Byline: Samantha Conti / Miles Socha

MILAN — There may have been few fireworks on the runway — and no powerful fashion statements — but U.S. retailers shopping the fall 2001 ready-to-wear shows here said they found a lot of strong, individual items and some fresh takes on familiar trends.
The season offered a mix of ideas and trends, among them masculine, feminine, military, urbane and hippie.
“This has been a season without a significant announcement, but there are plenty of items to choose from,” said boutique owner Linda Dresner, who has stores in New York and Michigan.
Dresner said she especially liked the use of distressed leathers for bomber jackets and trenchcoats, the lean and sexy shearlings, knitwear with irregular ribbing and slick jersey blouses. She said she also spotted some fur chubbies that she said could be used to dress up evening looks, and give them an old-world glamour.
“It was a good season,” said Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus. “It started off slow, but it gained momentum.”
Kaner cited a “terrific” Prada show, a “commercial” Gucci collection full of great items, Fendi’s take on Sixties Mod and Roberto Cavalli’s return to his artisan’s roots, as highlights of the week.
But with so many contradictory trends, Kaner said she’s taking a more item-driven approach to her buy, including tuxedo-style looks for evening, leggings, zippered pants, raccoon hats and boots of all kinds for day and evening.
She said she found a lot of innovative treatments of leather and fur, “and I like the return of handknit sweaters, slightly oversized and falling off the shoulder. We’ve seen more knit clothing this time and I think that’s a direction.”
Jeffrey Kalinsky, the owner of the Jeffrey stores in New York and Atlanta, said he too was taking a more item-driven approach to the season, assorting his buy as much as possible, and adding punches of color to the standard fare of black, gray, navy and brown.
“The challenge this season is to come up with an interesting mix; you can’t play it safe,” he said.
Kalinsky said he thought shearling looks would sell “very well,” and that he liked the Courreges-inspired clothing — but only when it looked modern and not “too literal.” He said he was “thrilled about the all-white Fendi show. I like white in winter. To me, it looks sharp and graphic.” As for accessories, he said the granny and riding boots would be big, but added that another major trend — the baby-doll look — was “very young and not really for our clientele.”
Janet Brown said only the savviest retailers could make it in Milan this season. “We all had to be Formula One drivers because it was so easy to hit a wall.” Brown said the editing process in showrooms required “twice to four times the amount of time it usually takes.”
She added, however, that there were rewards for those willing to put in the hours. Brown pointed to Kiton’s “seductive little Montgomery jacket” and Attolini’s plaid coat with taffeta lining. She also liked Cesare Fabbri’s suede coat with fabric lining, Cristiano Fissore’s cashmere knits and the “great groups of fur and leather” at Hettabretz.
Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president of fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s, called the season “a mixed bag. There were a lot of good collections, but not a lot of fireworks.” He said Tom Ford summed up the season’s biggest trends — hard and soft looks — by pairing low-slung leather with blush pink puckered chiffon tops.
As for the other major trends, Ruttenstein pointed to fur trim, using flat and longhaired fur. He said Vesicle’s fur miniskirts and Prada’s generous fur on cuffs and trims was “newsy” this season. He also liked blouses with baby-doll touches such as pleats, ruffles, tucks and ribbon treatments, but said the baby-doll dresses would only really work in the junior and contemporary areas.
He didn’t like the Davy Crockett caps: “Back home, they will only sell to fashion victims,” he said.
Ruttenstein said the shorter jackets looked the newest and added that he liked the coats — especially the ankle-length officer looks. As for footwear, he said: “Women are going to have to have a wardrobe of boots for fall.”
James Aguiar, fashion director for rtw at Bergdorf Goodman, said the Italian fall collections were more wearable than they have been in the past.
“There was less skin, less overt sex appeal,” he said. “This time, designers played both sides: the masculine and the feminine.” He said sharper shoulders, pinstripes and lots of black were emblematic of the former look, while rushed tops, ballet and baby-doll dresses represented the latter.
Aguiar said Sixties-inspired looks were also important, as were bohemian looks, best exemplified by the Dolce & Gabbana collection, with its wide-wale corduroy and skinny leather trousers that puddle at the shoe.
“I think the idea of shorter skirts for evening is very much a new trend and empire waists look new again,” he added.
Jacqui Lividini, senior vice president of fashion merchandising at Saks Fifth Avenue, characterized the season in Milan as an “evolution” of trends already percolating in fashion. For example, she said Prada’s “phenomenal” show marched the military look forward with sleek coats and capes, ribbed leggings and shiny patent leather shoes. The look was also seen at Gucci and Max Mara.
In fabrics, Lividini cited as newsworthy velvet, lace, lure-threaded wools and all manner of furs, from closely shaved minks to longhaired goat. “Fur is being used in a whole different way,” she said.
Judy Collinson, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of Barneys New York, said she found the play of tension between military and Victorian, feminine and masculine, intriguing. “We feel it’s a very strong and interesting season,” she said. “The Chanel-inspired influences were a nice surprise with all the flat shoes and boots. These are new ideas.”
Collinson also cited a range of art-deco prints and color combinations as an important direction.