MILAN — Never have so many designers done so much with so little. In fact, as spring collections were presented this weekend to retailers and fashion press, eyes glazed and knees bent in bare homage at the diversity of short skirt styles presented.
From Giorgio Armani's Saturday night kickoff show for Emporio Armani straight through to Karl Lagerfeld's show for Fendi on Monday morning, it has seemed like a contest to see which Milanese house could drape, tier, puff, wire, lace, swag and festoon the miniskirt more creatively than the rest.
So far, it's a draw.
Of course skirt length is supposed to be a non-issue in these modern times, when women fancy that all fashion options are open to them. But if you had to buy next spring's wardrobe from the clothes shown thus far, it's a safe bet you'd start thinking about your thighs. And perhaps a few other areas of the anatomy as well.
Buried in among the astounding array of wasp-waisted, flirty little mini outfits is the sophisticated woman's answer to a fashionable spring. It's the long jacket, or shirt or blouse, worn over a slim or slightly bell-shaped skirt that ends about two inches above the knee. Or, it's the coatdress, tailored and slim but with enough ease to move around in. And those are what the upper-crust Italian designers will probably make their profits on this spring.
Armani's vibrant young Emporio collection (priced at about half the cost of his grown-up line) offered these looks among all the rest. The designer's impeccably shaped jackets curve easily over the body, above skirts that drape or wrap softly to one side, or else curve up at the front like flower petals. The jackets, in pale plaids or solids, were predominantly beige and gray, or else pale pink, peach or coral. The designer offered tailored shorts as an alternative to skirts. Not beachy shorts, but styles meant for the office wear to be worn with tinted hosiery and proper pumps.
Mariuccia Mandelli for Krizia, offered more sophisticated versions of the same. Her white minis and cuffed shorts were shown with long, shaped jackets or crisp sleeveless vests that stopped at the waist. The best skirts here, as everywhere, are the lantern-shaped styles that are lightly gathered from the waist, curve out over the hip line and then curve in slightly at the hem. It is a padded-hip effect that offers grace and the ability to take long strides in spite of the shortness of the length.
Krizia's more extreme skirts featured bustle-like fabric appendages in front and back. One skirt was made of a fabric that looked like fish scales (she calls it her sea-bass look).
The message at Gianfranco Ferre was short and body conscious. Wide belts, soft cummerbunds wrapped from waist to just under the bosom, and high-rise waistlines on skirts and pants all made the midsection into an exclamation point. Ferre's black strapless dresses were shaped to the body, ending many inches above the knee, sometimes featuring big white buttons down front or back. Black, white and gray predominated, but some poison green, purple, hot pink and tangerine surfaced for day and evening.
Gianni Versace opened his show with neon-bright spring coats in yellow, purple, tomato and green, with tulip-shaped, flaring skirts. These were worn over slim little slip dresses in a soft black-and-white flower print.
Here, as at other long-established Milan houses, the bright solid colors, the muted and bright floral prints in soft sheer fabrics and the dazzling variety of shapely jackets, pants and short skirts lent an air of romance and abandon to the styles. But, at times, Versace seemed to have left this planet for one on which women wear costumes rather than clothes. Imagine arriving at your office in an elegantly tailored, pinstriped gray jacket above an teensy, floral-print, silk, miniskirt pouffed out by big pantaloons.
Never mind. If buyers search among the oddities they are sure to come up with perfect elongated jackets, graceful short skirts and wrap-front silk blouses that put this designer on the fashion map. Keith Varty and Alan Cleaver for Byblos showed impressive restraint in their romantic collection featuring denims, sheer floral prints and pale monotone pastels. Almost everything was short but immensely wearable. The denim dresses and separates were slim and shapely, cut close to the body with ruffled details at front or back.
This designing pair also offered accordion-pleated shorts the same lengths as the skirts, for an alternative look beneath jackets and shirts. The big applause came for the pair's ankle-length floral print dirndl skirt in black and white or pale chintz-like floral prints. These were topped with billowy, sheer, poet's blouses in a similar print.
Karl Lagerfeld's show for Fendi was bright (green, hot pink, orange, magenta, aqua), short (everything well above the knee) and disorganized. Dirndl skirts, slim minidresses, shorts and capris in bright colors or floral prints vied with green tartan raincoats and short strapless black dresses with touches of black-and-white plaid at the bosom or hem.
The designer's most interesting suit had a long, shaped jacket that was hot pink from shoulder to just below the bosom. The rest of the jacket and the short skirt beneath were solid black.
The king of alternative fashion in Milan, Romeo Gigli remained oblivious to the rest of the pack. He continues his murky shades for spring, although they are softer, prettier and more pale this year. He also continues his sloped-shouldered jackets, long, narrow body-wrapped dresses.