Have clothes, will travel Fashion: Instead of staying put in their own backyard, designers are chasing buyers with shows anywhere in the world.

March 31, 1998|By Roy H. Campbell | Roy H. Campbell,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

The U.S. designer shows this week in New York follow a wave of futuristic and new hippie looks at the recent fall previews in Milan, London and Paris.

The parade of supermodels and super fashions starts with Italian designer Donatella Versace returning the hip Versus collection to America after skipping a season following her brother's slaying last summer.

There is a week of fantastic shows, hot parties, intimate dinners and spectacular events before the U.S. collections fold up their tents Friday. The closing show is by Italian designer Giorgio Armani, who is presenting the Emporio Armani production that was kicked out of Paris under a cloud of controversy.

Hey, wait. Isn't this supposed to be the "American" collections?

Welcome to high fashion, global style.

In recent years, the borders that used to distinguish the origins of designer fashion have blurred, if not disappeared.

"The world has become a much, much smaller place, and it is so interconnected that there are no boundaries anymore," said Fern Mallis, executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which produces the U.S. shows.

It used to be that the world's fashion capitals were the provinces of that country's designers, the home base for their businesses and their semiannual seasonal fashion previews.

Historically, the Italian designers showed in their country, initially in Rome before migrating to Milan in the early 1970s. French designers showed in Paris, the British designers in London, the Americans in New York City.

Fashion chroniclers and retail buyers traveled from one city to the next in a six-week span to take in the nationalistic clothes offered for the season that was six months away. Not anymore.

"Everyone's looking to increase their market share. Designers are looking to sell to the world as their businesses go global," said Judith Agisim, a top New York fashion publicist. "Sometimes they can get more attention by showing away from home."

That explains why a few months ago Donna Karan and Calvin Klein showed their menswear in Milan, why Vivienne Westood a few years ago fled London for Paris, why Helmut Lang recently moved his shows and his business from Paris to New York, and how Gianni Versace became the toast of America three years ago by buying houses here and staging fashion shows and star-studded mega-parties.

But all this moving from turf to turf can get confusing.

For example, British designer Rifat Ozbek in the last seven years has transplanted the showing of his collection from London to Milan, then from Milan to Paris, and now from Paris to New York.

Gianfranco Ferre, an Italian-based designer, not so long ago was showing his own collection in Milan, then jetting to Paris to show the Christian Dior collection he designed. Then he headed to New York to present his lower-priced collection, Gieffeffe (the designer's initials, G.F.F., pronounced in Italian).

But the Ferre example points out two other reasons for the cross-nationalization of the semiannual collections.

One, with more fashion houses than ever before in history, competition is fierce for sales and for design talent.

Just like AT&T and other big corporations, fashion houses think nothing of dumping a designer, the fashion equivalent of a corporate CEO, when things go wrong. They look beyond their own backyards for a successor who can bring the shine back to the label.

Gucci, an old Italian house, owes its comeback to designer Tom Ford, who was born and raised in Texas.

Dior is all the buzz, thanks to Brit Galliano, couture designer to Madonna and Nicole Kidman. He has given the world yet another Dior New Look that is changing the course of fashion from minimalism to lush romanticism.

Stella McCartney, daughter of Paul and Linda McCartney, has put the Chloe house back on the fashion map.

There are many other examples of international stealing of designers.

The second reason is that, like Ferre, designers are increasingly trying to corner the marketplace by producing signature collections at a variety of price points.

Versace mastered this multicollection, multicity fashion game. Before his death, he showed his couture collection of $20,000 gowns in Paris, his signature collection of $3,000 dresses and suits in Milan, and his $300 Versus dress collection in New York.

Pub Date: 3/31/98

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