They saved the real heavy hitters, like Fendi, Krizia and Versace, to pick up the end of this week-long fashion marathon in Milan. But yesterday two collections little-known in America brought the buyers and press to their feet cheering.
Mario Valentino is best known for shoes. But yesterday's western prairie-look collection in leather and suede would make the ultimate clotheshorse feel at home on the range. If Ralph Lauren has enriched the Sante Fe look, Valentino has made it luxurious.
Imagine a printed suede shirt in bright pinks and blues, a leather kerchief tied around the neck, a vest that looks like a boucle' sweater but in fact is knitted fur and suede, a long black suede skirt with a punched suede petticoat underneath, worn with leather boots marked to look like buffalo hide. The same skirt is shown with an embroidered peasant blouse that is in fact bantamweight suede woven through with suede ribbons.
The use of leather and suede at this house is ingenious. "Whatever is new that can be done in suede they have done," said an exuberant Bruce Binder, Macy's vice president, after the show.
Two hours later another relatively unknown name, Erreuno, showed a clean, varied collection built largely on the blouson jacket in all lengths, even as a long coat. Skirt lengths vary, as do the pant lengths, ranging from just above the ankle to gauchos and bermuda lengths. The mix of prints and dark colors are often brightened with a shot of pastel or jeweled tones. "I never thought anyone could make gold look new again," admitted Kal Ruttenstein of Bloomingdale's, after the collection ended with gold coats, gauchos, even lame' blouses teamed with black velvet, silk taffeta and organza. Again the crowd, tepid in its response to collections earlier in the week, was on its feet.
The power broker in both collections? Giorgio Armani, the man who would not show his collection to the press this season, is the designer of both the Valentino and Erreuno collections, and it shows. And while he has never publicly owned up to designing for these houses before, this year he took bows at the end of both shows.
He did a show for Valentino "as a promotion, because they needed to launch their line," Armani said, as buyers kissed him after the show. Erreuno needed a show, too, "because it is not an established name," he added.
As for the collection that bears his own name, Armani said, store buyers made their purchases in New York three weeks ago. He explained it would take too much time and money to put together a runway show, which would require special clothes be made just to spice up the runway. "Without the showpieces it is like going into a battle without guns," he said.
But clearly Armani is in pain over the press criticism about his decision to show only to buyers and the fact that much of the press is ignoring him this season. "I'm suffering," he said, "I am crying more than anyone."
As he went down the runway after the Erreuno show he shook hands with photographers and raised both hands in a "V" over his head. For the moment, he had the crowd on his own terms.