THE WILDER SHORES

MILAN — Each season, as the moda machine gets rolling, all the hype centers on a relatively small number of houses, the megadesigners and the small, influential types whose every move is painstakingly chronicled. What will Tom do? Miuccia? What about Veronique next week in Paris? But, while their muses may dominate conversation, they’re not the only girls around. In Milan this week, characters from ballerinas to Bolsheviks pirouetted, marched or otherwise stormed the runways to get in on the fashion party. Let’s start with those commies and their countrymen. They may have no economy to speak of, but their rich history is ripe for fashion to mine. Etro, a house known for its prints, took inspiration from all aspects of Russian culture. Silk blouses looked like Ukranian Easter eggs, while folkloric peasant patterns were worked into skirts. But since those Soviets were no laugh riot, the house also gave a nod to military and proletarian chic in assorted greens — a bit drab and not for everyone. Still, Etro’s designers seemed more comfortable with a lighter mood, shown in embroidered tweed coats and leather biker jackets — red, of course.
Patty Shelabarger looked eastward, as well, in a lively ode to the Tokyo Girl. She sent out coats and suits in riotous colors, and even her denim glowed with citron and hot pink piping.
And speaking of color, what’s black and white and red all over? No, not a wounded nun (although there could be room for her, too, at fashion’s feast), but Iceberg’s fall collection. It started with sweet flower-print knits before morphing into a play on Tough Chic and Eighties power dressing. And if the design team went a bit overboard with sequins, too much is what the Eighties were all about.
Antonio Berardi had a lot on his mind this season, too — two collections and a huge cast of characters — geishas, gladiators, newsboys and that old party-girl favorite, the dominatrix diva, to name a few. In his signature collection, Berardi went overboard in getting them all dressed, with tricks like backward or mambo jackets. But his colorful shearlings looked great, and as for those Union Jack boots — what better way to flag one’s feet?
That English eccentricity carried over to Exte, where Berardi said he was inspired by the stylist Ray Petri, creator of the Eighties so-called “Buffalo Style.” Petri’s idea was to mix pieces that wouldn’t normally go together, and Berardi took that thought to heart, draping jersey dresses around emerald bra tops, and putting a green fox jacket with cargo pants. But then, with the pants cut into bloomers, anything goes, as Cole Porter would say.
Such contrasts are a staple in fashion. You’re familiar with the schoolgirl who has been turning up since New York? She took a sinister turn at Lawrence Steele, in black leather sailor tops and pleated skirts, before giving in to her Lolita alter ego in chiffon baby dolls, puffed sleeves and polkadots.
Most people think of ballet as a gentle world, but the new line Le Flesh, launched here this week, took a different approach. Former Bottega Veneta designers Edward Buchanan and Manuela Morin staged their presentation in a dance studio, and drew on the lines and colors of ballet for their clothes. They wrapped their models in cashmere and ribbed angora, asymmetric kimono-style tops and soft cabled skirts. But they delivered it all with a sharp, sculptural attitude that subtly winked at the Eighties. The young pair said the line is “experimental and a learning season,” but if you’re buying, they’re selling. And in the end, that’s what all of this is all about.