Scoop of the Day: Giorgio: Thanks but no Thanks

The top girls have been all over the runways in Milan -- and on their terms, after an informal accord among the city's top designers to put ceilings on their fees fell apart. Everywhere, that is, except on Giorgio Armani's runway. He flatly refused. "When I think of the fees these girls are asking for a show that lasts a half-hour, and I look at one of my employees, who has to work a lifetime to earn that kind of money, I'm just not interested," Armani said. He added that the top girls were asking $10,000 a show, plus $3,000 in credit for clothes. But money wasn't the only issue. "I work hard at what I do, and I have the presumption to want people to talk about my clothes, not the girls wearing them," he said. Still, though he wouldn't have her on the runway, he didn't mind inviting Claudia Schiffer to his show with her boyfriend, David Copperfield, and to his private dinner afterwards.

Giorgio Armani: Mr. Softy

At a Wednesday morning press conference, Giorgio Armani said he believes the time is right to "seek out a new femininity." And, in the collection he showed Wednesday evening, Giorgio made good on his word. With Milan polarized between sexpot dresses and men's wear drag, Armani goes his own way. He has never lined up on the quick-change, myopic side of fashion, and neither do his customers.

The base of this collection, as always, is his jacket, but done with such refinement and softness that it no longer has anything to do with a man's wardrobe. The effect is totally feminine -- even with pants -- and unmistakably Armani.

Giorgio's new jacket is a gentle A-line starting from a soft shoulder. Sometimes it draped in front or ended in handkerchief points, but it always looked as effortless as a cardigan. His favorite way to show it off was over new skinny pants, long enough to bunch just slightly on the shoe.

Armani also loves the dress. But let others indulge in posterior peepshows; Giorgio opts for elegance. And unlike anyone else in Milan, he made a strong statement with long dresses -- mohair jumpers over turtlenecks, side-buttoned A-lines and shirred bodices with sweeping, filmy skirts. Short for him meant merely above-the-knee chemises or bell shapes with gathered hems, often worn over pants. And he put his own spin on the twinset, extending it into a little A-shaped dress and cardigan.Armani hasn't abandoned the floaty layers that have been so strong in recent seasons, although he has tempered their overtly exotic tone. And what made the whole picture work was the exquisite fabrics. He continued to cross evening fabrics over into day, mixing velvets, delicate jacquards and silk plisse with chenille, gossamer, waffle-weave mohairs and gauzy wools.

Giorgio made a big point of evening in this collection, as he is wont to do. In fact, after the show, when one well-wisher congratulated him on his jackets, he laughed and asked, "What about my evening?" For night, he dispensed with anything middle-of-the-road, racing straight to the high-glamour, beaded looks he loves -- from slipdresses to heavily encrusted bibs over fringed velvet skirts -- all worn with little satin flats. They'd be perfect for a chic dinner at his apartment, resplendent against the modern richness of those parchment walls and ebony floors. That was, in fact, the setting for a little post-show fete Giorgio hosted for pals including Sophia Loren, Robert De Niro, Claudia Cardinale, Fanny Ardant, Ines Sastre, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Ben Stiller.

Complice: Living Dolls

The Complice runway was like a collection of Madame Alexander dolls of all nations -- after a disrespectful child had rearranged a few national costumes. Designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana toured the world, making stops in Mongolia, Tibet, Russia and Scotland, to name just a few destinations. The point, according to their program notes, was "the ethnic chaos, the pell-mell that springs from all the differences...bound together."

It sure made for a lively show, and there were some terrific ideas, including the olive-drab officer's coats and jackets with brocade, velvet or fur-trimmed sleeves; a Russian babydoll done up in printed velvet, and a charming map-of-the-world print used for long, fluid pieces. There were also some great straightforward D&G tailored jackets tossed into the parade of nations.

The problem was that this was more like an album of someone's old vacations than a new fashion trip. And, as anyone who's ever visited Disney World knows, after a while, that "Small World" tune can grate on your nerves.Mila Schon: Sparkle Plenty

The new design team in place here promised a spunky new Mila Shon. And Marisa Modiano and her cohorts Romy Godwin and Christophe Lemaire did put a polite spin on the Short Suit, sending out nicely shaped tweed jackets over pants. But those pink and lavender double-faced wools were dreary, and, despite the house's deep roots in eveningwear, all those spangles just shouted past-tense. Besides, why come all the way to Milan to buy sequins when you've got 530 Seventh Avenue

Les Copains: Into the Woods

Before the lights came up at Les Copains, a group of models trod noisily out onto the runway, dressed as if they spent a lot of time chopping wood. "Is that the show?" one woman in the audience asked. "I think it's the stage crew." But then, making clothes for the real world is just the point of this collection. For fall, Les Copains's real vision was fun and feisty, with hints of youthful recalcitrance. In fact, the designers seemed determined to avoid the season's trend toward skimpiness, and as a result, overindulged a bit in layers and long skirts. When they did go small, though, they handled it coolly, with baby-doll sweaterdresses just long enough to step off the runway and short, metallic evening knits that twinkled but didn't blind. But best of all were those piled-on woodsman's plaids.

Fendi: Furry Fakes

Was it real? Was it fake? And did it matter? Those were the interesting questions raised at the Fendi collection Wednesday as Karl Lagerfeld mixed genuine with ersatz pelts so freely that, by the end, you couldn't tell what was what. Even the models, some of whom had asked not to wear real fur, weren't sure exactly what they had on at any given moment. And that was exactly the idea.

"We wanted the people in the workrooms to handle the fake stuff with exactly the same care and detail as the real," said the Kaiser, "though that's a hard concept for some of these people. When they've spent their lives handling sable, they get a little insulted when you ask them to handle the synthetic. But we'll do it more and more."There was every imaginable combination: inside-out sable coats edged with mohair knit; fake-fur coats with real fur trim and vice-versa; tweedy coat-jackets finished with mock-Persian lamb, and rich black shearlings jazzed up with jaunty, rainbow-colored feather-stitching. When he ran out of furry trimmings, Lagerfeld reached even further -- he pierced sleeves, hems and waists with clanky brass rings and wrapped coats up in telephone cords, which also turned up as hairpieces. The oddest idea was a sheer beige nylon sheath worn over a few of the furs. It was inspired, according to the house, by condoms -- and looked it.

Fendi also brought out its new Coat-to-Coat collection: unlined wool-and-cashmere blends in short, swingy double-layered styles with high collars. As in most of Milan, the dress was at the base of everything -- here, little mohair sweaterdresses and Empire-waist pinafores.

At the end, Carla Fendi yanked a bashful Karl onto the catwalk to take a bow -- perhaps to prove that unlike last season, her favorite consultant had indeed turned up for the show.

Armani: Will He Take Manhattan?

NEW YORK -- Giorgio Armani might become the first big European designer to show under the tents in Bryant Park.

"We're thinking of doing a show during the New York collections," Armani said Wednesday in Milan. "We haven't decided yet."

Armani said he wasn't sure whether he would show Emporio Armani or the collection, or both.

Armani officials confirmed that they queried the Council of Fashion Designers of America about showing in New York.

Fern Mallis, executive director of the CFDA, said her organization would welcome Armani's participation here and could even accommodate him next month, if not in the most desired time slot.

"If Giorgio Armani called us tomorrow and asked to show next month, the only day we could give him is Saturday, April 10. He would be the only one showing on that day, because we had consolidated the weekend shows to Sunday. But we would be delighted to have Giorgio Armani show next month."

The 7th on Sixth fall runway shows begin April 6 and run through April 13. Mallis said two British houses -- Liza Bruce and Ghost -- are the only other European houses on the schedule.Mallis said Armani's representatives called last week and asked about the CFDA's policy regarding Europeans participating in 7th on Sixth, and Mallis explained that the shows are open to anyone who wants to participate, as long as they plan far enough in advance.

"For next November, there has been a lot of interest from Europeans to show in New York," said Mallis, adding that the inquiries were confidential. "The fact that European designers are showing this kind of interest...shows the importance of New York as the predominant fashion capital."

Mallis said the increased participation would probably lead to extending show week, which she said would benefit the city and industry here.

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