They went to the polls in France and Germany today to make important political choices. But here in Milan, some of the most thoughtful decisions were made along the runways, where top Italian designers are showing their collections on this opening day of the fall ready-to-wear showings. Among the alternatives: long skirts or short, skinny, fitted clothes or full ones, dark colors or brights.
The more than 2,000 buyers and press who moved into Milan on the heels of the Italian Communist Congress were expecting to find and choose a little of each, and in the next month, they'll trek from Milan to London to Paris and New York to put their money on clothes they hope customers will find irresistible.
Giorgio Armani, who a year ago banned the press from seeing his collection and who has suffered from skillful neglect since, particularly in the trade paper Women's Wear Daily, was the first to show his collection to the fashion crowd.
Armani showed his clothes on hangers in his spacious new boutique on the Via S. Andrea. The huge shop, once a dry cleaner, was recently redone with a sleek, modern interior in cream and black with floors to match in rubber and metal. And the once banned press was invited to study photographs and even touch his new designs.
These inanimate displays, accessorized with hats, gloves and shoes, showed off well Armani's preoccupation with fabrics this year. He uses bold graphic patterns and magnified textures with a penchant for black and white, black and brown, accents of red and even an unexpected dose of peach.
The shape of his new clothes does little to distract from the fabric. They are mostly clean, undecorated and skinny, except for some big coats. The effect is more like 1963 than 1983.
"Actually I've been thinking about the 1930s," said Armani, who posed for photographs, was interviewed by television and kissed almost everyone in sight as the buyers and press circulated through the boutique. He looked very Georgetown University preppie in his navy pullover, striped button-down shirt (with a white T-shirt showing underneath), gray flannel trousers and oxblood suede shoes.
"The 1930s was a sad time but an elegant time," said Armani, who hinted in French that the bad economy then as now might have influenced his collection.
Downstairs, he had set up a small studio to show a film of his new clothes on three blond models with straight chin-length hair, reminiscent of that seen in the movie "Last Year at Marienbad." In Armani's film, the models walked in the street, visited museums, stopped at a boutique (his, of course) and went out for the evening. They made it clear that for anyone with the least bit of shape, his evening clothes, with necklines that plunge to the waist and hemlines that curve up almost as far, were not practical for much more than standing still.
Finally there was a chance to see Armani's designs being worn when his collection for Erreuno was shown on a runway in a nearby movie house. Suddenly, on the more than 50 models, there were variations on what he had displayed in his boutique: fitted jackets and skinny skirts (often four inches above the knee), back-button tunics, tent dresses, princess dresses and coat dresses, all very short, too, and above-ankle pants.
There were reminders of his earlier collections as well, including his pinched jackets, culottes, pants with yokes, and jackets that look as though they have sweaters tied over them. For evening he added more glitz, including lots of crinkled metallics and a number of short, strapless chemises with coats to go with them.
In both collections the models wore natural or white hosiery, sometimes so shiny they looked like Lycra dance hose, high heels, gloves and hats. Even a number of the evening things were shown with hats.
"I was afraid everything in Milan was going to be an adaptation of the Japanese," said Bruce Binder, a vice president at Macy's, who liked Armani's feminine fitted styles.
But others were not as pleased. "He has studied too hard the 1930s and the sketches of Balenciaga as well as the later designs of Jacques Tisseau," said Roberto Devorik, who has shops called Regine's in London and Los Angeles.
"It's de'ja vu, too sophisticated and difficult to sell," said Don Norton, vice president of Batus, the parent company of Saks Fifth Avenue and Marshall Field. A few around him suggested Norton temper his comments. Answered Norton, "If you can't be honest at my age, forget it."