MILAN
IT WAS A TRIP FROM THE RIDICULOUS TO THE SUBLIME, IN ONE LONG DAY.

Giorgio Armani: No one can touch him. The beauty and refinement of a Giorgio Armani collection is truly something to behold, and after four days of disco babies and sex kittens, his show Wednesday night seemed like something from another world. It's a world where women are graceful but still sexy. A world where colors are delicate rather than harsh. A world where soft beauty speaks louder than hard-edged hipness. No collection is perfect, but this came closer than most.
Armani started, as he always does, with the jacket. This season they were long and lean, but never tight--fluttering rather than clinging to the body. They were often teamed with bra tops and camisoles, and, in fact, one of the sexiest looks of the season is Armani's strict pinstripe suit over a slinky bandeau. For evening, the jackets became beaded chiffon fantasies, over floating gold handkerchief skirts.
As he showed the other day in his Emporio collection, Armani is moving in a more feminine direction. There were lace stockings, wisps of chiffon at the neck, delicate fabrics, pretty slingbacks and luminous makeup that glowed rather than glared. But his strongest feminine statement came through in Armani's new love for the dress. In floaty, romantic layers, his renditions looked as if they stepped right out of a midsummer night's dream.
Unfortunately, Armani got caught up in the whole breast craze, letting some bras shine through his sheer dresses and blouses or tossing them off completely. But that was a minor indiscretion in a collection the designer carefully orchestrated to reflect his exquisite subtlety.

Fendi: All you need is a big white blouse, some stretch HotPants and a chic little suede dress for the perfect summer. So says the Kaiser, who made a lightning visit to Milano to present his Fendi collection. Sure, there were a lot of other things in the show--like high-button jackets, handkerchief dresses and tons of cutouts--but Karl's real message was: Forget the fuss and keep it breezy. As for length, Karl had another clear statement: Stick with short. He did throw in a few long skirts, but summer is hot--rather like Milan has been all week--and who wants to swelter under a lot of fabric? This was a realistic collection, and might be just the thing Fendi needs to recover momentum in its ready-to-wear business. One thing is sure, they'll sell a lot of swimsuits, since Lagerfeld outdid himself--his bare strappy black bikinis with bold blocks of carnival colors will certainly be seen from Malibu to Monte Carlo.D&G: Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana said Jodie Foster's child-prostitute from "Taxi Driver" was the inspiration for their young, new D&G collection. And you could certainly see it. With her rhinestone-trimmed HotPants, skin-tight skirts, see-through bomber jackets, exposed logo underwear and boas galore, she's the kind of D&G schoolgirl who looks like she rarely makes it to the classroom. This was the premiere showing of the D&G secondary line, and it was mostly about recycling some of Dolce & Gabbana's greatest hits. The boys also borrowed from a few other designers, such as Karl Lagerfeld and Calvin Klein, whose underwear inspired a good portion of the show. But D&G gave it their own Italian spin, which should prove successful as they blow this collection out over the next six months. Six D&G stores are opening in the Far East this month, and the first Milan store is scheduled for January.

Gucci: The house is truly struggling to give itself a real fashion identity, which is probably the reason Gucci departed from its usual horsey, sporty tradition this season. Design director Tom Ford had some good ideas--the floaty hip-hugger silk skirts in bright citrus or floral prints paired with cropped sweaters, and the simple white or black, Fifties-style silk shifts were fresh. And accessories--always a Gucci strong point--were back in full force with plenty of ladylike hand-held bags and stylish shoes to keep Gucci-ettes happy, from red patent leather stilettos to lace-up suede sandals and even chic flip-flops. But not everything was a success. The serious gray suits and below-the-knee lengths seemed too gloomy compared to the rest of the collection. They may have worked last season at Prada, but not here.

Lawrence Steele: Milan is known for having a dearth of young, new designers on its fashion scene, so it was refreshing to see Lawrence Steele's premiere collection Wednesday afternoon show such great promise. It's clear that Steele, who formerly designed for Prada and Moschino, has a lot of talent. His collection, produced by the Italian manufacturer Casor, was marked by clean, simple shapes and soft, muted colors with no fuss or gimmicks. Among the best: his tiny hip-hugger skirts paired with crop tops, slinky knit tunics, clean, crisp pantsuits and evening sheaths sprinkled with a delicate dust of rhinestones. All in all, Steele brought a fresh, young sensibility to the minimalist movement. He's a new designer to watch.Les Copains: Saks Fifth Avenue sells it like crazy. And there was plenty to choose from in this collection, which touched on a dizzying number of themes--from jogging sweats and carioca numbers to a parade of military looks and even a tribute to Jackie O. But with the vast distribution this company enjoys, they've got to have something for everyone. Underlying it all is a solid base of peppy knits--clean-shaped heathers, airy crochets and rainbow-bright ribs--that is the strength of the collection. Like other Italian companies, Les Copains is strategizing a controlled expansion in the United States, and it looks like Neiman Marcus will soon be added to its roster of clients.

Callaghan: Roméo Gigli's fairyland Callaghan collection was a relief from the hard-edged sex-ettes seen on so many other runways. Gigli showed plenty of fresh-faced, ethereal models in shapely clothes and, as usual, the designer played with sumptuous fabrics. He cut plush jacquards and shantungs into crisp jackets, little dresses, shorts and hip-hugging trousers. All were in dusty pastels, gold tints and jewel-tones--perfect for romantic summer nights.

Katharine Hamnett: Hamnett should give up fashion for politics. She has more talent for it and certainly more interest. At her show Wednesday, she handed out leaflets from Greenpeace and notices proclaiming that some of her accessories were made from a PVC-based material, but that she was searching high and low for an alternative. A lot of the clothes could use some alternative sources, as well. Hamnett's collection was a mixed-up jumble of go-go girls in rhinestone skirts, sporty babes in argyles, hard chicks in vinyl jumpsuits and jocks in satin running suits--she even slapped on neon traffic tape as chokers and belts. There were a few wearable suits, but who cares?

Trussardi: Big Italian fashion companies are finding the urge to stage big runway shows irresistible, but in most cases it's a fatal attraction. Trussardi is one example. Though most of the clothes are perfectly reasonable--some might say innocuous--they don't stand up under the spotlight of the runway. These clothes are better seen in the showroom, where the fabrics and Trussardi's trademark leathers and suedes can be appreciated, not to mention his hot-selling collections of luggage, bags and accessories, which were completely missing from the show.Iceberg: Now that most of Iceberg's snappy cartoons characters have faded off the runway, design consultant Marc Jacobs is replacing them with neon brights, vinyl HotPants and sexy motorcycle looks. But, if you're no disco animal, there were enough commercial looks to pick from--nautical blue and white ensembles with reversible parkas, as well as chunky sweaters and sailor caps. Jacobs, however, didn't completely shy away from cartoon strips: Snoopy appeared on sweaters, shorts, little dresses and bikinis.

Mila Schon: There were enough feathers, marabou and Lurex metallic embroideries on the Mila Schon runway to fill a can-can show. Schon's design team, led by Anna Modiano, used them on everything--body-hugging dresses, cropped jackets, high-heeled slippers and earrings--all better suited for cabaret dancers than real women. But at times Modiano used a clean hand--as in the cropped pastel jackets over A-line dresses in double-layer fabrics and the short lace dresses, which looked nice.

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