SPRING / SUMMER COLLECTIONS MILAN : The Bright and Breezy Adorn Italian Runways


Evil winds were blowing here when the spring and summer fashion collections opened on Sunday. The clothes, though, showed no hint of the problems facing the Italian fashion industry. They were light, bright, effervescent and easy to wear.

Torrential rains and a whirlwind visit at Dolce & Gabbana from pop star Madonna created chaos on the first day of shows. But the Italian world of fashion was already reeling: In the last month, 100 factories closed in the Lombard region (Milan is the capital) resulting in the layoff of 4,500 garment workers, and at least 300 of Milan's clothing stores are expected to close by year's end because of the bleak retail climate, says Iginio Sogaro, president of the National Federation of Clothing Retailers.

But the shows went on. The British boys behind the Byblos label, Keith Varty and Alan Cleaver, showed the way back to the early '70s with Gypsy skirts, wide-legged pants, halter tops, long necklaces and heads wrapped with scarves. The flowing flower child looks continued through the week.

Even traditionalist Giorgio Armani succumbed to the granola influence for his Emporio collection. His new loose pajama suits and his vest-skirt-legging combinations are an easy way to dress.

Dolce & Gabbana felt the call of the mild. There, on their runway, were white gowns with frilly skirts! Some feminine suits were also seen among bell-bottom pants, patchwork vests and funky hobo hats.

Laura Biagiotti stayed somewhat saner, going for sweater dressing, in cashmere or wool. Her long and lean cable-knit dresses had plunging necklines and daring dipped backs.

Krizia also played it safe with trim three-piece suits in white and gray with a bra top instead of the traditional vest as the third piece.

Two designers who were not carried away by the '70s spirit were Basile and Franco Moschino. Basile is the last holdout for hard-core leather looks, with tight black jumpsuits and stiff tops that resemble inverted wastepaper baskets. Nudity was also a strong theme in a series of very low-cut dresses and sheer blouses and jackets with no tops underneath.

Moschino sent out a volley of fashion send-ups, including a slim shift decorated with tomato sauce and the words, "Sorry, I'm Italian," and a beautiful silk blouse printed with Michelangelo's famous statue of David wearing men's briefs.

Gianfranco Ferre filled his collection with leafy prints, tropical colors and more leather than a tanning factory. And he managed to straddle the thematic fence. On one hand his leather and fabric bra tops and leather grass skirts could be viewed as the wardrobe for an inventive yet innocent Eve. On the other hand they could translate into the latest in S&M; fashion.

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