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Italian Designer Takes His Creations on the High Road

November 29, 1985|JENNIFER SEDER

Sporting a "Miami Vice" linen jacket, black wool neck scarf and a Navy captain's hat embellished with a rhinestone airplane pin, top New York fashion photographer Francesco Scavullo breezed into the new Luciano Soprani boutique in Beverly Hills recently for a look around.

"Luciano, darling, how are you?" Scavullo said breathlessly as he spotted the visiting Italian designer. The two embraced, speaking of Paris, New York, the collections and the weather. Then Scavullo swept off for what he said was a special two-day assignment with Stephanie Powers.

Soprani, one of the newest fashion stars from Milan, is evidently making inroads with the international fashion in-crowd.

"Dallas" star Catherine Oxenberg recently ordered several Soprani pieces for on- and off-camera appearances--and other big names, such as Linda Gray, Morgan Fairchild and Elizabeth Taylor, are reportedly ordering his clothes as well.

Asked by Torie Steele last year to become part of her Rodeo Drive boutique complex, the 35-year-old designer officially opened his first American shop here this month and has plans to open similar shops under the Torie Steele banner in Dallas and New York next year.

For a designer who presented his first women's ready-to-wear collection in Milan only three years ago and who was virtually unknown before that, this is a major accomplishment.

And not without reason. Soprani, who for years designed for Italian fashion houses such as Basile and Helyett, has a knack for creating sophisticated yet sensuous clothes in luxurious fabrics--the kind of clothes that don't look like much on the hanger but are fabulous on the figure.

"I have always believed a woman must be intelligent to dress well--she must use her head and not her body to select the right look. And then she needs to know how to carry it all off," he said shortly before presenting his spring-summer '86 collection in a show at the boutique.

"She should have a high level of sophistication when it comes to fabrics and colors and should be confident enough to know she can look appealing without showing off her curves or her skin.

"I realize this is not always in line with how L.A. women like to dress--but then again, look at the women in Sardinia or on the Riviera. They sunbathe nude on the beach, yes, but when they dress, it is in long, flowing layers that move when they move and create a grand, sensual illusion. That is the way I like to think of women."

The best of Soprani's collection is, in fact, a series of long, flowing coats, dusters, skirts and dresses, all of which are worn over simple chiffon or cotton T-shirts, and all of which complement one another for an elegant, lithe and sexy look.

No belts, no linings.

"I look at it as relaxed yet finished clothing. When you put it on, it all looks very simple but very dressed. I think, for instance, my trousers and blouses are somehow much more appropriate for dressy events in this town than a satin ball gown."

The most original pieces include: chiffon trench coats worn over loose-fitting, pastel-colored silk Charmeuse slip dresses; crisp, white linen dresses cut on the bias to show the body without showing skin; high-waisted, featherweight linen trousers worn with clean and classic long-sleeve blouses or cable-knit pullovers and crepe de Chine cardigan jackets worn with long shirts and baggy trousers.

The son of a farmer, Soprani grew up in northern Italy near Reggio Emilia and studied agriculture until he was 22.

But, as he tells it, his real interest was fashion, and he finally left the family business and became a staff designer for several of Italy's leading garment manufacturers, including Max Mara and later Helyett, Pims and Basile.

He showed his first collection in Milan under his own name in 1983.

"My story is like so many others. I always liked to draw, and for years I have been essentially designing the same sort of clothes. It's just that now women are, in general, more sophisticated about fashion. They want to look naturally chic, and they seem much more relaxed about dressing."

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