MILAN — Designers here have abandoned their bold shoulders, cinched waistlines and straight or pleated skirts in favor of spring styles that swing and sway and put some fun back into fashion.
And U.S. retailers here to buy spring clothes are whistling while they work. Although the dollar is down and prices of Italian ready-to-wear imports will be about one-third higher than last year, the executives believe customers back home will get their money's worth.
The Milan mood is soft both in fabric and shaping. Even those famous Italian-cut jackets have lost their hard edges and man-tailored look. Long versions have more natural shoulders and curve along the body line right down to the fanny, where they sometimes stop just silly millimeters above short, petticoat-propped skirts.
Knees in the News
Hemlines in general stop just above the knee or low on the calf, with the shorter length dominating the runways.
Cropped jackets, and there are plenty of them, end just below the bosom. It's a bolero length to emphasize the new high-waisted shape in dresses and separates, an effect often achieved simply by belting an outfit high on the rib cage rather than at the natural waistline.
Even shorts and pants swing and sway in Milan this season, as designers cut them wide and often on a bias, for an effect that's somewhere between a gaucho skirt and evening pajamas.
Although similar proportions have shown up at all the fashion houses so far, no two designers interpret them in the same way.
Romance in a Loft
Romeo Gigli, the city's newest design star, packed 1,000 people into his loft above a garage to offer clothes as romantic as his name. He eliminates shoulder pads entirely, preferring the slim, natural body shape from top to bottom. His soft, narrow separates and dresses have very high or very low waistlines, torsos are wrapped from bosom to hips to accentuate the midsection, and sheer, gauzy skirts flutter with every movement.
Gigli's most applauded dress was an Elizabethan milkmaid style with narrow bodice, empire waistline and long, soft skirt.
Leathers by Gianni Versace for Mario Valentino carried out all the major themes in a more breezy and sophisticated way. His feather-weight suedes in baby blue, beige, navy and tomato soup red look almost airborne on the runway in sleeveless narrow-top shapes with knee-length bias or circle skirts.
The minor miracle here is that Versace makes leather look so summery and light that it could be worn to the beach on a sizzling day.
The real fashion high jinks began at Fendi, where designer Karl Lagerfeld proved he could have his way with denim. Levi Strauss would never believe what this Paris-based designer has come up with in Italy using America's native fabric. He bleaches it to an almost white shade, shapes it into tight-torso, full-skirted styles, adds flounces, tiers and ruffles at the high and low waistlines or around the shoulders. He even lavishes it with glitter.
He makes denim strapless evening dresses, denim sweet and perky sun dresses, a strapless, grommet-decked bridal gown with fitted bodice, bell-shaped skirt, bustle back and bolero jacket. Anything Lagerfeld didn't do with denim probably shouldn't be done.
Some retailers in the audience looked perplexed at this showing, but Torie Steele, who owns the Fendi shop and eight other designer shops in Beverly Hills, sat smiling through the show and pronounced the Lagerfeld look a winner.
More Tier-rific Denim
Designers Keith Varty and Alan Cleaver for Byblos gave the crowd another look at denim, starting their show with denim-tiered and circle skirts, rumba-ruffled skirts and all kinds of bright petticoats peeking from beneath. This team is high on ruffles and tiers for spring.
A simple white cotton slip-top sun dress buttons down the front to a full, petticoat-propped skirt, the rear of which is festooned with ruffles from waistline to hem. It's a bustle shape that wiggles when you walk, one of many presented at this house where a calypso theme and bare midriff prevailed.
Midriffs were mainstream accents at Missoni, too. Here they are swathed in tight girdles of solid color, bridging brilliantly printed tops and swirling skirts or pants.
One of the buyers' favorite collections so far is Mariuccia Mandelli's for Krizia. Robinson's vice president Sarah Worman called it "magnificently executed, ageless and timeless."
Mandelli controls the fullness of her pale suede dresses and jackets, her bias-cut divided pants that stop above the ankle or at the knee. And she manages to emphasize the torso with jackets and sweaters superbly shaped to convey close fit without ever closing in tightly on the body.
Her sleeveless linen shifts in white, black and cafe au lait are engineered to give a narrow bodice effect with controlled flare that moves from the bosom to hemline. And her walking suits with elegantly tailored jackets are among the few in Milan that look graceful when someone walks in them.
A group of navy chiffon evening dresses with navy beading brought the show to an end with the audience on its feet to applaud.
Gianni Versace also won roars of approval for his soft and sensuous, navy knit sweaters over slim pants or short, swingy skirts. Versace's characteristically more tailored blazers have turned snug and sexy for spring. And his slim, sleeveless sheath dresses take high-waisted belts beneath short jackets.
The greatest T-shirt in town is probably Versace's huge tunic-like number with small buttons down the front and dropped sleeves. Other sleeves in the collection, not quite so basic, look like short, puffed lampshades dropping from each shoulder.