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Designers tune in to the feel of the Nineties: Roger Tredre finds that 'travellers of the soul' are at home in Milan

FASHION designers, who are showing their men's collections for spring 1994 this week, are turning their attention to matters spiritual.

Perhaps this is because matters commercial are none too good. Designers admit business is slow, although the UK, Italy's fifth-largest market for menswear, showed a slight upturn last year.

The strongest fashion story in Milan came from Dolce e Gabbana, arguably the most influential of Italian menswear designers in recent years. Their message was simple: turn on, tune in, drop out.

The two designers, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, dressed models in sarongs, white ribbed vests and loose layers of cream linen. Their new man, they said, was 'a traveller of the soul, looking inside himself in order to find an answer'.

This all seemed like mumbo- jumbo to some in the audience, but the two designers have a valid point to make. The confident 'power suits' associated with the Eighties seem out of place in the less confident mid-Nineties. Designers are making clothes to match customers' new mood; introspective rather than brash, with new priorities.

Dolce e Gabbana, who first used the superwaif Kate Moss on the catwalk, reinforced the change of direction by finding a new model: Ralf Winter, a 23-year-old German who has shaved his head, to the delight of every fashion editor bored with long locks. In Dolce e Gabbana's long ribbed sweaters, Thai-weave jackets and embroidered waistcoats, Mr Winter looked like a Hare Krishna devotee.

Dolce e Gabbana also showed more of their high-buttoning, Edwardian silhouette jackets, and white shirts untucked under cropped waistcoats. Sweaters in linen and linen mixes were wrapped around waists. Army green combat trousers and jackets were a nod towards another significant fashion trend next year.

Men's sandals are back in fashion, particularly sandals of the variety worn in biblical television epics. Their return is causing much amusement. Jo Levin, fashion editor of GQ, said: 'They are fine if you have beautifully tanned feet. But men with white feet should forget it.'

The alternative is to wear them with socks, a solution favoured at Gucci yesterday. Even in Milan, the home of exquisite men's dressing, they make mistakes.