They played "Anchors Aweigh," the Marine Corps anthem, parade music and even taps at the Italian designer fall fashion shows here this week in an attempt to recruit converts to a military look.
After four days of showings, though, some American buyers weren't sure they wanted to sign up.
This is round one of a three-part trek for the American's to review and possibly buy their European imports for fall. The Paris shows start next week, and some buyers will detour to Florence and London before congregating in New York in late April for the American designer presentations.
Where the buyers seemed to turn against the stand-straight military look is with its khaki colors. It's not the American military tan that is, in fact, selling well in Washington and elsewhere.The khaki the Italian designers use is straight from their own uniforms, naturally, and has a greenish tone to it.
"The Italians have always loved the color but it turns me off," says Ellin Saltzman of Saks Fifth Avenue."
"I don't know of any woman to whom it is becoming," Saks Jandel's Val Cook adds.
"Fortunately, the designers offer an alternative," says Neal Fox of I. Magnin, and he is opting for burgundy in many cases.
Many buyers have been told to think twice before placing orders, too. Higher prices and a weaker dollar have made buying riskier than ever. "I've told my buyers to be very conscious of how prices will be when they (the clothes) land in the States," says Fox.
The Italians have ingenious ways to soften their military scheme. Satin blouses, smocking, shawls, bright color accents and soft skirts will look better than Sam Browne belts, berets and military insignia used in some of the shows.
Since many American designers are on the same wavelength for next fall, it is likely that some new trends will start to take hold. Among them:
Broad shoulders and a long lean look that remains roomy and unconfining but not as big and billowy as styles in the stores now. Jackets are a focal point of the whole look and range from bellboy and Air Force jacket lengths to long skinny styles. Shoulder pads, epaulets, tucking give broad shoulders to coats as well.
Pants for day return, now tapered to the hem for day and evening. Pants often were shown under dresses.
The three-quarter-length topper coat, often back-belted, is easy fitting enough to wear over a jacket.
Textures are an important to fabrics as color. They vary from boucle and poodle cloth to ribbing, rippling, shiny sat in and panne velvet. Rarely does a costume have one color and texture scheme but rather a mix of many.
Leather is light, supple and used even more frequently than normal for Italy.
The Italian collections have their stars, worthy competitors of the French. Georgio Armani is the leader of the military look. His broad-shouldered, high-neckline jackets and coats are expected to be influential. Giannin Versace and the Basile collections received buyer praise as well.
Tai and Rosita Missoni's knit collection masters new textures and color combinations in soft dress shapes, jackets, sweaters and coats. Missoni makes Italy the front runner in the knitwear business.
Italy excels at furs both in design and technical mastery and the current Fendi collection is the best of them.
The Fendis - there are five sisters in the business plus designer Karl Lagerfeld - put a strong emphasis on what Carla Fendi calls the "forgotten furs," including squirrel, weasel, mole and ferret. In their high-fashion collection, squirrel was used for a sweeping tiered cape with toes that had the effect of fringe.
"I can think of a dozen customers, including one in Washington, for that, said David Wolfe of Neiman-Marcus as the mannequin passed him on the runway. Also applauded by Wolfe and others were the basketweave and lacy effects achieved in beaver that gave it the light quality of a supple wool or silk.
The same type of technical savvy applies to the way the Italians use leather, particularly in the unlined suedes at Mario Valentino. "Every season their leathers are softer and better," says Kal Ruttenstein of Bloomingdale's, who particularly liked the ostrich-stamped leather at Basile and the shearlings at Armani.
The new crop of clothes takes on a new set of accessories. Shawls again, gloves, belts of all sorts, small hats, small shoulder bags (replacing the clutch) and colored pantyhose, sometimes worn with rolled down socks and flat shoes, are all essentials, in the eyes of Kathleen Klausner of Bergdorf-Goodman who was wearing 20 ("my entire collection") antique Chinese bracelets.
"Even if I got nothing else out of the trip I would learn a great deal from the way they present their shows," says Saks' Saltzman. Most of the designers hire more than 40 models for each show (many of them from New York). Callaghan used 47, Armani 50. Each idea is presented with a hugh cluster of models going down the runway at one time, all with variations of a particular look. Even if the look itself isn't so hot, the display is impressive and usually brings great applause.
But the most successful presentation had no runway at all. The Henri Cartier Bresson show was temporarily bumped from the Rotonda di Via Besana to make room for a Missoni retrospective including miniskirts from the late 1960s and early '70s. Models from the current collection stood in groups around pillars chatting with guests, drinking wine and posing for photographers.
"It's really remarkable" says Janet Wallach of Garfinckel's. "It's a fashion presentation where you can really see the clothes."