Milan FW: Fashion on the Fringe *pics*

  1. It makes one ask: Are they bringing back shag carpet next?
    (From left) 1. Max Mara 2. Ferragamo 3. Gucci

    MILAN -- Momentum is building for a dressier approach to fashion this fall as buyers and designers head to Paris for next week's big shows. But some of Milan's key designers are also pushing a style that could be a tougher sell: shag.

    Much of what designers showed during Milan Fashion week, which ended Friday, reinforced the sense, also on display during shows in New York earlier this month, that the pendulum is shifting toward a dressier look. Gucci showed chiffon blouses, tartan knickers and black leather boots with a metal platform. Versace rolled out matched pantsuits in a palette that consisted mainly of black and white. And Prada offered up boxy skirts paired with jackets in unusual fabrics.

    The look of next season will be "polished, beautiful and put together," says Jennifer Wheeler, director of designer apparel for Nordstrom.

    But what really had people talking in Milan was the shag look. Italian designers are known for playing it safe, with more saleable styles. The frayed look could help shift the image of the Milan fashion scene, which recently has come under fire by international critics for falling short of Paris in the creativity department. Designers in the French capital are famous for generating zany new clothing trends.

    Shag showed up all over the catwalks in Milan. There were rug-like dresses and sweaters at Bottega Veneta and Max Mara, while Prada offered up furry skirts and tops. Pucci and Missoni came out with shaggy shawls, and even the usually clean-looking Fendi offered a white leather suit with arms heavily fringed in bulky yarn, a long hirsute vest, and bushy sweaters.

    Some U.S. retail buyers and fashion directors are wary of the new look -- one dubbed it the "Lhasa apso look." While it was eye-catching on the runway, so much bulk could be difficult to carry off in an attractive way, although the same might have been said of skinny jeans, which have become ubiquitous. "It's a love-hate thing. A lot of people don't need that extra bulk," says Michael Fink, women's fashion director for Saks Fifth Avenue.

    Among the other styles featured in Milan were: a steady stream of patterns, ranging from tartan to fish scales; more use of opposing colors and textures -- Prada's color combinations, for example, included acid green or bright orange blended with slate; greater use of patent leather, once an evening-only staple that more Italian designers are now using on daytime shoes and as an accent on handbags; and high-waisted pants -- Ferragamo, for instance, sent a pair down the runway that were so wide-legged they swung around the model's legs.

    The return of high-waisted, big-legged pants comes on the heels of a push toward skinny-legged pants that draw attention to virtually any below-the-waist flaw. "The waistline is finding its way back to its normal place," says Stephanie Solomon, fashion director at Bloomingdale's. Designers have slowly been moving the waistline up in the past few seasons, she says, so that consumers can adapt to the new look.

    As in the New York show, accessories from handbags to gloves will continue to play a key role in fall fashion -- and in the bottom lines of luxury-goods firms. The biggest driver of growth in the luxury-goods market over the past decade has been the high-margin accessories segment. Items such as Prada's colorful toe-less socks also allow fashion houses to lower the entry-level price of their goods, expanding their potential client base.

    In a season for which designers are proposing a vast assortment of black clothing and a dressed-up look, accessories will likely again drive sales. "In my 23 years in retail, I have never seen so many hats," says Ms. Solomon.