Henry VIII's sleeves, Paul Revere's breeches, Marilyn Monroe's skirts and Lorenzo de Medici's coats.
These fashion fragments from the past are recast for the future in Milan this week as Italy's most famous designers set the stage for next fall's fashions.
As the cast might suggest, the story is one of extremes. Lorenzo's voluminous coats, for example, cover Marilyn's tight skirts. Henry's cornucopian sleeves shelter skinny pullovers above matching knee pants. And Paul Revere's breeches with bagged-out knees are worn below roomy jackets.
This wide-over-narrow look appears in every major collection, from Fendi's full-circle sheared weasel coats over black-knit body suits to Gianfranco Ferre's long belted jackets over short narrow skirts.
Gianni Versace started the week off with the hit collection featuring such new ideas as jodhpur-like pants cut to round out at the knees instead of the sides, coats that are shaped and seamed like pumpkins and evening dresses made of chain mail printed with Op Art graphics.
Versace's most directional look is fuchsia jersey tunics that are seamed to flare over narrow, lavender jersey skirts, the season's tightest tube dresses made totally comfortable via all-over smocking and remarkable long silk crepe column dresses with loose side panels that form do-it-yourself folds and drapes wherever the models place them. The look is sure, sophisticated and svelte.
Mariuccia Mandelli's new animal sweaters for Krizia feature Lupus italicus, the Italian gray wolf, which she uses all by itself or grouped in packs. In a season filled with smoky colors, Krizia's grays look right. So are Mandelli's silver looks, which include silver-flecked wools for suits and silver brocades and lightweight silks for evening. The hip is emphasized at Krizia, in suits wrapped with knitted obis, then snugged to the body with leather belts.
Gianfranco Ferre won a standing ovation for his fall collection that includes suits with jackets cut so the backs hang straight and the fronts fall in skirtlike fullness below cinch belts. This full-in-front, straight-in-back look is repeated in coats, including a knockout version in fleecy red alpaca.
The sweater award of the season goes to Ferre for his long pullovers of pale gray poodle cloth, which he shows over pale yellow silk pants. Ferre, whose collection was attended by Britain's Princess Michael of Kent, also manages to make the simplest black cashmere coat look like the most important invention of the season by sashing it in black satin ribbon and shaping the bow on the diagonal.
Other noteworthy Ferre touches include simple black dresses with buttonholes top-stitched in gold thread or zipped with gold zippers.
The song that kicked off the Fendi collection, Billy Ocean's "When the Going Gets Tough," seems to symbolize the attitude of this city's major designers, who have added fashion value to compensate for the falling dollar value. At Fendi that means furs such as golden summer ermine worked to look like fish scales, kolinsky (china mink) printed to simulate fish nets and weasel made to resemble cut velvet and shown alongside matching cloth coats worked in the same technique.
In this opulent collection lavished with Henry VIII sleeves and Lorenzo's palazzo-sweeping coats, there is intrinsic fur value as well as fashion value. Broadtail makes a comeback at Fendi. The classic luxury pelts star in sable, ermine, Russian lynx and mink, and there's a million-dollar idea for women wondering what to do with their old fur stoles. The answer: Follow Karl Lagerfeld's lead and sew the two ends together, transforming an oblong into a ring. Lagerfeld uses these fur neck rings on fabric coats as well as fur coats to great advantage.
There is no one length in the collections to date, and hemlines end anywhere from well above the knee at Ferre to well below the knee at Missoni, with both houses offering several lengths. The Missonis, who won last season's award for the most inventive prints, this season use stripes made of running greyhounds. Their midcalf-length plaid knit dresses with full skirts look sure to be copied, and their hourglass-shaped boiled wool jackets win the award as the most comfortable clings of the season. Aubergine, cobalt, turquoise, fuchsia, deep pink and red light up the collection, along with an icy white the Missonis call comet-light. Long, shaped cardigans look especially newsworthy, and the multicolored chenille coats worked in horizontal stripes of bright pinks and greens are truly works of art.