MILAN-- Under gray autumn skies, Italian designers launched the spring-summer, 1991 fashion season here Sunday in a burst of color that made the runways glow like spilled boxes of Crayolas.
Sparked with Op-Art prints, mini-shapes and vivid hues borrowed from the swinging '60s, the Milanese collections are the first in an international round of women's ready-to-wear presentations that will take the hundreds of retailers and journalists here to London, Paris and New York in the six weeks ahead.
Gianni Versace, Milan's flashy couturier to the stars, dominated the first day of business with a collection worthy of Oscar night. Tossing prints of polka dots, stripes, paisleys, florals and even the faces of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe into his modish mixmaster, Versace then stitched them all together in snappy silk mini-dresses, long, shapely jackets, billowy blouses and second-skin leggings that paid splashy homage to the Florentine prince of prints Emilio Pucci.
Artfully beaded, embroidered and sequined, the same prints became dazzling for evening in long, slinky dresses and miniskirted dinner suits. Witty and happily sexy, these clothes are destined to set off flashbulbs.
Breezy is the key word here this season in collections that are seductive but not aggressively lecherous as in spring seasons past. It may be a precaution against a difficult retail outlook. As Giorgio Armani put it in his rather restrained collection of short, wrapped skirts and neatly belted jackets for his lower-priced line, Emporio Armani, the goal seems to be "heat with grace."
Laura Biagiotti took the cue with elegant cashmere T-shirt dresses in bright Mondrian-esque color blocks and linen separates vented with delicate fagoting. Leather king Mario Valentino also kept his cool with fragile suedes vividly color-blocked and airily perforated.
Things were steamier, however, at Dolce e Gabbana, where the designers celebrated their native Sicilian sun in a sizzling, if single-minded, collection of chiffon-swathed long-line bras and girdle-like mini-skirts, that could have been subtitled "lust for lingerie."
Meanwhile, the drizzly weather here wasn't the only thing to cloud the opening of the collections. Buyers from the U.S., one of Italy's top fashion customers, are coming to this market with substantially fewer and weaker dollars. Already grappling with a feeble retail climate at home, they must make their buys here against an increasingly jittery background of consumer concerns over rising oil prices, the possibility of higher taxes and the crisis in the Persian Gulf.
Such high-powered houses as Krizia, Fendi, Armani, Gianfranco Ferre and Gucci will be competing very hard to part buyers from their dollars.