When Althos Pratesi says the draped body is more attractive than the naked body, he's really talking about lingerie. A fourth-generation Pratesi from the sheets-and-towels family, Althos and his wife, Dede, take credit for creating the company's newest division-- ready-to-wear lingerie. "It should be elegant and simple," he says. "It should show a woman as being half-dressed, and that is when she is at her most attractive."
But before there was Pratesi ready-to-sleepwear, the family custom-designed items for certain clients and learned a few secrets along the way. "Marcello Mastroianni has completely classic taste and he sleeps with four pillows," Pratesi says. "When one gets warm, he changes it for a cool, fresh one.
"In private life, Sophia Loren dresses understatedly and would rather be discovered by others than announce herself."
Pratesi adds that 60 years ago Gabriele D'Annunzio, the Italian Fascist military leader honored for his fiction writing by Benito Mussolini, requested a Pratesi bathrobe. The design is repeated in next season's men's sleepwear collection. "Now we show it in pastel colors like blue," Pratesi says. "D'Annunzio ordered black."
The Pratesi sleepwear collection is available at the Pratesi shop in Beverly Hills.
Another sort of Italian venture is the new Benetton shop. The store that made its name as a center for moderately priced knitwear has recently changed its style if not its price structure. Summer stock includes as many bare, V-back T-shirts and gauzy cotton skirts as oversize cardigan sweaters and variations on baggie pants. "There's a real difference between the way women and men dress now," Luciano Benetton explains.
His family-run business is based in Treviso, Italy, north of Venice. Benetton, who was in Los Angeles for the opening of his Rodeo Drive shop, says his firm's fashions are inspired more by basic American sportswear than by European designer's styles. "Our clothes are practical, like American clothes," he says, adding that he personally prefers this kind of clothing and seldom dresses formally. And he lists Eddie Bauer and L. L. Bean among his favorite places to shop.
"We don't make conservative clothes," says Matsuda, a leader among Japanese-born designers who show their collections in France and the U.S. instead of at home. (Matsuda has lived in New York for two years.)
But, Matsuda says, what came to be known as the "Japanese look"--solid black and vastly oversize--has had its day, even among those who invented it. "Three years ago, it sold very well. Now, tastes have changed and we have changed. Japanese designers are using color and designing smaller-scale clothes."
Matsuda, who introduced his collection in New York in 1983, shows pastel colors and print fabrics mixed with what he calls "monotones" in his fall collections for men and women.
Of his native culture, which blends sushi and sumo with Seiko and Sony, Matsuda says: "We can assimilate. I want to be known as one of the world's fashion designers, not one of the Japanese fashion designers." Matsuda fashions are available at Maxfield and Robinson's.
"When there were two of us I could be lazy, at least once in awhile," Louis Dell'Olio says. Now that he is designing the Anne Klein collection as a solo act, he says he hardly has time for a day off.
His former partner, Donna Karan, started her own business this spring. And the dynamic duo, pals since high school, are now arch competitors.
"Splitting up was like graduation," Dell'Olio says.
They both knew they had to make the grade in spades with their fall collections, their first separate ventures. And as luck or fate or talent would have it, fashion critics and store buyers passed them both with honors.
"I wanted to do something very American for my first collection," Dell'Olio says, explaining how the Western-inspired styles, favorites in his large collection, came about. His silk shirts and Angora sweaters, covered with a pony-skin print, were perfected when Dell'Olio sent a photograph of a pony to the Italian manufacturer who was having trouble understanding his idea.
"I told him to blow up the picture and put the print on the clothes," Dell'Olio says.
He is convinced that "women are not born with a sense of fashion. They learn it." And he gave women plenty of fashion tips the day he presented his collection at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills.
"Build a wardrobe on black and white, with bits of color. Black and white is still the best.
"Look for one inspirational buy and wear it with everything--old and new. An ankle-length suede coat in olive could be an inspirational buy this fall."