MILAN DAYS AND NIGHTS
TOM FORD WENT LONG AND LEAN FOR GUCCI — AND WENT FOR A CERTAIN CHIC — WHILE FERRAGAMO GOT YOUNGER, RAISING THE FASHION STAKES AND MAX MARA AND ANTONIO FUSCO SHOWED THEIR PATENTED MONEY-IN-THE-BANK SPORTSWEAR.

FERRAGAMO: This house is working hard — and spending big bucks — to shed its buckle and bow-pump image and lure a younger, trendier customer. Take a look at Ferragamo’s new lifestyle ad campaign — a radical departure from the still-life ads they embraced for years. The fall ad budget was upped by 65 percent over last year, and the message is new-age classics. Ferragamo is also upping its fashion stakes with this spring collection, which was put together by a new design team headed by Marco de Micheli. And the Ferragamos couldn’t have picked a more delightful setting to show it off — the lush gardens of Milan’s contemporary art museum, formerly the Villa Reale, where the king once lived.
A New Age string trio played on stage as Ferragamo sent out clothes that remain true to the company’s luxurious image but with just a touch of hip. In a sporty vein, there were zipped sweatjackets, slouchy cargo pants paired with cropped sweaters, sleek maillots printed with fragments of the Ferragamo logo and soft safari jackets done in jersey.
Jersey, in fact, turned up in everything from long trenchcoats to floor-length dresses and smart pantsuits. And now those beautiful Ferragamo silk scarves have been stitched together into a patchwork of patterns for sexy strapless dresses and long skirts worn with sheer blouses. This collection doesn’t take a giant fashion leap, but it’s headed in the younger direction the house is striving for.

GUCCI: Chic has many guises. At Gucci, it comes with a jeweled-logo nipple ring — no kidding. Tom Ford’s stated goal for the collection he showed on Monday night was to create a more refined mood than in the past. “I’ve made the slits as high as possible, I’ve made the heels as high as possible, I’ve cut the skirts as far up as they could go,” Ford said before his show. “Now, I wanted a more chic silhouette.”
Inherent in that goal is a certain sense of calm; the de-trashing process just doesn’t pack the same punch as the reverse activity. In addition, Ford doesn’t believe in here-today-gone-tomorrow disposable fashion — the current absence of power shoulders aside — and, over the last few seasons, has been evolving several themes. As this collection didn’t take a major new turn, it didn’t have quite the same energy or bravado as some of Tom’s blockbusters. What it did have were wonderful things to wear.
Ford is at a point where he is completely confident in his ability to command a runway and hold his audience with savvy, commercial clothes. And that is exactly what he did — with interludes of barely-there underwear and glittering ruby red swimwear thrown in.
The prevailing silhouette was long and lean, with gloriously sexy knits that caressed the body, sometimes draping at the hips. Racy tops offered glimpses of black leather bras, while thin leather hip straps held low-slung skirts in place. Suits and coats were still strong, with part of their structure coming from the fabrics — crisp satin twill, quilted logo silks, ostrich, crocodile. There was also iridescent satin — in fact, too much. It just didn’t look timely, which is an oddity for Ford.
For evening, Tom went back to knits, simple and chic as could be — a rhinestone-faced cardigan, revealing gauzy sweaters with satin pants, endless stretches of jersey in gray, wine or lavender. Though few were obviously sheer, one couldn’t miss the glitter of jeweled underwear beneath. “It’s all about a sexuality you see, but you don’t see,” Ford said. As for the nipple rings — elegance does have its limits, at least on a Gucci runway.

ANTONIO FUSCO and FUSCO: What better place to show money-in-the-bank clothes than at the Banco Popolare di Milano? That’s exactly what Antonio Fusco did for both his signature and secondary collections. Though they were shown on different days, it was difficult to distinguish between the two collections, since Fusco played with the same theme for both: boy-meets-girl. At Antonio Fusco, it cropped up in smartly tailored pinstripes with sexy sequined dresses or sequin-trimmed cashmeres over oversized men’s trousers. At Fusco, there were tissue-thin shifts that peeked out of crisply cut boardroom blazers and coats, and sporty zip jackets over fluid pants or dresses.
While both collections show the designer’s fine hand at tailoring, one wonders why he doesn’t create a second line that isn’t a carbon copy of his signature collection. He’s clearly poised for big expansion, having recently signed a deal with GFT to distribute Antonio Fusco worldwide. Now is a perfect time for him to broaden his customer base, as well.

MAX MARA: Some houses are perennially chasing the ultimate fad, while others woo their clients with sensible, practical clothes that keep the cash flowing. Max Mara holds to the latter theory. This company knows how to tap into the pulse of the season, filter the trends and create clothes that fly off the shelves. Since the Milan store, which was recently expanded to 8,000-square feet, reopened 10 days ago, it’s posted average daily sales of $150,000.
What Max Mara has in store for spring are smart pantsuits in navy wool crepe, lots of drawstring pants topped with dapper suede jackets and soft, belted robe coats. For more flirtatious moments, there are slim, back-slit dresses in pinstripes and crisp shantung dresses in dusty pink. In its secondary line, Sportmax, things are getting younger and hipper. Filled with all the right trends — neons, zip-front jackets, oversized T-shirts and skirts over pants — it was a collection that truly put the sport in Sportmax.
MILA SCHON: This company has been making a big effort to reinvent itself in the past few years, and more recently, to regain a presence in the American market. And Mila Schon has indeed made some inroads. Neiman Marcus is expected to pick up this spring collection, while Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue bought it for fall and report favorable results. Projected U.S. sales are expected to rise from $300,000 for the fall season to $700,000 for spring, and yearly worldwide sales are projected to climb from $40 million to $52 million.
The fashion focus is also changing here in an effort to lure a younger customer. In this collection, designer Anna Domenici has wisely retired those ladies-who-lunch suits for a more modern look. At times, it worked like a charm, as in the curve-seamed suits with skirts and jackets in contrasting colors, pantsuits with an easy slouch and sexy beaded evening dresses. But Domenici also went scissor-happy with asymmetric cuts, geometric necklines that mimicked a lineup of skyscrapers, and skirts with so many slits that they flapped awkwardly around the models’ legs. Such gimmicks don’t build a new image, but there are enough good looks here that do.
LAURA BIAGIOTTI: There’s something to be said about comfort, and for spring, Laura Biagiotti said just that with a parade of cozy knits. Sweater dresses and wrap numbers were the highlights, but she took some awkward turns with her versions of baby-dolls, which would add two decades to most Lolitas.
ALESSANDRA DELL’ACQUA: When you pair a hyped designer with a strong stylist, the results can sometimes go awry — and that’s what happened in Dell’Acqua’s spring collection. Dell’Acqua, working with stylist Victoria Bartlett, presented not his usual range of innovative ideas, but a hodgepodge of overstyled, overdesigned clothes. The great pantsuits, jackets and knits Dell’Acqua is known for were tricked-up with slashed sleeves, asymmetrical shoulders, leather capelets, feather wings and bibs. It was so dizzying to the eye, one just longed for something simple. In the end, he took edgy over the edge.
V-ZONE: Valentino chose to show his second V-Zone collection on dress forms in his Milan headquarters rather then send it down a Paris runway. For spring, the clothes are hip and sporty, taking influences from the street rather than from his main collection. This Val gal will wear slinky dresses over pants, zip wool cardigans with slit skirts and saucy lace and sequined slip dresses — just like mom’s, but a little naughtier.
MASKA: For spring, Maska was a bohemian caravan parade. The collection was filled with traditional fabrics like moire and taffeta, but reworked into hipper shapes — oversized masculine pantsuits, supple suede shirts, cargo pants (some cropped midcalf) and short little kilts. And when she wasn’t the modern bohemian, this flower child took the athletic route, sporting zip jackets and parkas with drawstring jogging pants.
ALMA: Alessandro Dell’Acqua’s collection for Alma was more true to himself than the signature collection he showed the previous evening. All the great Dell’Acqua looks were there — embroidered lace, sexy knits, racy halters. And this time, there was even more to choose from. By day, his sexy Italian girl can slip into short, slinky Grecian dresses, lace camisoles and sheer blouses worn with micro-minis. And at night, she’ll head out in hot-colored, body-skimming dresses or just a simple nude bodysuit streaming with jet beads.
MALHAS: Look past the one-legged jumpsuits and gold-and-white Greek goddess sheaths, and you’ll find some stylish, sensible pieces in this collection: double-breasted suits nipped at the waist and paper-thin suede pants worn with matching V-neck tops. And, while sales are still modest, they’re growing steadily. Saudi designer Rushdi Malhas expects them to jump 20 percent to $3.5 million this year.

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