Think Italian

Despairing about this autumn's somber blacks, grays, deep reds? Think Italian.

In doubt about American designers' long slender tube skirts? Think Italian.

The fabrics you're offered and the mixtures of fabrics and patterns seem all too familiar, predictable? Think Italian.

Italy provides the spice, the glamour, and much of the inspiration for any woman wanting flattery along with her seasonal chic. No one can visit those Italian ready-to-wear shows, held twice yearly in the big elegant fair area of Milan, without coming home to try all her own existing clothes in new combinations. Perhaps a wide ethnic belt with the old black dress, perhaps the peacock silk blouse with that curious mustard-colored skirt one bought, haphazardly, in a sale?

You needn't go to Italy to find inspiration, however. Buyers from the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, and elsewhere not only buy generously and well from Italian sources, but they often get subtle changes made especially for them. An awkward neckline is smoothed out; a color mix that jars can be softened or changed. It's a revelation to watch a top boutique buyer in action at an Italian fashion house. It also makes you appreciate anew just how much taste, as well as effort, goes into the garment you see in a shop window in your own city.

What makes your outfit Italian this autumn? Excitement at the hipline - it's wrapped, swathed, belted, swaggy. Softness round your shoulders: the swinging big scarf is now replaced by a no-fasten jacket which might have one end a lot longer than its opposite - for flinging, with brio, over one shoulder. The almost nonexistent coat resembles a flowing academic robe. Color features new softness and subtlety, like the mix of ochre, rose, and soft blue. Or new boldness in jewel tones all stirred together, as in costumes from a royal court - taffetas and velvets teamed in ruby, sapphire, amethyst.

A blessed rest from ethnic fashion has brought a counterpart: fashion that swings back in time for its inspiration. Camelot was strong in the Milan showings, with blouses of starched and pleated linen (ruffles are overdone now), supple leather jackets at Versace with chain mail insets, dresses with high square necks. The untrammeled dress is important: many float free, unbelted. Arms and legs of the cashmere sweaters and matching trousers from Laura Biagotti recalled the Renaissance, being caught in tightly every four inches or so.

The long slim vest is everywhere - a pleasure to women who like to minimize their curves. It looks most handsome in glove leather. There's never been such a season for elegant leather. A real Italian signature, wittily used by Armani in his collection for Mario Valentino, is the print on leather. Suede skirts have bright pastel plaids; blouses and even sheepskin jackets are dotted with flowers.

Plaid surfaced in glorious Thai silks for blouson jackets worn with black velvet culottes. Plaid, thickly knitted tights accompanied the Missoni clothes, picking up the rectangular mood of their squared quilting on sweaters. Other Missoni plaids were twin sets with wooden buttons, ring necks. Long taffeta evening dresses sparkled with Madras plaid. The plaid wool tent dresses were pleated all over - an expectant mother's dream.

Fine pleating, almost Fortuny-style, is another excitement in Milan shows, and Kirzia even pleated all over sage green tweed or copper kid for blouson jackets.

Hem lengths swiveled dramatically: either mini-minstrel (with Camelot trends) or midcalf and swirling. Very little came in between, at least in the shows, but American stores may well order these clothes at acceptable knee-level.

You just can't keep a good boot down - or out. This autumn's in Italy are flat-heeled Robin Hood styles with big suede cuffs you turn down for added swashbuckle. The low-heeled courts and ghillies often mix two textures in the same color: patent with suede is a winner.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.