-to-wear names: Fendi and Armani.

For Karl Lagerfeld of Fendi, fashion is a mink chest warmer, a sable leotard and sunglasses framed in Persian lamb. For Giorgio Armani, fashion is an ever-so-slightly higher notch on the ever-so-slightly wider lapel of an ever-so-slightly shorter jacket. And between these two design extremes are some of the most commercially sound clothes in years.

The style news at Fendi revolves around oversize, ankle-length coats that sweep up everything in their path. The fur news at Fendi begins with stenciled Persian lamb that looks like silk brocade and ends with sheared kolinsky (Chinese mink) treated to look like winter skies through winter branches. Well, that's what it says in the program, and, believe it or not, that's the way it looks in real life.

Subdued Fall Palette

The only thing about the Fendi collection that is not extravagant is the color range. The company that brought you such Technicolor triumphs as moss-green weasel, mauve-dyed mole and terra cotta squirrel has issued a more subdued palette for fall.

Many of the furs are in their natural shades, especially the classic sables and fishers, which equal or outnumber the more exotic species this season. If there is one fur that stars in the collection it's Persian lamb. Once considered an old-lady fur, it is Fendi's new pet in items ranging from ski pants, detachable collars, cuffs, shoe trims, jackets and coats to sunglass frames.

In the point/counterpoint of the season, the romantic notions of the Lagerfeld-Fendi team are countered by the computer-chip calculations of Armani. Never swerving from his menswear origins, Armani tailors his new woman in tweeds and covert cloth by day, plastic sequins by night.

Sequined Evening Wear

Like many Milan designers, Armani shows more evening clothes than ever before--most of them sequined versions of daytime shapes plus a few petticoated gold gauze skirts and sequined lace chemises. For his finale, he raised the curtain at the end of the runway to reveal 22 models in evening clothes standing in two-story, frame-like boxes--a tableau that earned the designer two curtain calls.

Aside from these polar views of fall fashion, certain trends appear in almost every collection. They are:

--International Velvet. Crushed, panne, broadtail, print or plain, velvet is at the top of the fashion pile for fall. Luciano Soprani uses it for both his own collection and for his Basile line, combining it with everything from plaids for day to laces and matte jerseys for night. Gianni Versace prints velvet in pin dots and Klimt motifs for his own collection and in tapestry florals for his Genny designs. If there is one signature of this Milan season--one item that even Versace, Lagerfeld and Armani all agree upon--it's the black velvet pant. The narrower the better. Versace and Lagerfeld prefer the ski look--with stirrups. Armani slenderizes his pants with zippers that remind you of the puttees worn by World War I doughboys.

--Patent Leather. Patent is patently present as the big shoe medium for fall, ending once and for all that debate about its suitability after Labor Day. Black patent oxfords are in almost every collection, often tied with black ribbons instead of shoestrings for a new kind of tap-shoe effect. Fendi, Soprani, Genny, Basile, Armani and Ferragamo all show black patent flats. While there are some high heels around, including high-heel, knee-high boots at Versace, the no-heel or little-heel shoe continues to dominate the runway. At Fendi, for example, Lagerfeld shows only low-heel shoes, even with the most blatantly luxurious ermines and sables.

--Evening Glitter. Night dressing is getting a glow on here, as designers light up the evening with bugle beads, sequins, diamante and rhinestones. Fashion gets a bead on everything from sweaters to ski pants. And what is not lit with jewels luxuriates in gold lame. It's a cost-is-no-object, got-it/flaunt-it nighttime, even at Armani, where sequins give glen plaids an after-hours life.

--All the News That's Fit to Knit has been. Gianfranco Ferre knits the shape right into his new double-knit jerseys. Laura Biagiotti gives us white-on-white argyles. And the Missonis stir the fashion pot with boiled wools.

If fantasy is a Fendi mink with removable sable sleeves, and reality is an Armani jacket, duality is a pair of Missoni stockings with legs in different colors. And tonality is gray. From banker's gray to petroleum, it's the color to bank on for fall, often shown in gradations that include black and white. Turquoise looks like the freshest color ahead, followed by rose wine, damson plum, amber and dollar-bill green.

Lots of dollar-bill green.

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