MILAN — If fabric is indeed the fabric of fashion life in Italy--and it is--this city's new role model for fall might well be called the Material Girl. Like the one Madonna sings about, our heroine is not interested in being overlooked, saving money or investing in a little black dress. She's strong enough to swagger around in 10 yards of alpaca. She's bold enough to layer glen plaid over cashmere over covert cloth and still keep her curves intact. And she's perhaps the only woman in the world who can carry off a gabardine sarong, knee-high boots, a silk blouse, a wool sweater, a duvetyne jacket and a houndstooth over-jacket without looking like a victim of the remnants table.
As our preview photographs by Franco Rossi indicate, the new fall ready-to-wear collections--scheduled to open here this weekend--will continue to advance the cause of clothes that are both commercially sound and intrinsically valuable. Unlike the French, who interpret fashion in terms of hats-and-gloves hauteur , or the British, who see it as a satirical spoof of shock and outrage, Milanese designers have made friends and influenced retailers the world over by dealing in salable sportswear for the super sports.
Giorgio Armani, for example, has created the world's most perfect blazers. His influence on what real people wear every day on the streets of Los Angeles began with the blazer, zoomed to new heights with his ideas of fashion androgyny and is now so taken for granted that there are Armani fans who can tell you which season a jacket was introduced by the placement of the notch in the lapel. Armani's new idea for fall is a woven jacket that is cut long, then pushed up around the body to form the sweater-like folds of a push-up sleeve.
What Armani has done for the jacket, Gianni Versace has done for pants. The modern-day jodhpur started with Versace. So did the idea of pants that blouse around the ankles. And the notion of mixing your media by wearing leather pants with satin blouses or matte jersey dhotis with leather jackets. For fall,Versace focuses on the skirt--seductive, drape-front skirts that promise to do as much for the legs as the Versace pant.
Gianfranco Ferre, the city's reigning fashion architect, continues to soften his viewpoint for fall, adding more sweep to his coats, more shape to his skirts. For this master of hip-fitting proportion, the kimono remains a constant ally, not as a literal translation from the Japanese, but as the international fashion shape of today.
Mariuccia Mandelli of Krizia, the resident wit of Milanese fashion and the woman who has made animal sweaters a fashion art form, won't reveal the next pet up her sleeve, but she does say she likes the idea of a big, black silk velvet jacket with matching jodhpurs. Her original illustration for Fashion85 has a court-page ring to it. Or maybe it's not a page, but a jester.
Karl Lagerfeld continues to fling fur on fur in his new designs for Fendi, combining long hairs with short hairs for a new kind of bi-pelt classicism. Claude Montana's new look for Complice takes tights from the exercise salon to the streets.
And Laura Biagiotti leaves little doubt that miles of cashmere over miles of cashmere is a fashion road worth traveling.
For Luciano Soprani, the new direction is short--as in classic trousers cropped at the ankles and in body-conscious weskits that stop at the waistline.
Throughout Milan, there's a lot of talk about color, as the subtle tweeds and smoky flannels of the androgynous years give way to the new chromatics. Fashion's new vivid mood begins with the coat--as in Mario Valentino's egg-shape design in orange shearling and Soprani's violet cashmere mantle. And it ends with Versace's gold lame fireworks for Genny.
In between are the usual nonpareil tweeds developed by Armani for Erreuno and the electric knit works of the Missonis.