By  on February 17, 2005

Stooping to fix a new fall look in her Milan showroom — a tank top under a leopard fur jacket over riding pants — Anna Molinari points to the ivory tulle top, adorned with 700 hand-appliquéd lace strips, previously soaked in tea for a faded, granny look.

“This,” gushed Blumarine’s designer, “is something the Chinese can’t copy. Creativity aside, we’re talking about exclusive details and color charts, studied in-house, and top-quality yarns that can bear the various treatments my knits go through.” 

A similar scene takes place at Versace’s modern factory in Novara, 25 miles north of Milan, where Donatella Versace checks out a wispy silk chiffon cocktail dress that will hit her runway next Thursday. The bodice is an ensemble of hand-cut, hand-sewn strips that enhance the waistline. “If you want to compete with China, you have to stand out, be special,” stressed a trim Versace, wearing black, low-slung pants and a fitted sweater.

Two very different fashion minds that still arrive at the same conclusion: top quality and individuality.

As Milan’s chockablock show week is set to kick into action officially on Saturday, it’s clear that Italian designers are doing it their way. Challenged by low-cost competition and edgier mass-driven fashion, they strive to stand out via new proportions, shapes and volumes; innovative and meticulous craftsmanship; exclusive fabrics, and a manic attention to details.

The bulk of prefall orders have already been penned by high-profile retailers, allowing designers to brace themselves for the mounting preshow tension and chaos that culminates in the fashion show.

In terms of general trends, rather than developing specific themes, many designers have focused on new or contrasting silhouettes, cut and sewn from a swatch book of beefy tweeds, flannels, tartan silk crepes, velvets, frothy floral silks, jersey and a bounty of knits. Metallic sheens, hand embroideries, appliquéd flowers, fur flourishes, sequins, beads and rhinestones add pizzazz to the simplest sweater or coat. Deep winter hues — russet, browns, ochre, fog, smoke gray and black comprise the color wheel, enlivened by frosted pastels, jewel tones and neon brights.

“It’s fundamental to pay attention to craftsmanship in the signature line because clothes today are expensive. The strong euro penalizes the U.S market and consumers want value for their money,” noted Moschino’s creative director, Rossella Jardini.

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