It's almost impossible to get a reservation at any of the fancy restaurants here. Stores are so crowded with customers that occasionally the doors must be shut to avoid breaking fire regulations. Many women are wearing furs -- sable, mink, even some of the endangered spotted furs that no one would dare wear in the United States are showing up increasingly.
The Milanese are feeling very rich these days.
"People here are having a hard time spending their money," says Aldo Pinto, business partner and husband of designer Mariuccia Mandelli, considered by some the elder statesman of the fashion crowd. "There is no real estate left to invest in around here. People are spending their money buying clothes and going out to dinner."
Even though there were demonstrations by strikers from auto parts factories at the opening night of La Scala opera house, there was none of the ugliness of a similar scene on the same occasion in 1968, Pinto says, when the striking workers tossed cabbages and tomatoes at the theatergoers. "It wasn't really a problem. No one felt threatened," he says of this year's opening night.
It's clear that Italian designers have not only noticed that it is okay to look rich again, but have designed a fair share of their fall collections to satisfy this taste for things expensive and luxurious.
Rich fabrics such as velvet, lame', brocade and matelasse' have been shown by almost every designer. Glitter, shine and patterns are added even to leather, and often meant to be worn by day. Even shoes are sprinkled with sequins or highlighted with metallics.
Patterns are borrowed from tapestries and carpets, and, to stretch a point, the designers show a weakness for colors in shades of ruby, emerald, sapphire and turquoise, as well as gold and silver. To stretch a point still further -- the jodhpurs and ski pants included in most collections certainly have their origins among the rich.
Gianni Versace, who has always liked his clients to look rich, subtly mixes velvets with wools for daywear. He enriches his velvets with patterns and quilting, and his leathers and shearlings are given fancy treatments that not only make them look more luxurious but undoubtedly make them more expensive, too.
He's even gussied up his metallic mesh dresses by decorating them with glitzy pins.
"All these elaborate fabrics seem to work well because they're done in simple, familiar shapes," says Aniko Gaal, fashion director for Garfinckel's. "And besides, you only have to wear a small amount of it."
Krizia has added the sly fox to her collection of animal designs adorning her sweaters this season, and even the fox is dressed to kill in jeweled sunglasses and bow tie, with a long cigarette holder. The designer, Mariuccia Mandelli, has always liked her jeweled sweaters worn during the day.
Mandelli showed jodhpurs last season after falling in love with a painting of the horsy set by Tamara de Lempicke, according to her husband. She's showing them again, in velvet for fall, as well as the popular stretch stirrup pants and the soft skinny trousers one often sees as part of traditional Indian dress. Mandelli's skinny pants are usually in silk prints, one style shown in green silk with a velvet tuxedo jacket and a white Nehru-collar shirt.
Near the end of her show Mandelli sent down the runway an ensemble fit for an Indian princess -- a tunic and pants in gold, with a top embroidered with large fake jewels. To crown the look, the model wore a turban with a huge pearl swinging down over her forehead.
Keith Varty, the designer for the firm Byblos, who is very popular with young people here as well as in the States, had pegged his sweater patterns to kilim rugs even before he took a Christmas trip to Turkey. His wool prints are based on the spicy colors and rich patterns of tapestries, and he mixes them effectively with Shetland tweeds.
For evening he has dipped everything in gold or silver. His sweater sets, for example, are black and metallic, overdecorated in tapestry patterns. They are usually shown with sleek black jersey pants and lame' shoes.
It was Varty, 33, a red-haired Englishman, who was the first in Italy to show white as a color for winter, and got young women to wear snowflake patterns and scottie dogs on their sweaters and lace as an accessory with casual clothes.
Varty has recently started to make clothes for men, borrowing some of the fabrics and combinations used in his women's collection, and they have sold very well. For fall the carpet patterns in hand-knit sweaters work equally well for both sexes.
But he has also adapted his glitter for menswear, suggesting gold lame' Nehru jackets worn over white shirts and black cuffed pants for evening. That may be a little hard for Washington men to swallow.