MILAN CARRIES ON
BIG, BIGGER, BIGGEST — EXPANSION FEVER IS SWEEPING THE CITY.

MISSONI: The Missonis are on a roll. Some might even call it a renaissance. California beach babes and New York club kids are suddenly sporting Missoni stripes, and Saks Fifth Avenue president Rose Marie Bravo says some of her stores can’t keep the company’s sweaters in stock. Other American retailers report similar successes.
The revival is not an accident. The family has hired new stylists, which was quite clear from its smashing collection Tuesday morning. It’s also brightened up its image with a new spring ad campaign by photographer Mario Testino and begun to use Tai and Rosita’s son Vittorio to expand the $169-million business and serve as a kind of personal ambassador to the United States.
“We’ve had relationships with people for 20 years, and now they’re bringing us their kids,” said Vittorio, happily pouring champagne backstage after the show. He makes it quite clear, however, that his mother is still in overall charge of the design.
For fall, Rosita pored over the best of the Missoni tradition and came up with sleek, sophisticated silhouettes, “for a woman with a young spirit.” The lines are simple and clean, and the prints are small except for some giant flower-power patterns. There were also some great discreet chevron V-neck sweaters, micro-argyle tunics and pants, along with acid green graphic prints.

MAX MARA: Trends without an edge. That’s what Max Mara brings to the fashion party, and it’s a package that makes sense for the legions of working women whose interest in fashion is anything but obsessive. These women might live anywhere — Dallas; Washington; Costa Mesa, Calif., or Short Hills, N.J., for example, where the firm plans to open new stores in the coming months. The openings are part of a push to increase business in the U.S. market, which now accounts for 5 percent of total volume, according to vice chairman Luigi Maramotti. Max Mara delivers some of the best distillations of trends out there, and they’re beautifully made. For fall, that means military looks, plenty of camel and an ample dose of the Seventies. The diffusion line, Sportmax, offers a savvy take on mix-and-match. But sometimes the derivation factor — Jil at Max Mara and Miuccia at Sportmax — is a bit too obvious.

SALVATORE FERRAGAMO: Expansion is the name of the game at Ferragamo, where sales jumped 32 percent last year. Accessories are booming, store openings are scheduled in the U.S. and Europe, and a women’s fragrance, the house’s first, is slated for next year. Just about the only soft spot is the firm’s ready-to-wear, which often lacks consistency, as it does for fall. On the one hand, there are chic, well-cut coats and suits that make sense for the Ferragamo customer, and on the other, odd attempts at trendiness that just don’t work.

BIAGIOTTI’S FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Laura Biagiotti is at a crossroads. With its U.S. business waning, the firm is exploring the Far East and Russia — as well as other price points. Chairman Gianni Cigna said he is looking into the possibility of producing a cashmere bridge collection in China for export to the States, while he’s close to a deal for a sportswear and jeans line for the Chinese market. But perhaps all the globe-trotting has become a distraction. The fall collection Biagiotti showed Tuesday was erratic, ranging from exaggerated camouflage dresses to diaphanous, gauzy cashmere looks.

UPWARDLY MOBILE: Not everybody needs over-the-top runway shows or million-dollar ad campaigns to rack up respectable profits. Etro, for example, registered sales of $130 million in 1995, a figure it expects to grow by about 15 percent this year. The firm also invested some $15 million in a new five-story building and store set to open in New York in September. Meanwhile, the theme of its fall presentation was “Orlando,” with tweed jackets, orange jacquard vests and velvet riding breeches.
Each year, Antonio Fusco reports steady 20-percent increases in sales, and he had a volume of $25 million in 1995. Retailers and clients love his classic, sharply cut suits, but this season they can opt for audacious combinations of military jackets over pannA velvet trousers, ribbed cardigans over lace tops and glen plaid jackets over leopard-print skirts.

JAN & CARLOS: This Milan-based knitwear company has been around for 15 years, but in its first real runway show, American designers Jan Pottorf and Carlos Baker caught the eye of major retailers such as Neiman Marcus. They showed the sexy side of knits with alluring long turtlenecks over pants and slinky cardigan dresses.

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