There's good reason why Italian ready-to-wear designers give the French a run for their money. The Italians make great sportswear for the '80s and now they're getting into the evening-wear act.
In the marathon of fall shows that began here Saturday, an international audience of buyers and press saw clothes as lightweight and graceful as the women meant to wear them. That's no small feat when working with winter-weight fabrics and leathers and furs. But the Milanese manage to do it right.
Despite a predominantly dreary color range (lots of gray and black) and despite a weakened dollar (which has many U.S. store buyers wondering how many outfits their deflated money will buy), there is a cheerful attitude to the proceedings and, remarkably, to the clothes themselves.
Broadened shoulders are the starting point for most designers here. Not quarterback shoulders, but with just enough extension to make the rest of the body look narrow by comparison.
At Gianni Versace's kickoff show on Saturday night, the emphasis moved directly downward from wide shoulders to fitted hips. Models wore tall Cossack hats and long, fake ponytails that hung down their backs. With these, a variety of long, knit, hip-fitted tunics (a few in sherbet shades) and long or short slim skirts and pants. For evening, Versace's curvy, short black velvet fitted suits began a theme of body-shaped evening velvets that continued through the week of shows.
Versace's peplum suit echoed another theme carried out by many other designers here.
Actress Morgan Fairchild sat first row at Mariuccia Mandelli's Krizia show, accompanied by Rodeo Drive's shop owner Torie Steele. Fairchild said she was flown in by the firm because she's "such a big Krizia fan" and wears their clothes on "Falcon Crest" and in real life.
Mandelli's hip emphasis took place via low belts, sashes and hip-banded sweaters over slim pants and skirts, and her big coats marked the emergence of another trend seen at many houses here. The steamer-style coats fall simply from broad shoulders to below mid-calf or just above the ankles. They are of wool knit (at Missoni), of leather (at Krizia and other houses), of shearling or luxury fur (at Fendi). This is one of two big coat shapes in Milan. The other has a fitted waistline with a long, full skirt and is reminiscent of Anastasia and the Russian czars.
Mariapia Fanfani, wife of the Italian senate president, hummed the theme from "La Traviata" at Mario Valentino's show. Fanfani, in a black and brown striped, man-tailored pantsuit, sat just in front of Robinson's vice president of fashion merchandising, Sarah Worman, and the store's designer sportswear and European collections buyer, Laura Hall. Worman and Hall said the money crunch would not affect Robinson's purchasing plans because the store "remains faithful to its designers" through good times and bad. What's more, Worman said, women who are used to paying the starting prices of about $1,500 for the sporty Italian daytime outfits will not likely be put off by an increase of a few dollars or even a few hundred dollars, should it come to that.
Models in Sunglasses
At Byblos, long-haired models in sunglasses wore stylized spoofs of the old West, cooked up Italian style. Long vests had fringed bottoms; white blouses had black Western yokes and black Western embroidery motifs on the sleeves. Designers Keith Varty and Alan Cleaver's show more wit in their spoof of the dandy look: Tweed or velvet knee pants worn with opaque stockings, flat shoes, waistcoats and big jackets or coats.
The traditional Hermes equestrian motif took a ribbing here, too, showing up as huge, stylized horse's heads in traditional Hermes colors on blouses and scarfs.
Graced Front Lines
Mrs. Rinaldo Petrignani, wife of the Italian ambassador to the United States, graced the front lines of the Fendi show, along with actress Claudia Cardinale and a number of extravagantly dressed Italian socialites. (Despite rumors to the contrary, women here do not seem reluctant to flaunt their jewels and furs--even in jam-packed settings such as these, which could prove hazardous.)
This four-star audience gave designer Karl Lagerfeld a standing ovation for what turned out to be one of the best-received shows of the week. The designer featured those big, fly-away steamer coats in fur-trimmed fabrics, along with a variety of short jackets, topcoats and shirts that flare away from the body from the neckline on down. These could mark the start of a trend to very full-blown tops in seasons to come. Lagerfeld's simple black chiffon shirt dresses for evening are collared and cuffed in white, with skirts caught up at front or side in what look like loose knots.
Lagerfeld's Fendi furs, mostly in natural tones of brown, were so sumptuously oversized, so intricately worked in chevrons, stripes, swirls, drapes and multiple textures that even the socialites in the crowd seemed stupefied by the opulence of it all. Remarkably, even the fullest, longest furs have a featherweight grace, as if they could turn into magic carpets at any moment and waft their models off on thin air.
Gianfranco Ferre's show was another crowd pleaser this week. Princess Michael of Kent (in pink and black Ferre) provided the "photo opportunity" while the designer's long, cashmere coats over short, slim, suede dresses provided the pizazz. His pale, taffy-color palette in long-jacket leather suits, shearling coats, and cuddly sweaters over pale pants were a pleasing break from the continuous black and gray scheme other designers chose.
Ferre also produced some peplums and his glittery lame evening looks were part of another strong theme that is apparent here for fall.
Glitter turns up in liquid silver blouses or sheath dresses, in metallic threads woven into knits and tweeds, on gloves that provide the only sparkle in otherwise all-black outfits and on Luciano Soprani's rounded pillbox hats decorated with fake stones to look like diamond tiaras.
Oddest, Wittiest Hats
Oddest hats of the week were Krizia's matte black plastic-look, geodesic beanies, which sat low on the forehead. Wittiest hats were Lagerfeld's pointed, black velvet caps with big, black, fur pompons on top. The big shoe styles for casual wear are a version of the gum-sole work shoe, or high-vamp flat heel shoes. Biggest shoe trend of all is the pump with metal armor either at toe or heel, or something that resembles a spur on the side.
Long hair is very Italian for fall, either tame or wild.
And the most escalating major trend here is leather, either molded to the body like a wet suit or shaped into elegant coats, suits, skirts and blouses. Velvet, shown mostly for evening, is beginning to work its way into the daytime fashion world. And many designers here created suits by mixing unlikely fabric combinations (rib-knit skinny skirts with elegantly tailored, classic jackets, or long black lace skirts with long suit-like jackets).
Even though most consumers won't be able to afford these specific clothes, they will probably be able to find copies any minute at their local stores. One New York reporter recognized a woman taking photos in the audience and realized that her husband owns a moderate-priced sportswear firm in New York. The photos have no doubt made it back to Seventh Avenue by now, and the reasonable facsimiles of Italian ideas may be in some stores even before the authentic Italian clothes arrive.