Fashion 88 : For Menswear This Spring,the Italians Have a : SOFT TOUCH

With both the stock market and the dollar gone soft, Italians may have come up with the perfect look for the late '80s--the soft suit.

It's the important trend for fall '88, showing up at both the Pitti Uomo trade show in Florence and the designer collections in Milan this month.

Soft, rounded shoulders--dropped, like the Dow. Softly constructed tailoring. Voluminous proportion. Soft, lightweight fabric--ideal for Southern California winters. And soft details, such as trousers made with no crease in the leg, and sweaters or sport shirts buttoned to the throat and worn with no tie. And soft accessories too.

What this all seems to say is that the hard-edge, dress-for-success, winning-through-intimidation power look may be a hard sale come next fall. Aggressive may not be the look that suits the smart businessman.

Brown is the big color, seen everywhere. (President Reagan has to be given credit as the man who gave the brown suit a cachet it had not seen in many years.)

Giorgio Armani's brown, soft suits in very textured (though light to the touch) fabric were some of the best.

Krizia's Mariuccia Mandelli has come out with her premier men's line. She's also thinking soft but sophisticated, with her signature knit sweaters in vest, cardigan and pullover styles, shown tucked into the trousers of her soft suits. Her full-tuck, no-crease pants look like a smart way to sit out the tough economic times.

There are two opposing fall looks making fashion statements in Italy--looks you might call "poor little rich fashions."

Bum Chic or High Hobo suits in easy, crimpled silhouettes are often worn with roomy plaid or solid shirts. These may be a reaction to the sophisticated English traditional styles that have been important in Europe for many seasons now.

Romeo Gigli is the progenitor of this look, which he began refining several seasons ago and now continues. His three-piece suits with high-buttoning vests are styled in downbeat, earth-tone colors. The look has been picked up by everyone, from Milan's youngest designers to Armani. Prices indicate the voguish vagabond look is for the well-to-do rather than those on welfare.

At the richer end of the poor-little-rich trend is the "let's dress well even if the economy is sick" school--a typical fashion reaction to an economic woe. Byblos' Keith Varty and Alan Cleaver offer opulent Gothic-style evening wear--combinations of lace, brocade and velvet--and rich sportswear, including embroidered intarsiaed sweaters and high-town clothing, such as sport jackets with chesterfield collars.

Gianfranco Ferre's rich statement for day is an off-white leather jacket, and for evening, a tan cashmere dinner jacket with white brocade vest and white silk ascot.

Some other strong trends: vests (as in sweater vests, suit vests and evening vests), seen everywhere. Big overcoats, the newest in light shades of cream or beige. Armani's resurrection of the bomber jacket as a sportswear item again. The scarf replaces the tie at the neck but is worn as an ascot. Brown suede shoes, shown everywhere.

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