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MILAN — Italian designers are dreaming of romantic getaways to Africa and India, and retailers are happy to go along for the ride. Calling it a solid Milan season, buyers said they’re upbeat for spring, and they’re embracing such looks as shrunken jackets, prairie skirts and wedge-heeled shoes. Retailers noted that customers are mixing and matching more than ever, and the season offers plenty of special pieces with arts-and-crafts touches to do just that.

Joan Kaner, senior vice president, fashion director, Neiman Marcus: “I think it’s an interesting season in terms of individual pieces like the peasant skirt. We’re seeing a lot more volume from the designers. We think the ethnic look is an easy take for dressing; you can wear a piece of it or you can wear it head to toe. Miuccia Prada is very influential. She’ll lead the way for the next season, for the fall. Missoni, Blumarine, Prada, Etro, they were all great. The lady is still interested in pretty. I think next season she’ll be ready for something different.”

Sue Patneaude, executive vice president of designer apparel, Nordstrom: “We thought it was a lot of fun. We called it Milan’s Wild Kingdom. We liked the exotic destinations, including Roberto Cavalli’s Garden of Eden and the tropical and natural themes in general. We really liked Donatella’s sea colors and fabulous feminine dresses. We also liked the multicultural themes, like Cavalli’s tribal mask-inspired beaded dresses and the Hawaiian influence at Cheap & Chic. We loved Missoni and the evolved Pucci collection. Gianfranco Ferré did a great job with the animal theme.”

Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president of fashion direction, Bloomingdale’s: “It’s a strong season for us in Milan. There is no hard-edged tailoring. The news is a softer silhouette with an emphasis on the skirt. Armani’s new color palette is exciting for our customers. He surprised us with flashes of bright color. Dolce & Gabbana found new ways to embellish, such as jewels with snakeskin and lace combined with denim. Miuccia Prada continues to amaze us with her narrow body-skimming silhouette in shorter lengths with flat shoes. It’s the next direction to come.”

This story first appeared in the October 4, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Janet Brown, owner, Janet Brown, Port Washington, N.Y.: “This is one of the strongest Milan spring seasons in years. The ethnic direction can be focused into a wonderful formula of color and excitement. The clothes are feminine and close to the body. I think Jil’s new collection is soft, feminine, artistic and brilliant. Marni was color-me-beautiful. As for Donatella Versace, the lady is no longer a tramp. And Missoni had something for everyone.”

Julie Gilhart, vice president and fashion director, Barneys New York: “I thought Milan was great. It gave retailers some very salable clothes. The big added bonus was that it was the best collection of accessories that we’ve seen in a long time. [In clothes], there were more detailed prints, more interesting colors and more sparkle. I thought the Jil Sander collection was completely perfect. Once again, Miuccia Prada gave us a lot of new ideas. She did a Seventies style but made it current. Marni had so much charm, and the clothes had such technique, even though they looked effortless. Versace was on point, a very salable and wonderful collection.”

Scott Tepper, fashion director, Henri Bendel: “It was a continuation of the femininity that we’ve seen in New York and from fall. We loved all the chiffons, especially those with embellishment like those at Pollini, Blumarine and Missoni. It was a very glamorous season, from the white group at Armani and the embellished dresses at Pucci to the best spring show and collection for Fendi we’ve seen in years. Also, it was a phenomenal Dolce & Gabbana show. In a python season, all of their mixes were innovative, and the whole presentation was so glamorous. And,we really love the new cleaned-up Versace.”

Michael Fink, senior fashion director, Saks Fifth Avenue: “We’re calling [the Milan season] Romantic Globetrotter. We saw a woman [who was] very feminine, with lots of ruffles, but done in a soft, sophisticated color palette. The globetrotter refers to all the side trips she takes, to India with all these elaborate, exquisite embroideries and to Africa, with bold prints and all kinds of animal prints. She might as well be on a safari. For show highlights, we loved Marni, Blumarine, Missoni and Prada and the whole fact that Prada stripped away all the ornamentation and went with a slim silhouette.”

Haru Suzuki, head of fashion merchandising, Barneys New York Japan: “I think that, before the Milan collections, people were expecting ethnic and bohemian looks, so none of that was a surprise. Still, each designer did it his or her own way. There were a lot of dresses, beautiful jackets and middle-length skirts that were sophisticated and are items that customers will like to try on. I thought Jil Sander was very beautiful. It had an ethnic feeling but in a sophisticated way. Miu Miu had a Sixties and Seventies feel to it, but the colors were kind of Mexican. It was earthy but very fresh. There were nice prints and nice dresses. I also liked Marni, and I was surprised to like DSquared — it had a cool and sexy look.”

Jeffrey Kalinsky, owner, Jeffrey New York and Jeffrey Atlanta.“I feel buoyant. There is a tremendous amount of commerce in Milan and a lot of exciting clothes. I thought that the Jil Sander show was tremendous. I loved her vision. It was beautiful and light. She educates me, and I love to learn. How much can I say about Marni? Marni defines my shop. Jeffrey equals Marni. I thought the Versace show was tremendous. From the opening dress to the scarf print to the gold python, it was just wow. I don’t know if enough can be said about Miuccia. She’s at the top of her game. I absolutely adored the fresh sweetness of Burberry.”

Joyce Ma, principal, Joyce in Hong Kong: “There was a lot of continuation but nothing that was creatively new. There were prints and embroidery that the Italians are so good at. Jil Sander was wonderful. Marni had some new forms that weren’t so tight and sexy. I liked Missoni, Etro, Alessandro Dell’Acqua, Maurizio Pecoraro, Antonio Berardi. There’s so much workmanship in the clothes. We know Dolce & Gabbana and Armani and the other big names, but now it’s time to support the secondary tier. I want to support the less well-known designers.”