Relaxed clothes dominate Milan shows Fashion: Forget starchy go-to-work suits. Italian designers are showing easy and form-fitting clothes in their summer collections.

October 11, 1998|By Holly Hanson | Holly Hanson,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Pack your bags. The summer of 1999 is going to be one long vacation.

As Italy's spring fashion week gets under way, it's clear that the world's top fashion designers have relaxation on their minds. That was true of the handful of New York-based designers who staged an early preview of spring fashion last month in Manhattan, and it's equally true of the designers who are unveiling their spring collections this week in Milan.

Forget about starchy, stodgy go-to-work suits. Prepare to fill your closets with sundresses, cotton shorts and lacy sweaters. Set them off with colorful shoes and a utilitarian holster purse that wraps the waist.

In addition, prepare to go to the gym. So far, Milan's designers are proving particularly adept at revealing the body, with a combination of form-fitting knits, deeply slit skirts and open-back dresses.

As Milan's fashion week gains momentum, two Americans have stepped into the spotlight. Lawrence Steele, a relative newcomer to fashion's elite circle, delivered a crisp collection of cool, sexy clothes. Narciso Rodriguez, a shining star since he created the wedding dress for Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, offered a more uneven mix. Meanwhile, Romeo Gigli has returned to the ethereal style with which he made his name in the late '80s.

And some of Milan's top names - including Miuccia Prada, Donatella Versace and Anna Molinari - provided a look at their secondary lines, a taste of what's to come this week in the main collections.

Steele, a former assistant at Prada, has been a designer in search of a signature. Last season, he found one. For spring, he has refined it.

Steele's clothes have the relaxed look that has been sweeping the runways. But his are frankly sexy, cut lean and meant to reveal a lithe body underneath.

Everything about the collection suggests a summer holiday in Greece. Dresses and camisoles borrow their lines from the toga and their colors from the sand, the sea and the bleached plaster of the Greek islands.

There are crisp linen camisoles, streamlined linen shorts and loosely knitted sleeveless shells. The signature look, though, is the modernized toga dress, a narrow slip of jersey or chiffon, cinched at the waist with a skinny strip of leather wrapped round and round.

Rodriguez, another American whose business is in Milan, showed clothes that are sleek, simple, with subtle embellishment.

His spring collection has those elements, in the well-cut pants, roomy coats and fitted jackets. Unfortunately, Rodriguez is inordinately fond of the corset. He cuts it in all sizes and wraps it over the most unlikely underpinnings.

As for Gigli, he has returned to the style that made him a fashion star, with filmy embroidered jackets, angelic chiffon dresses and voluminous shawls. Though the fabrics are soft and flowing, the colors are rich, giving the garments both ease and depth.

Gigli is a bit too fond of the "Flashdance" look of oversize tunics that fall off one shoulder. Still, there is much to like in this collection, thanks to Gigli's superb sense of color and his romantic, sensual style.

A secondary collection need not be a pale imitation of a designer's signature line. Certainly, it should express the designer's point of view, but it should also have a message of its own.

Few designers pull that off as well as Prada, who gives her youthful, less expensive Miu Miu line an energetic look.

For spring, the clothes take their cues from uniforms, with sturdy polished cottons and neutral tones. Low-slung shorts team with crisp short-sleeved shirts and clever utilitarian accessories. A zippered canvas pack circles the waist and crosses over one shoulder, holster style.

For a secondary collection with a decidedly feminine approach, there's Blumarine by Molinari.

Molinari could just as well have titled her collection "I enjoy being a girl," because Blumarine is rose prints, lace trim, fur-collared cardigans and every shade of pink.

Naturally, Molinari also offers up the prettiest bride on the runways so far, dressing her in layers of pale pink chiffon.

As for the bridesmaids, they wear pink beaded slip dresses trimmed with tiny red silk roses.

Pub Date: 10/11/98

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