MILAN — The fashion industry here is giving Paris a run for its money. U.S. retailers, increasingly enthusiastic about the Italian clothes being shown for spring, say Milan will be a tough act for the French to follow when shows start there next week.
The new, soft shaping of Milanese clothes, combined with their wearability and superb fabrics, have teams of buyers from such stores as Bullocks Wilshire, JW Robinson's, Neiman-Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Garfinckel's in Washington, Bergdorf-Goodman and Bloomingdale's in New York scurrying all around town to place orders.
Retailers with less traditional-minded fashion customers say they are also delighted by the new group of experimental and counterculture designers emerging here, lending diversity to what once was a city of strictly serious Establishment style.
Giorgio Armani, one of the top Establishment members, showed here Wednesday night. Larry Hagman, Linda Gray and Lee Radziwill were in the audience but the assembled buyers barely blinked when they arrived. These retailers are not easily diverted from the task of finding new clothes for well-heeled customers and new trends to interpret less expensively for customers who can't afford the price of designer originals. An Armani jacket will retail for about $700 in L.A. stores this spring.
Armani gave buyers plenty of food for thought. In a season strong on femininity and soft shaping, his are perhaps the most ethereal fashions shown so far.
His palette is pale and gentle, almost monotone. Shades of white and cream and the softest tints of peach, sand, blue or gray are combined in outfits that sometimes look created for a dream sequence in a Fellini film. A long, cream-colored silk circle skirt, for example, floats above a lace-edged petticoat 0topped by a narrow-cut white blouse and a jacket in shades of sand.
Wide pants, sometimes cuffed in satin; short, snug jackets with lightly padded shoulders and slim cocktail dresses with lace showing below the hem drew the buyers' applause. But a series of shirred and ruffled semi-sheer corselet tops seemed somewhat off the designer's usual mark.
"He took some risks and that's very admirable," said Eva Muttenthaler, buyer for the designer shop at Macy's, San Francisco in Union Square, who called the collection exquisite.
Armani can afford to take some risks. His personal income, estimated at more than $1 million last year, will probably escalate appreciably when he opens about 200 Emporio Armani shops in the United States starting next year. These shops, which carry the designer's younger-styled, less costly clothes, are already flourishing in Europe. And the streets of Milan are full of teen-agers toting purchases in Emporio Armani shopping bags.
Slick and Sophisticated
Gianfranco Ferre, another of this city's fashion elite, showed on Thursday afternoon. His slick, sophisticated styling rivals anything on the Paris scene. And his ideas for spring will undoubtedly be widely interpreted in less expensive versions by the time spring clothes reach the stores.
Ferre's best shapes include black or charcoal suits with knee-length slim skirts and flare-back jackets that open in front onto crisp, low-cut white sleeveless vests or halter tops with huge, dramatic collars in front and deep cowls in back. The tops are shapely but not tight, offering a sexy look appropriate for both office and evening wear.
Romeo Gigli, who showed his own collection early in the week, presented his line for Callaghan on Thursday afternoon. Gigli, 37, is one of the counterculture types with an unerring instinct for shaping and draping. He works with offbeat, murky shades of eggplant, grape and moss. And he cuts shapes that every anti-Establishment shopper will wish she could afford.
No Hemming About
His puffy, full skirts seem straight out of some sultan's seraglio. They have no traditional hemlines and need no petticoats to prop them up. Gigli constructs them with great gobs of moire or taffeta, which he drapes and bunches on a slant from a hipband to the desired length. Instead of cutting and hemming, he then drapes the fabric upward again, attaching it back at the hipband.
The skirts, seeming as billowy as if they were filled with down, are worn with long-torso, body-hugging knit tops. The effect of the tight, funky top with the opulent and luxurious skirt is startling.
Paolo Greppi, owner of Zamasport, which produces the Callaghan line, says Gigli worked in clothing factories including Greppi's own for many years but "nobody knew he had any talent." Greppi took a risk, asked Gigli to design the line, and the rest will probably make fashion history.
L.A. Designer's Knits
In the middle of all the hectic goings-on, designer Marina Spadafora of Los Angeles was scoring some successes of her own. The 27-year-old, Italian-born L.A. resident (a 1982 graduate of Fashion Institute of Technology and former assistant to L.A. designer Nancy Heller) showed her pale, silk-lined viscose knits in a small exhibit next to the main fashion fair.
Spadafora said business had been brisk and her clients for spring would probably include such L.A. stores as I. Magnin, Ruffles, Jona and Maxfield. Her biggest problem, she explains, is the 40% U.S. import duty on viscose, which pushes the price of her garments very high for U.S. stores.
Spadafora lives in Nichols Canyon with her husband, Sean Ferrer, son of Mel Ferrer and Audrey Hepburn.