Gianfranco Ferre: High Times

Gianfranco Ferre is the high priest of the haute mode in Milan. He loves grand, expensive clothes and on Thursday brought the season here to a close with a collection that was characteristically high on drama and beautifully finished. It was obvious that Ferre had really worked on these clothes, although the collection occasionally lacked focus.

His new, high-waisted wool pants gave the illusion of an impossibly long leg, shown with western-style, duchesse-satin shirts. Ferre also showed very short skirts over opaque thigh-highs and two-tone tights. But he gave even more attention to long lengths. In fact, long may have gotten off to a slow start in Milan, but, by week's end, it was evident that it's not quite "finito." Ferre cut his long skirts and dresses in bold stripes, solid wool, silk and lots of knits, and they were tight and sexy enough to compete with any micro-mini for attention.

Gianfranco's coats were terrific, especially the great, sweeping military numbers, which were sometimes faced in velvet. At night, Ferre blended fluidity and drama with a group of intricately draped gray jersey gowns. He also showed ottoman velvet columns with geometric-patterned chenille trim, diaphanous white chiffons and a gray ombred chiffon slip.

But Ferre's haute tendencies can lead him astray. And they did with those black-and-white dinner suits, detailed to the nines, and those blouses with big, detachable sleeves that went pouf.

The Trends

THE DRESS -- Everybody's doing it. But when even Giorgio Armani (at Emporio) and Jil Sander cross over, you know it's important. Key shape: still the baby-doll.

THE SHORT SUIT -- For tailored heat, with snu jackets and A-line or flippy skirts.

THE SHINING -- From lamÄ to Lurex and way beyond, to Vinyl Cyberspace -- Milan was Shimmer City.

SKINNY PANTS -- The wide leg is still here, but the news is pencil thin.

SPOTTED FEVER -- Milan's a zoo of fake leopards, cheetahs, ponies and zebras.

POOR LITTLE LAMBS -- The shearlings were real, often patched and unfinished.A MIXED BAG -- Designers tossed all kinds of fabrics together -- tweeds, boucles, velvets and tissue-thin silks.

MOHAIR -- Knitted or woven, it's a new fixation. And it's used for everything from coats to cloches.

VELVET -- OK, not everything was mohair. Velvet's still big, newest when mixed with other fabrics.

PLENTY OF FLUIDS -- Giorgio Armani created a new, feminine jacket, and there were lots of floaty hems and flourishes.

TO BOOT -- Designers loved them, from ankle to thigh-length. But the newest came to the knee, worn with micro skirts.

HINDSIGHT -- There was a lot of back action, from drapes to bustles.

DUELING PALETTES -- The neutrals were whites and brown with black. But Gianni Versace and some others revved things up with hot pastels.

The Word From the Runways

D & G: It's a dream come true, at least for Dolce & Gabbana fans on a budget -- the duo has launched a new, lower-priced collection called D & G. And for it, Domenico and Stefano took a page from their signature runway looks. Some were livelier than others, but the best included the knit, tweed and plaid pinafore dresses and cropped jackets and the pinstriped pantsuits and microknits over untucked shirts and pinstriped skirts.

ETRO: Each season, Etro comes up with enough new prints to fill a museum. This fall, the grand house has gone in for jewel-tone military and Art Deco designs. They turned up in panne velvet pantsuits, silk robes, brief vests and blouses. For the officers' club, there are swingy loden capes over matching pantsuits.

ICEBERG AND CENTO PER CENTO: Except for the Pink Panther and Pluto, those Iceberg cartoon characters seem to have left the runway. The cleaned-up fall collection focuses on wool jersey suits and long tweed jackets over minis, along with metallic jackets and vests. For the lower-priced Cento per Cento line, design consultant Anna Sui seems to have enrolled in private school: she did pinafore dresses, pleated minis and blazers, all in academic gray flannel and diamond prints.MIU MIU: Designer Miuccia Prada took a trip to the cornfields for fall, and came back with thick, quilted cotton coats, chunky handknitted sweaters, and A-line wool jersey dresses. Accessories are Miu Miu's forte, and the newest were the panne velvet ankle boots, suede wedge clogs and soft totes with bold stitching. But the true fashion-ette will love the chunky-heel, mary-jane pump with an attached wool sock.

VESTIMENTA: Forget passing trends. Vestimenta is about terrific, classic clothes that anybody would love. The collection included soft jackets; flowing, wide-legged pants, and finely tailored coats which are obviously well made, because Vestimenta also produces Armani's black label collections.

Salvatore Ferragamo: Good Sports

It's nice to see some straightforward, healthy-looking sportswear, and there was plenty to be found on the Ferragamo runway. For this smart, commercial collection, Giovanna Ferragamo and Steven Slowik chose their trends carefully, and if some, like the little kilt, have been around the block a few times, more often than not they looked good.

A realistic approach to short lengths was central to the collection. Skirts were flirty without a trace of the tart, usually worn under shapely jackets. Fabrics ranged from sturdy tweeds and wools with contrasting piping to citified navy crepes inset with grosgrain.

The colorful cashmere twinsets and the pullovers cropped just above the waist were the newest sweaters, although the designers showed a weakness for that extra cardigan tied at the waist. But then, a lot of women still just won't leave home without it.

The leathers looked nonchalant but polished -- no raw seaming here. And there was a nod to Mix Mania in the form of short leather jackets with woolen sleeves and facings. But at night the mix just didn't work, and why would anyone put those kilts over giant tulle skirts?

Prada: War Story

In the collection she showed Thursday, Miuccia Prada mined a fashion vein that's been a little overlooked: wartime Germany. One retailer who sells the collection said the "clothes were right out of the bunker. They make me long for 'Mayerling."'

This is fashion cultism at its cerebral height -- everything from wispy little dresses which, according to the program notes, were inspired by "the atmosphere of a German cabaret during the War," to a section of black military uniforms accessorized with Prada portfolio cases that made the world's supermodels look like Hitler's steno pool.But there was some present-day reality in the midst of all this Teutonic fantasy. Miuccia's simple little knit dresses were lovely, and the short, high-waisted jacket was distinctive, but not tricky. And Prada's new, zip-up high black boots just might become the next status stompers of the fashion intellectual set.

Scoops of the Day

BROTHERLY LOVE: Gianni Versace says that it's a good thing his brother Santo keeps an eye on the bucks. The designer admitted that, after his last couture show, he went shopping at various Paris antiquaires, trying to find a few pieces to cozy up sister Donatella's new apartment, adjacent to her old one. Gianni dropped nearly $2 million in a single day. Now that's a brother.

FLYING LONG: Long skirts may have been a shadow of their former selves on the runways in Milan, but on the supermodels they were still going strong. Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista showed up on the Milan-Paris plane sporting identical black baseball caps, dark sunglasses, and long black skirts.

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