THAT’S UNDERSTANDABLE
MILAN’S STRONG SUIT HAS LONG BEEN ITS WAY WITH BEAUTIFUL, WEARABLE CLOTHES. AND FROM MAX MARA’S MILITARY JACKETS TO STRENESSE’S SILK JERSEY DRESSES, THE MESSAGE WAS CLEAR: PURE AND SIMPLE WINS THE RACE.

Max Mara and Sportmax: Fashion cadets, forward march! Head straight to a Max Mara store near you, because, come this spring, it’s going to be packed with some great, wearable clothes. In the mood for a smart, military-inspired jacket and skirt or a sexy technicolor-striped blouse and slim cargo pants? Well, there’s plenty here, as well as a whole slew of practical shirtdresses, low-cut vests and matching trousers, or relaxed-fit jackets and wide-leg pants. Dynamite! So was the eveningwear, especially the beaded kimono dresses with delicate embroidery or velvet wrap tops trimmed in tulle.
Sportmax, on the other hand, like many other collections this season, referenced the past — the Eighties via Nicolas Ghesquiere’s sensibility. There’s no doubt that Ghesquiere, who designs for both Balenciaga and Callaghan, has influenced a multitude of people here. But literal translations are just unnecessary. Case in point: the cigarette pants with zippered bottoms, the animal-print fencing jackets and even the shredded knits and tulle accoutrements on jersey T-shirts. Nevertheless, Sportmax wasn’t without fresh ideas. Some of the dirt-splattered denim looked great, including a sexy pair of low-riding jeans and a snug jacket.

GFF Gianfranco Ferre: For spring, Gianfranco Ferre set out to design “a basic wardrobe for a modern woman,” and he’s certainly succeeded. This collection, which in past seasons has often been hard to understand, is straightforward — and most of all, feminine. What could be easier than a laser-cut stretch wool suit, a long, fluid jersey dress, a knee-length linen and nylon jacket over trousers or a fitted leather jacket? Black-and-white was the mainstay of the collection, from subtly striped knits and white linen trousers with graphic black appliques to Ferre’s signature white blouses. His only shots of color were reserved for a group of lacquered, embroidered leathers in screeching shades of acid green, aqua and rose.

Trend Les Copains: A little bit of boudoir, a little bit of bourgeois and a whole lot of glam went into a lineup that seemed to be headed for Las Vegas by way of Cherbourg — the tiny French town famous for its umbrellas. A bustling full skirt done up in a nostalgic floral, a re-modeled version of the sequin cardigan of yore and tiny ginghams transported the collection on the first leg of its journey. Then, rhinestone-studded tunic tops and leggings kicked in. If it all sounds a little weird, it wasn’t — it was really, really weird. Apparently the company is trying a little too hard to live up to its trendy name.

Antonio Berardi: Throughout his career, Antonio Berardi has played the part of fashion storyteller. Captivated by heroines in distress or strong, sexy types who like to be in charge, he spins his fashion tales with intricate staging, elaborate hair and makeup and clothes that scream theatricality. For spring, however, he did a complete 180 degrees, presenting a no-fuss, straightforward presentation and — dare we say it — wearable clothes. You know, the kind of clothes that are usually back in the showroom. But this time, Berardi displayed them center stage. He dumped the hijinks of the past, and all the sparkle went out of the collection. Sure, there were some very beautiful cotton suits in black or white, trimmed with elastic banding or a satin lapel and thin T-shirt dresses that fell sexily off one shoulder. But a white turtleneck and pencil skirt? Or a computer-printed camisole and cotton trousers? Or even a chiffon slip dress cut on the bias? The concepts were so banal that he left his audience baffled. When he did indulge in a bit of fantasy, it was with a mint green pleated chiffon dress gathered up into a diaper, like harem pants. And, alas, that is how this messy story ends.

Bally: When Texas Pacific Group, the leveraged buyout fund, bought Bally last year, their goal was to restore its polish and position it in luxury’s big league. And they’re on the right path. Creative director Scott Fellows’s first women’s collection was simple, direct and true to Bally’s tradition of practical glamour. There were sand-colored suede skirts and shirtdresses, supple leather trenches and red leather trousers with pinhole perforations. Accessories, of course, were everywhere. This season, Bally has unveiled an athletic shoe called Free with a leather sole and a Swiss cross on the back, and a high-heeled pump called Taramia, so supple that you can bend it in half. The firm also plans to open its first new-generation store in Singapore this week, and the second in Berlin in December. Other new shops in Beverly Hills and San Francisco are scheduled to make debuts within the next year.

La Perla: This innerwear company, known for its sexy, sophisticated lingerie, brought that same sensibility to its ready-to-wear. In a collection that was all about sex appeal and femininity, the jersey gowns in linear black and white prints and the hot pink streamlined numbers were perfect for a glamourous beachside soiree in St. Tropez. And what could be more alluring than the pretty lace pieces in brown and peach floral patterns?

Frette: Luxury makes the Frette world go round. After all, the company was built on it. Its exquisite linens have been the favorite of royals, sultans and movie stars for years, and now they’re pushing the lifestyle concept with a slew of new products: scented candles, perfumed water for ironing, sheared mink blankets and homewear. This season, the homewear, which can also venture outside, focuses on belted cardigans, tank tops and boatneck sweaters worn over fluid pants, all in cashmere and silk.
In an effort to expand the business, Frette has hired Cristina Azario, formerly of Donna Karan, as its creative director to oversee all design. And according to Gianluigi Facchini, Frette’s general manager, the new projects are expected to fatten the company’s balance sheets, with retail sales expected to leap 50 percent from $10 million in 2000 to $15 million in 2001.

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