By  on June 20, 2008

FLORENCE — "Oh, it's perfect and the length is still just right," said Diane von Furstenberg, checking out Natalia Vodianova as she twirled in one of the designer's signature jersey wrap dresses from 1977.

The printed archival number was made in a Florentine factory and Vodianova appropriately wore it as she escorted von Furstenberg down the runway at the end of her first European show here Wednesday night. The designer was invited to show here by Pitti Immagine, the organizers of the international men's wear showcase.

As designer and model discussed the dress a few hours before the show, Vodianova's six-year-old son, Lucas Portman, and Talita, von Furstenberg's nine-year-old granddaughter, scooted around the makeshift backstage and out into the Giardino Torrigiani, the city's largest private gardens. The 14-acre estate includes an English garden, Baroque sculptures, citrus groves and portions of the original Medici walls built by Cosimo il Vecchio.

Later that evening, 600 guests filled the now-candlelit gardens to sip cocktails, see the show and dine. Eva Longoria Parker, clad in a yellow von Furstenberg resort number with white eyelet detailing, and husband Tony Parker, came to town for the event. It was actually Longoria Parker's first visit to Italy. "We jumped at the opportunity," the "Desperate Housewives" star said. "Everything is so gorgeous and this garden is very special. We're heading out to the vineyards tomorrow, which will be exciting, since we're both big wine people."

The Elkann clan, including Fiat heir John with wife Lavinia Borromeo and his siblings, Lapo and Ginevra, stuck close together. "It's all so cozy and beautiful," noted Lapo Elkann, who wore an azure fedora hat with his satin lapelled suit. "Diane for me is part aunt and part mum, and the evening reflected her energy and positive attitude."

Ferruccio Ferragamo and his wife, Ilaria, applauded the site and the atmosphere. "It's funny how sometimes, even us Florentines rediscover amazing places that we never have time to enjoy," he noted before dashing off to say hello to "mamma" Wanda.

Delfina Venturini Fendi also admitted she should spend more time discovering the Italian peninsula. "This is only my second time to Florence and I should get to know it better rather than go abroad as often," she mused.The Marchesa Marozia Torrigiani, owner of the grounds, was excited to see her first fashion show, though she had become accustomed to the fashion flock, thanks to von Furstenberg and her retinue. "Actually, I'm going to watch it from the villa's terrace so I can get an aerial view," the marchesa informed her friends.

As for the show, which was on four raised fake-grass catwalks that fanned out from a giant central statue, the collection kept to the night's pretty garden-party atmosphere. Von Furstenberg focused on suitcase-friendly pieces that hailed back to the fashionably wealthy American on vacation with a whiff of "The Talented Mr. Ripley" tossed in the middle.

Aptly called "La petite valise," the show's summer itinerary spanned locales from London's Claridge's hotel to the laguna life at Venice's Gritti Palace. "When you figure out your suitcase, you figure out your life," said von Furstenberg. "Since I pack every five days, I wanted to focus on seasonless and stand-alone pieces."

To wit, passport pages, hotel key rooms and gondolier hats were printed on jersey and crisp cotton dresses, while camisoles over shorts channeled an easy Riviera atmosphere. The lineup also included dresses made from scarves in festive colors and trenchcoat styles cinched at the waist. The finale's white, red and blue shift with "Bon Voyage" splattered across the front summed up the mood.

For the occasion, von Furstenberg convinced her former top seamstress, Bruna Sequalino, who crafted her famous wrap dresses in the late Seventies, to come see the show.

The show marks another step in von Furstenberg's big push in Europe following the opening of a string of stores on the Continent over the last year. To further boost her European presence, von Furstenberg said she would like to open stores in Rome and Milan in the near future.

Event aside, there was one other major highlight to von Furstenberg's Florentine stint — spending a week with her granddaughter. "This event was all very homey for me, but having Talita to myself was such a treat and she was so active in everything," she said. "I'm sure she'll never forget this experience."

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