By and  on February 27, 2006

MILAN - The Italian collections bid "arrivederci" to ruffles and excessive bling, while saying "buongiorno" to everything from austerity to disco glam.

"A diverse season, with sex to sobriety," was how Ann Stordahl, executive vice president of women's apparel at Neiman Marcus, summed up the season. "There is so much diversity, which will be good for business."

The runway shows, which wrapped up over the weekend, referenced everything from the Renaissance to the Nineties - and almost every era in between - which buyers said will give consumers plenty of choices come fall.

Linda Fargo, fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, said the newness in terms of narrow pants and platform shoes should bode well for business. "It stimulates people to rethink themselves, how they present themselves, and shop," she said.

Widely praised collections included Marni, Dolce & Gabbana, Jil Sander, Prada, Burberry Prorsum, Fendi, 6267 and Giorgio Armani.

Pants, from skinny to wide-legged, emerged as a key item, along with big-sleeved blouses, cropped jackets, voluminous coats, jersey dresses, short skirts and military jackets.

Still, some retailers lamented a too-dark color palette and fabrications that were often too heavy for what seems to be a warming planet.

Here's what buyers had to say about the Italian season:

Michael Fink, senior fashion director, Saks Fifth Avenue:

"I'm giving a big bravo to Milan for creating controversy and diversity. I've never heard so many 'I hate' and 'I love' comments after a season. Highlights included the luxurious, strict silhouette of Raf Simons at Jil Sander, Prada's urban guerrillas, Gucci's disco divas and Roberto Cavalli's gilded Fortuny aristocrats. We loved the linear silhouette with slim pants, the play of maxi versus mini length that was all over the runways and the textured knitwear and wide-legged pants. As for accessories, no woman will want to be without leggings, boots and multiple pairs of gloves. 6267 was one of our favorites. In a short time, they have developed a very distinct voice."

Jennifer Wheeler, director of designer apparel, Nordstrom:"We think Milan looks good. It gives different points of view for women. There's a stronger, more confident way of dressing and I think women are ready for that."

Jil Sander, Marni, Burberry Prorsum and Blumarine were among the strongest collections, with outerwear one of the standout categories, Wheeler said. Other favorite trends included velvet, jersey, military details, skinny pants and shorter skirts.

"At Missoni we loved the coats, in particular the mustard cocoon with the black abstract floral. Cavalli was really beautiful: very luxe and evening oriented," she added. Wheeler said the color palette in Milan was a bit morose, but she cheered touches of red and peacock blue. "Our customers like to wear truer colors," she said.

Ann Stordahl, executive vice president of women's apparel, Neiman Marcus:

"The sobriety at Prada and Jil Sander were directional. We liked Fendi and Marni and thought they were sophisticated collections, beautifully executed from the ready-to-wear to accessories. Dolce & Gabbana was a strong collection with all the cropped pants and Napoleonic jackets. We liked the glam look at Gucci with the wide pants and we thought the eveningwear at Armani was strong. And Missoni looked really fresh with new shapes and all those jersey dresses."

Julie Gilhart, v.p. and fashion director, Barneys New York:

"Overall I really liked the season. Starting from the first day, Armani and Raf Simons set the tone for the whole week. I was really pleased with Simons - that made my whole trip. It changes the culture of fashion. His philosophy is less-is-more. It's all about fabrics and shape, not about ornamentation. Marni has picked up a sort of sophisticated take on fabric and cut. Dolce & Gabbana had a very spirited aesthetic, which was necessary for the balance of things. It was a very balanced Milan. There was a lot of research that went into the fabrics, there were new-looking double faces and wool jerseys. Decoration is going to come from a shoe or a bag. I'm pleased to see more developed collections for Fendi and Bottega Veneta to balance their heritage in accessories."Joan Burstein, owner of Browns, London:

"There are a couple of different messages, but it's amazing how many designers have zoomed in on the Napoleonic theme. We'll be selecting the best of that. There's also the influence of the balloon skirt, which is very tricky." Burstein praised the Prada collection for offering a different message that could attract a new, younger customer to the label. She also liked a grown-up Marni collection and "the elegance of Alberta Ferretti." Stephanie Solomon, fashion director of women's ready-to-wear, Bloomingdale's:

"I love the fact that the bells and whistles have been toned down. I liked the cleanness of Jil Sander and Prada, and the new direction of sweater dressing with leggings. There's something industrial and reality-based about this new look. Giorgio Armani addressed his customer in a beautiful way, and in his showroom most of the jackets were shown with pants, not with ruched skirts. And it's ironic that everyone is doing Versace, but Versace has moved on."

Anna Garner, fashion director of Selfridges, London:

"I thought it was a really strong week. The season in general marked a new direction for fashion that has been looming. It's pared down, more about the silhouette - the polar opposite of the showy femininity we've been seeing the last few seasons."

Garner cited monochromatic looks, and men's wear and military influences, which coexist with Sixties proportions in coats and dresses. Standout collections included Marni, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Prada and Jil Sander.

"It's less of an accessories statement season than in the past," she said, with open-toed boots and shoes, larger handbags and patent leather accessories the exceptions.

Suzanne Tide-Frater, creative director of Harrods:

"There's definitely a move towards a bit more sobriety and sophistication and plays between masculine and feminine," she said.

Tide-Frater praised a return to "brand heritage" at Jil Sander and Gucci, where Frida Giannini's "sharp glamour is sure to be successful."

She also applauded strong collections from Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Burberry Prorsum, an "exquisite" Marni show and a varied and salable Moschino Cheap & Chic collection.Linda Fargo, women's fashion director, Bergdorf Goodman:

"The news is about the proportion and the silhouette. There is a move away from this frothy femininity into a much cleaner phase. Fendi I think is so perfect for the Bergdorf customer across all categories of products. 6267 is an emerging resource we love. I loved Marni. The breadth of that collection is staggering. A lot of retailers can buy it and it will look different in every store. I liked the attitude of Prada. Those girls seemed very protected and insulated from the trials and tribulations of the world. The palette carried through from New York. A dark, rich palette seems to run pretty consistently from collection to collection."

Janet Brown, owner of Janet Brown, Port Washington, N.Y.:

"[Milan is] more cryptic than it used to be, a remix of past collections, a derivative form of fashion, a fashion déjà vu with the exception of Miuccia Prada," whom she described as a forward-looking original who "wins the gold medal at the fashion Olympics for her consistent innovation, style, and brilliant presentation."

Barbara Atkin, fashion director of Holt Renfrew:

"I'm liking [Milan] very much, this change, the austerity, the refinement, the layers and the voluminous silhouettes. It's time to move away from the girly, the frilly and Prada is definitely taking us in a new direction. I also liked Marni's casual way with sophisticated couture details. I loved Giorgio Armani's shaped jackets and his pagoda shoulders."

Linda Dresner, owner of Linda Dresner, New York and Birmingham, Mich.:

Dresner said the bright pink and sea-blue velvet dresses and coats at Luisa Beccaria were hits. "I loved 6267 very much. They have something new to say, the collection is sexy and feminine, but well-bred. Albino is very interesting, there's a sense of femininity with controlled glamour. I was very pleased with Raf Simons at Jil Sander. There's a new strength, which is evident. It's a relief from the prettiness, the light, bare fabrics and fragile, feminine childlike looks in the past. I hope women make a change for more pared-down clothes. There were a lot of components to mix at Marni: sweaters, tops, great shirts."Jeffrey Kalinsky, president and chief executive officer of Jeffrey New York, and director of merchandising at Nordstrom:

"Marni was amazing and that business just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Everything I want my store to stand for is what I think Marni stands for. We are very symbiotic. Jil Sander has always been one of my most important resources. Raf Simons did a great job. His approach to it was very modern. I love what Christopher Bailey is doing with Burberry Prorsum. Christopher's spirit and my spirit seem very connected. The Versace show was great. It was Versace but very clean and new. Prada was a very strong collection. Miuccia Prada is the mainstay of Milan. At Versace and Fendi, I loved the short lengths. At Prada and Jil, I loved the palette and the outerwear. As for the Burberry trenches, to not have them at my store would be a loss."

Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah, owner of Villa Moda:

"Milan was flat to me with the exception of Marni, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci and Bottega Veneta. I loved Marni. Her proportions are sophisticated. She introduced innovative cuts and silhouettes, especially with the knits," he said, adding that he really liked the tunic dresses and tops in the collection. "Bottega Veneta moved from better to better. The bags for me were like pieces of jewelry. The whole collection was very rich and very sexy. The direction of the ready-to-wear was very sophisticated and rich. The Napoleonic theme at Dolce & Gabbana [resulted in] their best collection. I would buy every single piece." Al-Sabah also said that Gucci's Frida Giannini knew how to maintain the sex appeal at Gucci but keeping it "very wearable, especially the longer silhouettes."

- with contributions from Luisa Zargani and Courtney Colavita

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