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In Milan, It's Down to Earth With Ethnic Undercurrents

October 04, 1988|PAT McCOLL

MILAN, Italy — It's autumn here, but summer on the fashion runways as designers present spring, 1989, collections. Shows and showrooms are jammed with more than 1,000 members of the international press and about 400 buyers, with the large Japanese contingent the most visible.

Because of a 10-day hiatus between the end of the Milan/London shows and the start of Paris shows on Oct. 19, many American retailers will shop here later and miss the Milan runway presentations entirely.

In front row evidence, however, are Bergdorf Goodman's chairman, Ira Neimark, and president, Dawn Mello; Ellin Saltzman, Saks Fifth Avenue's senior vice president, and Kal Ruttenstein, Bloomingdale's senior vice president and fashion director.

On the runways, there's something for everyone: long skirts, short skirts, wide-leg pants, narrow pants, long jackets and short jackets. There's an ethnic undercurrent running through everything, spelled out in the warm spice colors, the delicate fabrics and the Middle East-inspired embroideries and accessories.

So far, no single designer has emerged as Milan's early star, although most agree that Gianni Versace is better than in several seasons, Franco Moschino is more into real clothes rather than his usual fashion jokes and Byblos is peppy and full of color. Fashion intellectuals heap praise on Milan's alternative fashion stars, led by Romeo Gigli, Dolce and Gabbana and Milan's Sybilla. Perhaps the most commercial: Giorgio Armani's Emporio Armani.

A few weeks ago, Gianni Versace promised "a simple and romantic collection." And he kept his word with a more pure, less gimmicky show than the audience has come to expect from the talented but sometimes tricky designer.

Versace always attracts a glamorous audience, and this time around the star attraction was English actress Greta Schacci ("Heat and Dust," "White Mischief"), with choreographer Roland Petit and Milanese designers Romeo Gigli and Azzedine Alaia also in front row seats.

Versace's presentation was separated into ready-to-wear, couture and evening segments. Emphasis in the first segment was on casually elegant clothes: easy pant shapes in twill or jersey, hip-slung or riding high on the waist. Teamed with these, everything from cropped, colorful suede blousons to oversized sweaters, often worn over embroidered white shirts.

Chemise Dresses Are a Hit

Leather miniskirts were layered over mid-calf skirts which were slit up the side; acid-bright bubble chemise dresses were a hit, as were a great looking group of black jersey fluid trousers shown with black-and-white printed blouses.

By couture, Versace means the attention to detail and the quality of fabric that is characteristic of his menswear. In his hands, the tailored suit becomes something else: lapels chopped off, decolletes cut wide and large, fabric draped over the bosoms of long, wool crepe hip-skimming jackets with short skirts or that easy, signature trouser shape.

Evening was simple too. Short columns of tucked crepe with strapless bodices, floor-length crepe dresses cut out like T-shirts and dinner suits with one-button jackets over beaded bras and silk jersey pants that tapered to the ankle. Shoes were almost always high-heeled with the soles twinkling in gold lame.

Romeo Gigli's approach to fashion is more intellectual. His dangerously thin models look like bas reliefs from an antique Roman fresco. Antique Rome also inspired those high, loose chignons roped up with gold ribbon and the blurry, smudgy colors reminiscent of mosaics at Pompeii.

If poems could talk, they would say "Romeo Gigli." Most poetic: the man-tailored trousers in ombre chiffon worn with Fortuny-pleated, raw silk blouses that bared midriff and shoulders. Most directional was his crisp tailoring on some high-buttoned jackets shown with either the chiffon trousers or tulip-hemmed chiffon skirts.

A Cult Figure

More down to earth were the offerings of Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, of Dolce & Gabbana. Beautiful models dressed either as natty Sicilian boys--in cream and ivory raw silk suits complete with tie, vest and cap--or Sicilian senoritas adrift in wisps of black chiffon or virginal white shirts and petticoats trimmed with crisp embroideries.

In the same down-played mood is Sybilla, the Madrid-based designer, now only 23 years old and already a cult figure here. Both Gigli and Alaia were in the audience at her show. Sybilla's sun-faded color palette for spring is pale teal, lemon, terra cotta and olive with splashes of darker spinach.

Her designs recalled in their simplicity the early work of Claire McCardell. The more complex draped pieces were reminiscent of Mme. Gres. Both of these are heady comparisons for a young designer whose mother was once a dressmaker at Saks.

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