U.S. designers go shopping in Europe

October 16, 1991|By Woody Hochswender | Woody Hochswender,N.Y. Times

LAKE COMO, Italy -- The Milan fashion shows ended last week and store buyers and fashion editors dispersed, some on holiday to Spain, others to London for the British designer shows. Several American retailers and designers made their way an hour north of Milan to Lake Como, the heart of Italy's silk industry and scene of Ideacomo, the seasonal fabric show.

While all eyes are on the spring 1992 collections, it is already time to order the fabrics for fall 1992. This is where the fashion odyssey begins.

Among those moving from booth to booth in the convention center were Donna Karan, Rebecca Moses and Louis Dell'Ollio of Anne Klein. Neiman Marcus executives were on the watch for fine woolens to turn into private-label jackets and skirts. Jerry Lauren, Ralph's brother, scouted silk for ties.

Karan and her Italian-speaking fabric assistant, Christina Azario, sifted through thousands of carded fabric samples, very few of which they will order. They do not want what everybody else can get.

"I don't look for specific, novel fabrics," Karan said as she perused the racks of fine tartan wool, fuzzy boucl'e and elasticizzato. "If I want novelty, I develop it myself. I sit here and say, 'This is nice, but let's do something else.'"

It would be revealing too much to say what she seeks, but it is something more than another good yarn.

"I'm looking for the next construction," Karan said. "I want the thing that Lycra was in the 80's. I want the next step."

It is an arduous process, with much fondling, pulling and bilingual discussions of fabric. It can also be somewhat amusing, as when a middle-aged salesman pulls out a card of fabric and holds it up to his leg, chorus-girl style, to see how it would drape as a skirt. In the end, all the legwork may just pay off in a new synthesis of yarns, weave, dye and finish that could change the shape of clothes.

"This is what I love about fashion," Karan said.

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