By and  on February 22, 2008

MILAN — Through the buyers' eyes, the Italian collections offered a smorgasbord of diverse fashions — not all of them appetizing or easy to digest. Many retailers described a less-than-stellar Milan season, rescued by certain collections and a new long, lean silhouette; an emphasis on separates, and Seventies touches.

"Where are the new ideas? Where is the rich Milanese tailoring tradition? Where are the accessories? Where is the emotion?" lamented Michael Fink, senior vice president and fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue.

"In a season of so many directions — we've seen everything from clean modernism, gypsy, floral and every decade under the sun — it actually is trite to talk about trends in the traditional sense," said Sarah Rutson, fashion director at Hong Kong-based Lane Crawford. "Retailers' individual take on the season will be the voice for their customer: seeing the woman as an individual, not a slave to trends."

Yet some lauded the variety show. "It takes all kinds," said Linda Fargo, senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation at Bergdorf Goodman. "This translates into more choices, more means of expression. There is a new subdued luxury, leaving behind last fall's glam surfaces, feathers and fur."

Buyers cheered innovative tailoring, folkloric and natural touches, vests, thigh boots and a strong offering of outerwear. But they said that, in this age of global warming, they would take a pass on bulky knits and other too-heavy fare.

Budgets in Italy will be flat to slightly up, retailers said, citing among standout collections Prada, Gucci, Marni, Burberry Prorsum, Bottega Veneta, Jil Sander and 6267.

Here's what buyers had to say:

Marigay McKee, general merchandising director of fashion and accessories, Harrods, London: "Milan's always the moneymaker for us. It's been a little less consistent than other seasons, and the showrooms were often better than the runway. Pucci was beautiful; Fendi was great; Bottega Veneta was stunning, and Burberry Prorsum was my favorite show. Thigh boots were everywhere. It's all about texture and embellishment, and we're seeing a lot more leather and suede than we're used to. The vest came on as an important piece, and feathers as a detail. We're definitely going to do an Icarus story at Harrods. There were a lot of sleeveless and three-quarter-sleeve coats, and I liked the petrol blues, greens and eggplant shades." She noted that budgets would be "level" on the whole, with bigger spends at Marni and Pucci.Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director, Neiman Marcus: "A strong, sensual women is emerging this season. Because color is so important to our customers, we were encouraged by the amount we saw in Milan, especially optimistic color, really led by Marni. Prada's lace and linear shapes were modern, romantic, and the elegance of the collection was overwhelming. Bottega Veneta had understated elegance. It was very chic and had a seasonless quality. I thought Burberry looked terrific, and Versace's evening dresses were very current. I can't imagine them not being on a plane to the Academy Awards. There was a real modernity to the collection. And 6267 has brought an entirely new vocabulary to Milan with the couture quality of its presentation. We're very enthusiastic about how designers in Milan paid attention to seasonless fabrics, and we're very happy to see volume done in a soft way."

Cedric Charbit, vice president of the buying office and general merchandise manager of women's fashion, Printemps: "Overall, Milan was not so great, but I am glad some designers are finding their way. Jil Sander is the perfect example. The collection was clean and strong with amazing work on the coats. Gucci was also by far one of the strongest and most directional shows. It will retail extremely well and will drive the European high street. Marni is also a great collection; Dolce & Gabbana and Burberry Prorsum gave some strong fall statements, and Prada is pushing the limit again and marks a strong change. All the looks turned to a very long and lean silhouette and we are getting rid of the couture trend. My customer will want a minidress, a masculine coat, a Seventies pant, a shearling coat or vest, a fur jacket, a masculine jacket, scarves and silk foulards and paisley prints on blouses, shirts or maxidresses. We will spend as much as last year in Milan and we expect a very good season for the Seventies look."

Barbara Atkin, vice president, fashion direction, Holt Renfrew: "Although Milan started as a somber season, it ended on a high note by offering a variety of beautiful and luxurious clothing with an infusion of newness. We saw a combination of the strict and subdued juxtaposed against a kaleidoscope of color, print and detail, all adding up to a decadent, luxurious bohemian style. We saw influences from the Seventies with long, lean silhouettes and covered-up clothes playing against the short and swinging. The 'separates' dressing that had its roots in the Seventies is making a strong return. We will be looking for luxurious coats; cropped or shapely jackets with accented shoulders; soft, folkloric dresses, blouses and skirts; cardigans and sweater coats; skinny and cropped pants, and man-tailored suits. We will be slightly increasing our budget over last year, as we believe our customer will continue to come to us looking for the new. Our favorite collections out of Milan were Prada, Marni, Gucci, Roberto Cavalli, Jil Sander and Pucci."Linda Fargo, senior vice president and fashion director, Bergdorf Goodman: "Pure line, simplified deep fall colors, often used monochromatically, and sculpted silhouettes look right in these times — the body quietly covered and protected almost head to toe, notably at Jil Sander and Bottega Veneta and quietly revealed at Prada with another breakaway collection. In striking contrast was an excitingly embellished and nomadic luxe bohemian mood at Gucci. Marni gave us exceptionally artistic color and silhouette combinations, taking ensemble dressing to new heights and making interesting accessories count more than ever. 6267's star continues to rise with a completely original and strikingly graphic show of modern tailoring. As a category, outerwear stands out as an increasingly important component, and, interestingly, as a detail, the ruffle has crossed the pond from New York and applied itself from shoes and handbags to shoulders and hemlines. The dress looked newest when it approached a sheath, versus volumized, and lengths presented many options, with knee and just-below-knee lengths looking newest."

Stephanie Solomon, vice president of fashion direction, Bloomingdale's: "This has been a week of mixed messages, but good messages. It began with Armani, which I loved. He brought back the statement jacket and his use of velvet was very elegant. It was modern and I think it will do very well at retail. Christopher Bailey at Burberry also returned to his roots and he celebrated the coat. There were classic coats, but there was always a twist....In general, I would say there is a return to designers doing what they do best."

Solomon said the idea of taking classics and revamping them for fall looked "really fresh...because in this economy and culture, you do want to recoil to your basics, but then again, you want to be a little bit rebellious and twist it so that you make a statement." Other standout collections included Gucci's "bohemian rich hippie at her peak"; Marni, D&G and Versace for their use of color; 6267 for "the worksmanship, attention to detail...and silhouette," and Roberto Cavalli's "spring dresses for fall."

Michael Fink, vice president and women's fashion director, Saks Fifth Avenue: "In a Milan season limp with trend, the time is right for design that pushes boundaries relevant for modern-thinking, working women — not the gimmicks nor the rehash of decades-old ideas seen on many runways. What was right in Milan? The impeccable tailoring techniques and fabric development at Jil Sander; a merry color palette in user-friendly layered silhouettes at Marni; the relentless and provocative development of a theme at Prada...developing items just right for an arctic winter; statement coats, and bulky knits."Julie Gilhart, senior vice president and fashion director, Barneys New York: "Clothes that make women feel beautiful and alluring make sense. Trends are for items, not for head to toe. The new long, lean silhouette was the news of the season, and we loved the whole story at Prada and Bottega Veneta. Jil Sander's strong tailoring gave each piece importance, and Versace seemed so timeless. That said, we would have liked to see more 'seasonless' clothes on the runway. There seemed to be way too many wool tweeds and furs, but overall, Milan gave us what we needed."

Sarah Rutson, fashion director, Lane Crawford, Hong Kong: "It's a strange season, but it must be said there have been some individual standouts. The dark sexuality of Prada was hypnotic: I was drawn in and so will the customer be. Jil Sander crafted clothing for women in an intelligent way without getting carried away. At Marni, Consuelo Castiglioni knows how to keep her faithful following happy. My Marni business is always consistent and the shapes and color palette will continue to keep the faithful happy. Burberry Prorsum as well seem to continue the right element of cool and commerce. Christopher has totally defined with the modern British heritage house."

Jennifer Wheeler, vice president of designer apparel, Nordstrom: "Our existing designer business continues to grow and we have an aggressive store-opening schedule this year. We are mindful of the current U.S. economic climate and have to be sharp in our editing, but are always looking for great new product. The Milan collections stood on their own, with the silhouettes: long, lean and architectural at Jil Sander and 6267; layered, textured with beautiful color contrasts at Marni; standout outerwear at Burberry Prorsum, and the luxe boho at Gucci, which we think our customers will love. Our favorite collections were Jil Sander, Marni, 6267, Prada and Burberry Prorsum. And Versace was great: luxe and leggy, with great color and print — a nice end to the week. Key items include the skinny pant, a jacket or coat with an exaggerated collar, Seventies vests and something in tweed."

Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah, president, Kuwait-based Villa Moda Lifestyle: "Milan was tough. This was a season where we had to look carefully to find what is interesting for our market. The collections that I loved were a handful. I was totally in love with Prada, one of the strongest ever. Every shoe was a piece of art; they looked like they were Jeff Koons sculptures. Marni was amazing, mixing colors and prints in an avant-garde way. Another amazing collection that will destroy my budget was Gucci, an unbelievable standout. I loved everything: the furs, the evening, the accessories. It looked like Yves Saint Laurent's 'gypsy collection,' circa 2008."Rosi Biffi, owner, Biffi and Banner, Milan: "I loved Marni and Gucci. At Marni, the colors were chic, very refined, with great new proportions and beautiful, soft fabrics. The volumes were contemporary, and will fit everybody. Gucci was strong and aggressive and the colors were beautiful. I loved the dresses, the jackets, the furs....I usually don't like embroidered furs, but these were done with brio, in a refined way. Generally speaking, I think the designers really looked for new ways to offer innovation and exclusivity."
Hamdi Kulahcioglu, head of fashion buying for Unitim Moda Magazacilik A.S., which operates Harvey Nichols Istanbul: "After seeing most of the collections, we can tell that the fall-winter 2008 season is an explosion of colors. In nearly every show, you can see bright green, purple, fuchsia and cobalt blue. Floor-length dresses, collarless and also double-breasted jackets and jumpsuits are the flashy styles of this season. Fur and flannel has been used everywhere."

Carla Sozzani, owner of 10 Corso Como: "It was a beautiful week. Prada was wonderful, spectacular: the look, the lace, the colors, the intriguing spirit of the collection. I also liked Burberry, the high-waist dresses and the beautiful proportions, and Roberto Cavalli, which was an unexpected, romantic surprise. I also liked his mix of colors and the prints."

Tiziana Cardini, fashion director, La Rinascente: "There is a strong trend toward constructed clothes and thought-out designs. The structures, the volumes, the cuts are not fluid or light. The fact that these pieces are very refined is a pro, but, at the same time, the fact that the shapes are difficult and overdesigned is a con. In any case, this fashion is all more grown-up, with more attention to details and constructions, although it doesn't necessarily enhance the body's shape. Jil Sander was masterly, with softer lines, but thought out. Prada was directional and stunning, as it was last season."

photos by giovanni giannoni, davide maestri and mauricio miranda

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