In Milan, It’s Down to Earth With Ethnic Undercurrents

It’s autumn here, but summer on the fashion runways as designers present spring, 1989, collections. Shows and showrooms are jammed with more than 1,000 members of the international press and about 400 buyers, with the large Japanese contingent the most visible.

Because of a 10-day hiatus between the end of the Milan/London shows and the start of Paris shows on Oct. 19, many American retailers will shop here later and miss the Milan runway presentations entirely.

In front row evidence, however, are Bergdorf Goodman’s chairman, Ira Neimark, and president, Dawn Mello; Ellin Saltzman, Saks Fifth Avenue’s senior vice president, and Kal Ruttenstein, Bloomingdale’s senior vice president and fashion director.

On the runways, there’s something for everyone: long skirts, short skirts, wide-leg pants, narrow pants, long jackets and short jackets. There’s an ethnic undercurrent running through everything, spelled out in the warm spice colors, the delicate fabrics and the Middle East-inspired embroideries and accessories.


So far, no single designer has emerged as Milan’s early star, although most agree that Gianni Versace is better than in several seasons, Franco Moschino is more into real clothes rather than his usual fashion jokes and Byblos is peppy and full of color. Fashion intellectuals heap praise on Milan’s alternative fashion stars, led by Romeo Gigli, Dolce and Gabbana and Milan’s Sybilla. Perhaps the most commercial: Giorgio Armani’s Emporio Armani.

A few weeks ago, Gianni Versace promised “a simple and romantic collection.” And he kept his word with a more pure, less gimmicky show than the audience has come to expect from the talented but sometimes tricky designer.

Versace always attracts a glamorous audience, and this time around the star attraction was English actress Greta Schacci (“Heat and Dust,” “White Mischief”), with choreographer Roland Petit and Milanese designers Romeo Gigli and Azzedine Alaia also in front row seats.

Versace’s presentation was separated into ready-to-wear, couture and evening segments. Emphasis in the first segment was on casually elegant clothes: easy pant shapes in twill or jersey, hip-slung or riding high on the waist. Teamed with these, everything from cropped, colorful suede blousons to oversized sweaters, often worn over embroidered white shirts.


Chemise Dresses Are a Hit

Leather miniskirts were layered over mid-calf skirts which were slit up the side; acid-bright bubble chemise dresses were a hit, as were a great looking group of black jersey fluid trousers shown with black-and-white printed blouses.

By couture, Versace means the attention to detail and the quality of fabric that is characteristic of his menswear. In his hands, the tailored suit becomes something else: lapels chopped off, decolletes cut wide and large, fabric draped over the bosoms of long, wool crepe hip-skimming jackets with short skirts or that easy, signature trouser shape.

Evening was simple too. Short columns of tucked crepe with strapless bodices, floor-length crepe dresses cut out like T-shirts and dinner suits with one-button jackets over beaded bras and silk jersey pants that tapered to the ankle. Shoes were almost always high-heeled with the soles twinkling in gold lame.

Romeo Gigli’s approach to fashion is more intellectual. His dangerously thin models look like bas reliefs from an antique Roman fresco. Antique Rome also inspired those high, loose chignons roped up with gold ribbon and the blurry, smudgy colors reminiscent of mosaics at Pompeii.

If poems could talk, they would say “Romeo Gigli.” Most poetic: the man-tailored trousers in ombre chiffon worn with Fortuny-pleated, raw silk blouses that bared midriff and shoulders. Most directional was his crisp tailoring on some high-buttoned jackets shown with either the chiffon trousers or tulip-hemmed chiffon skirts.

A Cult Figure

More down to earth were the offerings of Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, of Dolce & Gabbana. Beautiful models dressed either as natty Sicilian boys--in cream and ivory raw silk suits complete with tie, vest and cap--or Sicilian senoritas adrift in wisps of black chiffon or virginal white shirts and petticoats trimmed with crisp embroideries.


In the same down-played mood is Sybilla, the Madrid-based designer, now only 23 years old and already a cult figure here. Both Gigli and Alaia were in the audience at her show. Sybilla’s sun-faded color palette for spring is pale teal, lemon, terra cotta and olive with splashes of darker spinach.

Her designs recalled in their simplicity the early work of Claire McCardell. The more complex draped pieces were reminiscent of Mme. Gres. Both of these are heady comparisons for a young designer whose mother was once a dressmaker at Saks.

Monday’s cult figure, Franco Moschino, who specializes in the outrageous, filled the stage before his show with models wearing some of his past fashion flippancies: a leather motorcycle jacket on an 18th-Century “Marie Antoinette” dress; a maid’s apron made out of Vuitton’s distinctive LV plastic. Then the models were summoned backstage and for one brief moment, everyone thought Moschino was going to get serious. This designer can cut, and those first navy pantsuits that came out on the runway looked serious enough to do homage to Yves Saint Laurent. After that came a swing through Pucci prints, what one fashion scholar remembered as 1970s Ferragamo and 1960s hippies until the designer leapt on the stage, shoved the models off and showed us a video whose message was: “Fashion is chic.” Oh well.

Earlier, Keith Varty and Alan Cleaver for Byblos put on a fiesta of color with ethnic overtones ranging from Hawaii to Mexico. It was certainly festive, and the long, full skirts, floppy pants and jackets in a variety of lengths were what these shows are supposed to be about: wearable clothes.

That’s also the message Giorgio Armani delivered in his highly commercial Emporio Armani presentation Sunday morning. The designer is also a retailer now. His first Emporio Armani shop in America opens in New York in March, 1989, and he’s busily scouting a Los Angeles location. So he is covering a broad base, with everything from affordable interpretations of his couture looks to jeans and swimwear, all accessorized with a wide range of products to complete that total Armani look.

The jeans, incidentally, will be available in the Rodeo Drive boutique. In fact, Armani’s sun-bleached, faded, blue denim is shaped into everything from coatdresses to blazers over shorts and wrapped skirts with cropped blousons. Other, darker denims were overprinted with Peruvian Indian motifs and fringed with raffia.

Tropical Rain Forest

Armani showed in the courtyard of his couture house, transformed for the event into a tropical rain forest with crepe paper palm trees dripping tulle fronds, while an outsized paper moon anchored the tent stretched over the courtyard.


Even at its most serious there were “rich hippie” overtones, with the backdrop of Far East music, “Crocodile Dundee” chin strap hats, fringe-trimmed carpet bags and quantities of ethnic jewelry.

What the Emporio Armani customer is sure to covet is one of those shaped, V-necked, peplum jackets in washed silk, linen or gabardine. They’re worn over a classic white shirt, vest and wide-legged pant, often in satin. Skirt lengths here were mini for stretch cotton jersey tube dresses in acid brights; low on the calf for silk prints in the color palette that dominated: butter, olive, smoke, celadon and cream. And of course, there was always the option of pants.