RELISHING THE RETURN TO FEMININITY
Byline: Samantha Conti
MILAN — If ever there was a woman committed to luxurious dressing, it is the Milanese designer Luisa Beccaria.
Last fall, eight months pregnant with her fifth child, Beccaria would insist on teetering down Via Manzoni dressed in dizzyingly high heels, slim woolen suits and antique jewelry, just to do some shopping or take one of her children to get a hair cut.
For Beccaria, glamour is as much a part of her everyday life as say, changing diapers or sitting down to lunch with her family, which is why she’s pleased — but not at all surprised — about the return to feminine dressing.
Beccaria, who designs ready-to-wear and custom collections under her own name, is also feeling a little overwhelmed: her business, which has always been about ladylike dressing — even during fashion’s most minimal moments — has begun to take off. Sales this year are expected to double, reaching $3.6 million.
“I could feel the shift coming on, just by watching the customers in my store,” said Beccaria during an interview in her studio on the third floor of her apartment in the city center. “They were tired of minimalism, tired of dressing in the same uniform. They were looking for some fantasy and a way to express their individuality in the daytime as well as in the evening.”
On Tuesday, Beccaria plans to show what she describes as a “glamorous, couture-like” spring collection packed with treated, printed and embellished fabrics. There are linens and silks embroidered with mother-of-pearl beads and Swarovski crystals, skirt suits with grosgrain ribbon trim, dresses with plisse and eyelet details and faded poppy prints.
“I used a lot of simple fabrics and treated them in a couture-ish way,” she said.
In addition, there are little black cocktail dresses, and pantsuits with tops that are open in the back. The palette includes cream, white, black and red.
“I’m thinking of an extravagant woman, but one with taste. A daring personality. Ladylike but not boring. Extravagant but not tacky,” said Beccaria. Accessories include shoes with gold heels, and embroidered handbags. Wholesale prices range from $454 for an evening dress or wool suit to $363 for a wool or silk dress.
(Dollar figures are converted from lire at current exchange rates).
“I had never heard of her before, and as soon as I saw the fall collection, I was smitten,” said American boutique owner Linda Dresner. “It has a grand, old-fashioned, Old World elegance reminiscent of the Duchess of Windsor. It is genteel with a vintage feel and is unlike anything else available in the market.”
Dresner said the collection was selling well and that bestsellers included a satin blouse with a pleated collar and cuffs, a pale Lurex metallic tweed skirt, crepe or embroidered chiffon dresses with Peter Pan collars.
Beccaria, who hails from an old Milanese family and is a descendant of the 19th century Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria, began designing in 1979 and showed her first couture collection in Paris in 1992. Three years later, she left the Paris runways, and began showing her ready-to-wear collection in Milan where she still has a showroom and boutique. Her clients range from European aristocrats — including Francesca Thyssen von Hapsburg and Lorenza von Lichtenstein — to celebrities such as Whitney Houston and Marisa Berenson.
In the U.S., her retailer clients include Barneys New York, Henri Bendel, Dresner and Jeffrey. She also has her own boutique in Milan’s Brera district.
Beccaria said she’s been forced to re-structure the business to handle the swelling number of orders.
“I’m used to being a niche designer, the person women would turn to when they needed a special-occasion dress,” she said. “Now, for the first time in my life, clients want to buy everything. They’re even skipping the visit to the showroom and ordering straight from the look book.”