Byline: Sara Gay Forden

MILAN — Retailers shopping the designer ready-to-wear shows that ended here Friday were bullish about the clean, fitted looks for fall that came down the runways this season. Many store executives said their Italian business continues to grow, and reported plans to boost their budgets for Italian labels.
“We are going to be spending more here as a store,” said Saks Fifth Avenue president Rose Marie Bravo. “We feel good about the clothes and we feel good about the prices, especially thanks to the strength of the dollar against the lira.,” she said.
Although the dollar has taken a beating recently against the mark and the yen, it is fairly steady against the lira, and at a level that makes the prices of high-end Italian goods attractive. On Friday, the dollar closed at 1,675 lire, compared with 1,690 lire a year earlier.
Joel Rath, president of Canadian retailer Holt Renfrew, said his store will increase its budget for Italian labels by 20 percent for fall.
“We are a store that focuses on specific businesses that we believe in,” Rath said. “We will be investing more here.” Overall, the buyers said they liked the diversity offered by the collections, with options ranging from sleek, body-hugging suited looks to looser, cropped jackets with skirts or pants and new takes on outerwear.
They added that the Sixties’ influence was a strong and very wearable trend, as were the more feminine looks and continued traces of refined glamour.
Buyers admitted there were some slow moments during the show week, but they raved about Giorgio Armani’s mega-show in a former factory Thursday night, calling it a “tour de force.”
“Despite the breadth of the collection, one never loses sight of the designer’s philosophy, and that’s rare today,” said Bergdorf Goodman president Dawn Mello.
“There were so many beautiful jackets and that is what the collection is all about,” added Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus.
Several buyers said they liked the new conservative chic turn Versace took with his first line, which was cleaner and more sophisticated than anything he’s ever shown.
“He is continuing to move in the direction of very sophisticated dressing, and we are continuing to expand the business,” said Joseph Boitano, executive vice president at Bergdorf’s. Gucci also got raves from buyers for designer Tom Ford’s focused modern-mod approach. “Gucci was a real highlight,” said Saks’ Bravo, adding that her store will be adding the line at three locations: New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
And design duo Dolce & Gabbana got high marks for their fitted suits. “This was a modern translation of the Seventies, very salable and spirited clothes,” said Saks vice president and fashion director Nicole Fichelis. “Some terrific items were the corset dresses, the short wrap coats and the little chic black dresses.”
Gianfranco Ferre stood out with a collection that offered extremely wearable suits and coats on one end of the scale and sexy, sophisticated glamour on the other, the buyers agreed. Prada’s new skirts and dresses, technical fabrics and belted coats were popular, while Krizia’s curvy suits and cleaned-up look also got praise from the buyers, as did Alberta Ferretti’s demure dresses and the Moschino line.
The good news in Milan didn’t stop with the big names. There were many new, or relatively new, faces that drew a good response. Young designer Lawrence Steel, who launched his first collection last season, is being bought by Neiman Marcus, among others. Bergdorf Goodman is picking up young Japanese designer Junichi Hakamaki, while Long Island boutique owner Janet Brown raved over a little-known fur line called Marni, which put a whole new twist on furs and fur-trimmed rtw.