MILAN’S THEME PLAYERS
AS THE ITALIAN FALL SHOWS CONTINUED, COLLECTIONS WITH STRONG THEMES WERE DOMINANT. THE MOTIFS THEMSELVES, HOWEVER, VARIED CONSIDERABLY — FROM THE BALLET AT GIORGIO ARMANI TO KARL LAGERFELD’S SPACE-AGE MOD AT FENDI AND GIANFRANCO FERRE’S TOUGH CHIC.

Giorgio Armani: The masculine-feminine dialog has engrossed Milanese designers all week, and nobody can bring more to the discussion than Giorgio Armani. He has spent his career engaged by the debate and experimenting with its boundaries. While last season he focused on the chic gamine, for fall, he went softer, inspired by the world of ballet. Still he played to both sides, addressing, he wrote in his program notes, “a woman who, like a ballerina, is strong yet delicate, ethereal yet precise.”
Of course, neither kitsch nor costumery would ever make its way to an Armani runway; his vision is focused too clearly on reality and the needs of his customers. As a result, most of the day clothes only referenced the theme in their graceful lines and orderly calm. And if the mood turned too quiet at times, the clothes were usually beautiful. Armani sent out his jackets in plentiful numbers, most cut close to the body. A group in men’s wear stripes, each slightly varied from the next, spoke to the impact of subtle differences; the structure of two small, shapely black jackets countered the flou of Armani’s new pants. Now about those pants — could the designer really think that double- and triple-tier pants will be the next big thing? But virtually everything else worked well: the little wrap-and-tie knits, some fabulous chenilles, his lineup of great coats, in fur, leather or graphic patterns.
At night, Armani was, in a word, brilliant, with a bounty of exquisite full-skirted dresses, a layer of tulle veiling elaborate embroidery. After his corps de ballet dazzled the crowd in midnight blue, his prima ballerina closed the show in high-voltage red, the kind that shines on any stage — fashion, dance or the Shrine Auditorium.

Fendi: Are you ready for a Courreges moment? Karl Lagerfeld sure is. The Fendi collection he showed on Sunday was a veritable ode to Andre and his Mod-gone-Space-Age style. It’s remarkable that Lagerfeld can leap from gladiator to astro-chic in one season, but we all know he’s a man of vast interests. Lately, he has built his Fendi collections around singular themes — warrior princess, logomania, the richest of rich hippies — but within those concepts, let the ideas fly. Here his focus couldn’t have been narrower, a choice that may have had as much to do with pragmatic as artistic concerns. Fendi is still in the midst of a reorganization following the 1999 sale of 51 percent of the house to the Prada-LVMH joint venture.
Fur maven Paola Fendi left the company immediately, and some people have speculated that other family members may be ready to cash out, although last month, Yves Carcelle, head of the fashion and leather goods division at LVMH, told WWD that the goal for Fendi “is to ease its transition from a wholesale to a retail business….Also, it is important for us to make those changes knowing that the family is on board, working with us.” Spring deliveries have apparently been horrific, and production of the fall show samples fell behind, with many of the clothes not arriving in Milan until late Saturday.
If the internal picture is so in flux, Lagerfeld was no doubt wise to keep things simple. He flaunted the kind of stark, audacious lines that rocked fashion back in the Sixties, and they still looked great. The whole thing played like a Judy Jetson convention for rich girls, as the models paraded by in layers of short, crisp whites, with only the occasional shot of gray or black tossed in. The footwear of choice: high white go-go boots. If Nancy Sinatra had as many, she’d be walking all over people still.
Despite the slim range of shapes, Lagerfeld kept the clothes plenty interesting with all sorts of distinctive details. He cut porthole windows into the sides of an embossed leather dress, put a hammered metal collar on a coat, and trimmed a sheared mink mini in ivory lace. Often, he showed fluttery little nothings under structured coats and dresses, and added the fluff of a fur jabot.
On that subject, of course, the furs were amazing. This season, Lagerfeld especially fancies mink, one in wide, alternating stripes of sheared and long, another corseted with external metal boning, still another inset with a flowered leather belt. As for the sheared mink corduroy, we saw a similar treatment less than 24 hours before at Jil Sander. But whether it’s a case of newly shared resources or mere coincidence, who’s to say?

Gianfranco Ferre: Perhaps nobody in fashion has more gall than Gianfranco Ferre. Season after season, he celebrates his arch-glam muse, a woman who’s lived life and fashion the hard way and loves it, bondage, brashness, drama and all. Hers is the most opinionated kind of style: never neutral, always in-your-face. And in the fall collection he showed on Sunday, it looked terrific.
Ferre is one of fashion’s original champions of Tough Chic, and many of today’s younger practitioners owe him a debt. He knows how to mix extremes of soft and hard and come out a winner, as with the fabulous overstated poet’s blouses that billowed and bunched over killer leather pants and stilettos. And if he shows a perfect sleek suit under the cover of a fur-lined biker jacket, so what? Those biker elements turned up again and again, sometimes with relative discretion, and at others, with overt aggression. Beneath it all, the designer’s cut and quality are exquisite, and when you strip away the theatrical accoutrements, his suits and coats look fabulous, the former in pinstripes, the latter, in corduroy or camelhair.
Yes, Ferre showed all the signature trappings, the corsets, the fur flourishes, the sharp angles. And why stop there when there’s evening to conquer? His woman can work her siren side in clingy cutout jerseys or go for adult romance in a spectacular corset gown in jeweled navy chiffon. Either way, she’ll slay you.