MILAN -- A fashion consultant from Paris, Pat McColl, spotted Christian Lacroix at the Moschino show at the fairgrounds Tuesday afternoon.
"Do you know how many things you have spawned in the Italian collections?" she asked the designer.
"I don't know that I can really feed them all," Lacroix answered modestly.
The Moschino show was one of the few things in Milan largely untouched by this Paris designer's fling with fantasy dresses. But when the next morning found him in the front row of the Genny show, his influence -- the big flowered prints, the pouf silhouettes -- must have been clear. "Some are calling it the Chernobyl effect," says Lacroix assistant Jean-Jacques Picart. "After us, the fallout."
"For sure, Lacroix has shown us that we can put a little fantasy even into sportswear," said Aldo Pinto, husband and business partner of Mariuccia Mandelli of Krizia.
Of course, a whole season doesn't spin off from one collection or one designer, and clearly Emanuel Ungaro in Paris, with his tightly draped torsos and bold print combinations, and Vivienne Westwood, with her crinolines, have had their influence on many, including maybe even Lacroix.
For whatever the reason, it is simply time for a change. The current ready-to-wear collections in Milan have several recurring themes that will influence the way Washington women will dress by next spring. Among the directions coming from these shows:
Sheer fabrics, like printed chiffon, made to flutter in skirts under contrasting jackets at Genny and elsewhere. Suede is so light it is almost sheer at Mario Valentino, and sheer scarfs trail from the waist at Ferre.
Prints are often huge flowers or quite the opposite, tiny Provenc al florals. The shoes and bag of printed fabric are part of the Fendi and Genny collections. Tartans, which are popular with kids on the street, particularly in Paris, show up in several places, including Fendi and Armani.
Bareness, always around in spring collections, appears with cropped sweaters at Romeo Gigli and strapless-bra tops in many of the shows, sometimes replacing a blouse or shirt under a suit.
Pants, put aside for a while, have returned in force, perhaps as an alternative to the new short skirt. For Romeo Gigli, "pants are a way to get women out of poufy skirts," he says. He cuts his pants narrow and not full length, and pairs them with matching skinny jackets to revive the old pantsuit in a new way. Versace, too, does pantsuits, including pants with one leg.
The cuffed, off-the-shoulder top, a theme last spring with just a few designers, reappears often for spring, though strapless is still more popular.
Stretch gives a more conforming fit to denim at Byblos and Giorgio Armani. Gigli uses stretch fabrics, he says, because "I don't like complicated cuts," and stretch lets him keep things simple but fitted to the body.
Colors return in a mix of rich or soft pastel shades like mango and melon. Armani and Mario Valentino are color artists. On other palettes, bright tones appear along with brown and white and lots of navy. (Krizia uses no black, only navy, throughout the collection.)
Short skirts with shape and detail follow the path blazed by Gianni Versace last season. Some are straight skirts but most move with soft edges, tiers and pleats.
Shorterjackets provide a welcome alternative to the currently popular long double-breasted style. No wonder: the shorter jacket better shows off the greater variety of skirts. Gianfranco Ferre does the shortest boleros, cut higher in the back than in the front. Gigli, too, uses the bolero and the shrug, and Krizia likes the bolero as well.
At Armani,where some of the best jackets for men and women have been masterminded over the years, the changes are in more than length. In his spring collection for women the armhole of the jacket is smaller, the sleeves are narrow and the shoulders padded in a natural way.
Armani shows both long and short jackets without linings and in very soft fabrics, almost like sweaters. The real winners are likely to be those with very narrow lapels. He's made several jackets with elbow-length sleeves, shown with blouse sleeves poking from them. "People often roll up the sleeves of my jackets, so I thought I would simply cut them that way," he says.
Armani was one of the holdouts for a longer hem length for this fall, but for spring his hems will all be above the knee by a couple of inches.
There's no such thing as a simple straight skirt in Armani's collection. "People already have those," he says. And so he has put lettuce edges on some, and made others that are shorter in the front than they are in the back.
For the evening, Armani plays with a gypsy theme. Models' heads are wrapped in scarfs, and they wear heavy-bead necklaces and long, layered chiffon skirts. More successful are his skirts worn with tightly smocked printed silk tops.
One trend that has surfaced for spring, despite shorter skirts and jackets and in lighter fabrics, is a heavier price tag. "It can't be helped," insisted Pinto at Krizia. "Last year we could hold the prices with a shorter markup. But the cost of fabric has gone up 4 percent and the inflation is up 5 percent. So we are asking 10 percent more for spring."
One young design house has found an alternative to higher prices: Dolce and Gabbana makes clothes that can be worn several different ways. Jersey tops convert to bolero jackets, skirts are laced through with drawstrings to change their shape, sweaters turn into halter tops. And some jackets can be worn front to back.