Byline: Sara Gay Forden / Samantha Conti

MILAN — Prada, Jil Sander and Dolce & Gabbana were the stars of last week’s Milan collections, according to top U.S. buyers.
Giorgio Armani was lauded for a refined, balanced collection, but reactions were more mixed on Gucci, which had won raves for fall.
Buyers said the week of shows didn’t exactly send shivers down anyone’s spine, but offered strong new looks that will work at retail. Many said they were even planning double-digit increases in their budgets for the Italian designers — motivated by store renovations, expansions and the strong dollar.
After years of domination by a few big names, Milan is becoming a source of new talent, and buyers are snapping up new names such as Narciso Rodriguez and Alessandro Dell’Acqua. They also raved about a new knitwear collection, Hlam.
As for the most highly anticipated show, Donatella Versace’s collection following the death of her brother Gianni, buyers applauded her men’s wear fabrics for form-fitting day dresses, and her use of rubber and silk, beading and mesh for evening.
“The collection was an homage to Gianni and covered all the signature looks her brother was known for,” said Nicole Fischelis, vice president and fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue. “It was very commercial and very Versace. I liked the gray plaid men’s wear looks for day and the beading, mesh, asymmetry and draping for evening. They were probably some of the most glamorous clothes of the season.”
“Donatella captured the spirit of Versace, but made the collection more modern,” said Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus. “You know you’re going to be seeing those evening gowns at the Academy Awards next year — especially the black rubber evening gown lined in magenta silk.”
“It was a season of evolution, rather than radical changes,” said Fischelis. “What’s interesting are the new directions: Hard-edged fashion has softened, and there is a big move toward lifestyle — not rough or rustic, but with a lot of luxury.”
“There was also a strong Japanese feeling running through the collections,” said Joe Boitano, executive vice president of Bergdorf Goodman. “Milan is about soft clothing that’s not structured, and even when it is, it’s combined with a softer piece.”
Buyers applauded Prada’s couture-inspired collection, which featured linen and satin stretch mixes and new capri pants.
“Prada’s fabric mix, new shapes, sheer treatments were great,” said Bonnie Pressman, executive vice president and fashion director of Barneys New York, citing blouses with sheer panels in front.”
Janet Brown, owner of the eponymous boutique in Port Washington, N.Y., said this collection was one of Prada’s most commercial and offers pieces for all women — “not just those who are size 6 and 8.”
Jil Sander’s move into looser, lighter clothing was a hit. “She took a very big step,” said Bergdorf’s Boitano. “She’s known for her tailoring, and this collection was about softness and draping.” Brown said she liked the crinkled fabrics, which she said would travel well.
Buyers praised Dolce & Gabbana’s flirtatious Madonna looks: capri pants worn with camisoles painted with an image of the Virgin Mary, bustier dresses for evening and fur-trimmed robes. “Their capri pants in satin, jersey stretch and men’s wear fabrics are very wearable, and I really liked the silk chiffon dresses with bustiers underneath,” said Pressman of Barneys.
Shauna Stein, owner of the boutiques in Beverly Hills and Las Vegas that bear her name, said: “I loved their pegged, tapered skirt to the knee — it’s a very sexy look and gives an option to that woman who doesn’t feel comfortable in a thigh-high miniskirt.”
Gucci, the star of seasons past, got mixed reviews for its skinny knits over sparkling bikinis, low-slung skirts and peekaboo underwear. “It was over the top,” said Bergdorf’s Boitano. “There was so much bareness, and the underwear wasn’t really necessary. We came to the collection to buy great clothes, and we didn’t really see them.”
Others liked it. “Tom Ford is the most urban, most New York of all the designers, and boy, is his lady hot,” said Kaner. “I thought the coat with the rhinestone lining was drop-dead and the one must-have item this season. I also liked the long dresses worn over bikinis.”
Armani’s collection, full of dresses and light, layered fabrics, won praise for its freshness and appeal to a younger customer. “It was a masterfully balanced and refined collection,” said Fischelis.
“I liked the jacket paired with soft pants, the use of body suits and flat-front pants. It was a commercial, wearable collection,” said Kaner.
Gianfranco Ferre’s dramatic collection, an homage to his couture days, will please the customer looking for more opulence. “America has a very chic couture customer who wants to be elegant and pretty and not hard-edged,” said Fischelis.
The hot newcomer to Milan this season was Narciso Rodriguez: Barneys, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue are all taking him on board. “I loved his two-piece dressing, his new suit: V-neck tops paired with skirts or pants in lightweight wool,” said Pressman of Barneys.
Barneys is also taking Alessandro Dell’Acqua’s collection, which Pressman said was full of “great leathers and knitwear.” Boitano said Bergdorf’s will also be picking up Dell’Acqua’s collection, adding that it was full of “great pieces.”
Buyers gave a thumbs-up to Angela Missoni’s first solo collection for Missoni, Rebecca Moses’ rainbow-colored knitwear, Alberta Ferretti’s feminine slipdresses and Krizia’s little black dresses with transparent panels. They also liked Max Mara, Anna Molinari, Marni, Steven Jansen, and Mila Schon, which is making a new push in the U.S.
There were mixed reactions to Richard Tyler’s Byblos collection, which some said was fresh and focused, while others said lacked a clear identity. Buyers were divided over Moschino; some loved his jackets and others found the biker gear passe.
In all, buyers said the city was a gold mine of opportunity. “I’m going to do a lot of business here,” said Stein, who is staying in Milan this week to write orders. “There’s something for everyone here.”

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