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Page 2 /IDEAS, TRENDS, STYLE AND BUZZ | Fall 2001 /

Unseasonably Cool Milan

From Versace to D&G, the runways deliver skimpy styles for fall and winter.


MILAN, Italy — An unseasonal snowstorm blasted into the start of fashion week--seemingly a perfect backdrop for previews of fall and winter collections. But instead the clothes on the runways of the first few shows here have offered buyer-beware looks more suited for a weekend getaway in Palm Springs instead of Aspen. Dresses were featherweight-light, blouses skimpy--many with plunging necklines and opened backs--leggings of lace and sheer halter-style cocktail dresses and gowns.

Last fall, designers trotted out coat after coat. The few user-friendly frocks that have hit the catwalk since Saturday are tightly belted, wispy leather trenches, mostly in black and cream, as well as bomber-style jackets. Black, gray and beige dominate with only flashes of color. And, there's just a meager sampling of fur so far--a good thing for animal lovers.

It's too soon to judge Italian fashion based on these early cues of the funereal somber shades and shapes presented so far by about 30 lesser-known designers.

For sure, it's been a mostly lackluster start for the fall women's collections, which have attracted more than 1,200 fashion journalists and continue through Tuesday. Toss in the blizzard that diverted flights of many New York-based journalists to Zurich on Wednesday, causing them to take as many as three trains to get to snowbound Milan (because of closed airports) in time for the Versace show Wednesday. Designer Donatella postponed her show for 90 minutes until everyone arrived--cranky, hungry and desperately seeking a bath after 22 hours on the road.

Talk about your fashion victims.

But a dose of Donatella--with a view of Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, in the front row--was all it took to rev up the weary. Versace, sister of murdered designer Gianni, delivered a colorful collection that was more subdued than her usual glitz and glam but still oozed sex appeal and showed off the feminine form with seductively fitted garments. They included a bright pink polo neck jacket and micro mini, cocktail dresses in feather prints, swirled patterns and multicolored stripes--some of them beaded.

Her single-breasted, deep plunging monochromatic pant suits--with creased trousers no less--were standouts in camel shades. This from the woman who put "J. Lo" (a.k.a. Jennifer Lopez) in the dress at the 2000 Grammy Awards.

Bias-cut evening dresses in silvery satin beckoned to the days of old Hollywood glamour, a la Jean Harlow. Others came in matte jersey, and ultralight lace. But saving the best for last was a knockout bondage number--perhaps an idea borrowed from Helmut Lang. Only Versace's was an evening dress with a tight bodice made of beige leather straps that wrapped around the chest, waist and hips with the rest of the garment, a sequined floor-length skirt, also in play-it-safe beige.

Alberta Ferretti's secondary line, Philosophy, proved a major disappointment with a collection that for starters needed ironing. Her invitation, a photograph of crinkled paper, was a runway harbinger. Every other garment sent down her catwalk looked as if a cat had made itself cozy on it, wrinkled here and there. Or worse, even shredding it with its paws. Several dresses, in layers of sheer cotton, had unfinished asymmetrical hemlines and necklines, and were adorned with remnants of scraps of cloth made to look like mangled fringe.

She mostly stuck with charcoal gray pinstriped creations: snug jackets, miniskirts, pants, a few maxi-length back-belted coats and long, Gothic-inspired pleated skirts--of course many of them wrinkled. Even tan and moss green leather coats--yes, leather!--were rumpled.

Gianfranco Ferre's secondary line, GFF, also was a downer as he attempted to blend masculine and feminine looks in a mostly black and white collection that came in "XFL" sizes.

Intended to be a collection of contrasts and disproportions, shapes ran the gamut from easy and snug to full and fuller, which played more like slouch and slouchier. Short little coats sported enormous collars while long, ample coats had skinny lapels. But mostly, models were swallowed by the oversized shapes of jackets and coats with epaulets, teamed mostly with extra wide pants and pointy Peter Pan laced-up black ankle boots.

And just when you thought things couldn't get bigger, they did, Ferre's wacky way of pointing fun of menswear. Vests were gigantic. Neckties were super-sized and meant to be worn like a scarf. The effect? Clownish.

On the other hand, Gigi Vezzola, artistic director of Samsonite's Blacklabel collection, offered his first runway show that, like Ferre, was an array of "feminine goes masculine" looks.

But where Ferre failed, Vezzola succeeded in a beautifully man-tailored collection of short two-button blazers worn with ultra-slim pants featuring deep cuffs that barely touched the tops of ankle boots. His trench coats in cream and forest green were sleek and minimalist. Boucle suits in charcoal gray and trimmed in leather were back belted.

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