MILAN -- American designer Donna Karan and Paris designer Christian Lacroix were in the front row at the Genny show this week. Both Karan and Lacroix were in town to work on fabrics for future collections in Milan and Lake Como, Italy. And Karan is reportedly about to be asked to design the Complice collection over here, in return for which her production problems could be solved.
But otherwise there were fewer splashy celebrities in town for the shows this year. Grace Jones appeared in the Miguel Cruz show wearing a three-piece bathing suit. Yes, three pieces. She stripped off the middle piece to reveal a very revealing bikini. After dinner she skipped out on a party in her honor and went back to her hotel to bed. She was in the front row at the Fendi show the next morning.
Calling Cards If you try the phone number on the new Fendi print, you might get Carla Fendi herself on the phone. Karl Lagerfeld, who creates the Fendi collection, simply incorporated the Fendi office number into the telephone print. In another pattern, Lagerfeld has done a sketch of his buddy Anna Piaggi as well as a picture of himself.
The Fendis are so high on prints this season that they are showing printed fabric shoes and handbags ... even eyeglasses. "I feel like I have gotten a divorce from leather," said Carla.
--- Yasmin Who? One of the new star models with designers here is Yasmin, the elegant-looking wife of rocker Simon LeBon. She may look genteel on the runway, perfect for the softer, more feminine clothes, but Yasmin is tough when it comes to interviews. A very pregnant Daniella Petroff, Rome-based correspondent for Associated Press, approached Yasmin and asked her last name -- Is it LeBon? Yasmin responded: "If you don't know it, that's too bad. I'm not going to tell you."
Meanwhile, back on the runway in many of the Milan shows is black model Pat Cleveland, who has been working these events for almost 20 years. She's living in Stresa near Milan and running a modeling school in Milan for Americans, Italians and others passing through. After the Krizia show she noted that a couple of her students were on the runway with her. Cleveland was proud to see them there, but added: "The truth is that I will have to give them more coaching on turns."
Kamali's Italian Accents Norma Kamali can say everything about the dress business in Italian. "I'm not so good in a restaurant," said Kamali at a party to celebrate the introduction of her new designs for Zamasport, an Italian manufacturer. European stores have lined up to buy the clothes, helped by Kamali's own staff members, who took lessons in Italian in New York for three months to prepare for this.
At the moment only the Kamali stores in New York will carry the Italian-made creations of this important designer. Bloomingdale's, however, has made an exclusive deal for a collection of Kamali swimsuits.
Another American designer selling clothes here is Ronaldus Shamask, who makes spare and uncluttered styles. Unlike Kamali, Shamask shows the same collection to American buyers in the States.
Crowd Pleasers For the first time in years, the fashion crowd is not all in black, but almost. There is a bit of gray being worn, and some brown. The most popular item is the short, tapered black skirt in leather or jersey, usually worn with a long lean jacket, dark opaque hose and flat or medium-high heels.
The fashionables here have lined up to buy one particular shoe in Milan -- only to find it sold out in most sizes. The lightweight, foam-soled leather shoe from Ferragamo sells for about $75 here and is available, when in stock, in several colors. For spring Ferragamo is adding navy blue.
There is more long, naturally curly hair in the audience this time. Designers, too, looked for models with long hair for fall and clearly lots of models complied. This time, however, hair stylists for the shows have created a lot of upswept hairdos. Dolce and Gabbana, for their Spanish theme, gathered all the long hair in a net at the nape of the neck.
Notes di Moda
The fashionable drink with the stylish crowd at restaurants such as Da Bice, Bagutta and Canarino -- it's hot water and lemon peel, served after dinner, of course, in place of an herbal tea.
A few of the designers are having trouble standing on their own two feet. The day before her show Mariuccia Mandelli of Krizia tripped on a curb. Her hands were in her pockets and she couldn't catch herself, and fell on her face. Afterward Mandelli was in dark glasses and barely peeked out to take the generous applause after her show. Meanwhile, Romeo Gigli has been on crutches from missing a step in the street.
Don't put away your bows. Designers are still showing them for next spring in the hair, on the clothes. But what looks newer are all the fake flowers being shown, on a skirt, on a dress, really placed anywhere ... at the top, at the hem, or any place in between.
Many of the designers are using long, sheer scarfs around the neck and around the waist, often trailing behind the models. Gianfranco Ferre likes them this way, but he also likes another kind of scarf, one that looks like a starched napkin.
Just when we thought the only way to make short skirts look modern was to wear them with heavy, dark panty hose, designers have taken another tack for spring. Many of the shortest dresses are shown with naturally sheer or slightly tinted hose and heels. It works for walking on a runway, but sitting down? Well, there is one consolation: Skirts will be shipped to stores much longer than they are being shown here on models.
If you have discovered washed silk as used by companies such as Go Silk, you are right in step with designers. Many, including Giorgio Armani and Krizia, have used washed silk in their new collection. Donna Karan used it in her resort collection as well. "It is like denim. It started at a lower price and was picked up by designers," said Ellin Saltzman of Saks Fifth Avenue. Like denim, the silk feels good on the skin and gets softer with washing.