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Fashion 86 : Life Style of the Los Angeles Male Influences Italian Collections

August 15, 1986|DIANE SUSTENDAL | Special to the Los Angeles Times and Sustendal is a New York free-lance writer whose specialty is menswear.

MILAN, Italy — While many American menswear designers continue to emulate the fashion mannerisms of the English, the Italians are having a love affair with Los Angeles. Or so it would seem from the 1987 spring-summer collections recently shown in Florence and Milan.

Whether inspired by Hollywood glamour of the '30s and '40s or by the boys of summer '86 in Manhattan Beach, the Italians have positively embraced the California life style and the clothing that fits it. One comes away from these shows wondering if Italian designers get off the plane at LAX and kiss the tarmac.

The first display at the huge Pitti Uomo trade show held in the Fortezza de Basso in Florence was a photo exhibit by American photographer Bruce Weber, produced by the magazine Per Lui, entitled "Summer Diary 1986." A valentine to the L.A. area, the show is a collage of photos taken by Weber at the Shangri-La Hotel in Santa Monica, of lifeguards at Zuma Beach, old photographs of movie stars, such as Elizabeth Taylor (in swimsuit) and a young jeans-clad Clint Eastwood, and free-association notes from the photographer, among which is a list of his "favorite things in Los Angeles."

The "I Love L.A." spirit continued through most of the Florence collections--most notably at the Ermenegildo Zegna exhibit, where director's chairs and strips of film were lavishly used as props--and continued through to Milan. It is no wonder that the Italian invasion continues in Southern California, from Beverly Hills to Newport Beach.

Mila Schoen opens a boutique on Rodeo Drive in September and Giorgio Armani's search continues for a site on which to build an Emporio Armani shop that will equal the scope and size of the store in Milan.

The strength of the Italian collections is practicality. From fabrications to coloration to temperament, these clothes are all the L.A. man needs for year-round wear. There are very few gimmicks; these are straightforward clothes, and their appeal is in the fabrics and the way they are put together.

Suits are given a new longevity. At Armani, Ferre, Soprani and countless others, the suit--ever so slightly more tailored and stricter in line--was shown with the traditional furnishings of a dress shirt and tie. But suits were also shown with polo shirts, sweaters and casual shirts, such as work shirts. So that expensive suit, which normally would only see wear during the business week, steps out on Saturday and Sunday in a more relaxed stance. This dress-up-or-down approach to tailored clothing is not a rehash of the Don Johnson/"Miami Vice" look; it is much closer to the well-heeled producer taking an informal meeting at his Malibu home.

Gianni Versace took the casual-suit approach to the nth degree by cutting wool jersey in polo-shirt weight and sweat shirt knits into single-breasted, notched-lapel jackets with matching pleated pants. Always an innovator in the area of fabrics, the designer said: "Men should have the comfort of knits with the cut of the classic suit. It's a modern way of mixing style and movement."

Armani's approach to the dress-up/dress-down suit was to use fabrics that looked old and slightly rumpled from the start . . . rather like the way a man would look if he got stuck on the freeway with no air conditioning for a couple of hours in August.

The idea, according to Armani, is to "take classic wools, worsteds and linens and shed all of their stiffness through a process of blending and laundering to a state of live-in comfort."

Spring and summer of '87 will see men in a variety of sport coats, which played a major role in the Italian collections. After several years of taking the back seat to sweaters and suits, sport coats, both single- and double-breasted, make a fine alternative to the old standby, the navy blazer. (It will not totally replace the blazer, as the Italians have numerous versions of that as well.)

Sport coats in plaids, which range from overblown Prince of Wales to mini-patterns reminiscent of plaids of the early '50s, were handled in the dress-up/dress-down manner. Such a jacket is tossed over a linen-and-jersey sweat shirt and sweat pants at Soprani, over crisply tailored trousers, a linen shirt and tie at Ferragamo or over Bermuda-length shorts and a polo shirt at Byblos, Armani, Valentino, Biagiotti, Uomo, Missoni, Basile and others. In fact, the Italians are quite taken with the idea of the structured sport coat or blazer over Bermuda-length shorts . . . sort of Portofino meets the Pacific Palisades via Palm Beach.

So what of all those unconstructed jackets that were all the rage for several seasons? Well, they are certainly still around, looking quite good in those "old school" forms in seersucker and linen. But they do look a bit youthful, which is appropriate in the less-expensive lines, such as Emporio Armani and the soon-to-be-in-America Oliver line by Valentino. The more structured jacket looks far newer, more elegant and more monied, even when worn over walking shorts.

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