By and  on March 7, 2002

MILAN -- There were few major surprises in the just-concluded Milan fall season except, perhaps, for one -- retailers loved those Giorgio Armani stirrup pants.

Overall, the season wasn't one that sent hearts thumping, but store executives said there was no shortage of solid, salable looks on Milan's runways. The most bankable trends included narrow trousers, shearling vests and wraps, bomber jackets in everything from fur to technical waterproof fabrics, coats of different lengths and shapes -- and especially the new tent and princess shapes -- obi belts, appliques, embroideries, fringe, velvets and chunky or cable knits.

The season also was a perfect example of the often-wide gap between what retailers bought and what the fashion press praised. While the two camps agreed the season's standouts included Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry Prorsum and Missoni, their opinions diverged on two key designers -- Armani and Milan Vukmirovic's collection for Jil Sander. The press pilloried them, but retailers like Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale's thought they had some merit.

"We thought Armani had wonderful jackets and will be buying his novelty pants," said Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman's. "Armani customers buy the novelty items: They bought the ruffled, tiered and asymmetrical pants of past seasons. Their feeling is that if Mr. Armani believes in something, they do too."

Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president for fashion direction at Bloomingdale's, also praised Armani. "The show was very strong. I loved the jackets, and frankly I think it's time for stirrup pants to make a comeback: They're new, narrow and sexy. I also loved his use of black and white for evening."

Kaner also liked Gucci's jackets and coats with obi wraps, Prada's short battle jacket worn with a flippy skirt and the white coats at Jil Sander. She said Roberto Cavalli managed to "layer on a more ladylike customer this season" with his plaid pieces and chiffon dresses with full skirts.

Ruttenstein liked Gucci's big blouson tops worn with narrow crushed pants and Dolce & Gabbana's classic country looks. "They had exquisite tailoring and great jackets," he said. He also liked Fendi's "fur wraps, stoles and blankets," Burberry's "new plaids" -- and the Jil Sander collection.

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