They saved the best for the last at the Italian ready-to-wear fall shows here this week. After 50 or so designers shows which many say provided the best season in several years, it was Giorgio Armani and the Fendi furs that really got the crowds to their feet.
At the Fendi show designer Karl Lagerfeld took bows for the first time, racing down the runway with some of the Fendi sisters and at least 40 models while the audience stood and cheered. The estimated $5-million fur collection was more luxurious than anyone had ever seen.
At Giorgio Armani, the final show for 200 buyers and press, shouts of "Bravo" began when Armandi, dressed in a blue sweatshirt and brown leather pants, sent out models wearing his first evening collection. Models crossed three prodiums built like glass-top tea tables in a tea house with rice paper walls that Armani had constructed inside his 16th-century palazzo.
There's no question about how Armani feels about pants. This season he has buried the skirt, replace the evening gown with sleek black pants costumes, long and short, and discarded the coat for a poncho wrap.
Armani, whose business is now $115 million worldwide, reaffirmed what he started last year. His new jacket shape with rounded shoulders is an unbuttoned spencer with kimono lapels. Blouses often have front pleats, and his new pants now have a curved shape that makes them shorter on the sides.
"Women must always be comfortable and pants offer that," he said at a dinner in his apartment Monday night. He pointed out his friends and associates, who were wearing his shorts and sitting comfortably on the floor on pillows. "It gives women assurance to wear pants," Armani says.
His new collection might have a bit of trouble at the White House, where pants have been considered inappropriate for several administrations. But that will change, says Dawn Mello of Bergdorf-Goodman, "He has revolutionized the character of the ball gown -- it changes the way women will look for evening," she said. She admitted that when she first bought Armani's culottes a year ago she was very skeptical, "but they sold very fast."
The Oriental mood of the clothes took its cue from a book on Japanese prints and was reaffirmed when he saw the movie "Kagemusha." "I love the spaciousness, the essentialness of things Japanese," he said.
If opulence wasn't the goal at Armani, it was the name of the game at the Fendi show, where furs like squirrel and mole were made to look just as regal as the $150,000 unlined sables.
If the styles are indeed classical, the inventiveness and workmanship of the Fendis is unique. This year they have printed shearling, sheared squirrel, rubberized Spanish lamb (it makes it more durable and shiny) and sueded beaver, and added new colors and workmanship to ermine, chincilla and sable so that even fur expert David Wolfe of Neiman-Marcus was occasionally stumped trying to identify them.
The Fendis continue to find new things to do with squirrel fur mostly because it is lightweight and available. The skins are small and demand much labor in preparing them which makes them so expensive, says Wolfe. Several coats were made up in squirrel necks and heads giving an unusual affect.
Last year, the Fendis hid some of their furs under the cover of cloth coats. This year, there are many cloth coats but there is no concern for the obvious display of furs. "Such luxury exists in periods when you have a gap between upper and lower classes," says Stella Blum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art's costume curator. Fashion needs support, needs to be worn. It will gear itself to those who can afford it. These are not quite the luxury of the Renassance, but we haven't seen such richness since the 1930s and 1950s."