Emporio is no pale imitation of 'Signor Beige'

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The Independent Online

Giorgio Armani opened the Milan spring/summer 2005 collections yesterday with a pale and interesting new look for Emporio Armani, the more affordable version of his famous brand.

Short, shrunken jackets in white cotton seersucker or washed satin were nipped in at the waist and looked fresh, youthful and eminently commercial.

Emporio Armani specialises in sporty, everyday pieces that are a staple diet for Italians. And indeed, attention-seeking silver bikinis and outsized straw shopping baskets looked like they had stepped straight off the beach at Positano.

For evening, beaded camisole tops and tiered dresses in rich shades of indigo or royal blue should satisfy the glitzy contingent - which is, after all, a sizeable proportion of Italian women.

From the waist down however, this collection started to unravel. Tight, white, knee-length leather spats worn with towering wedge sandals and fastened with metal zippers, looked surgical rather than stylish.

A new trouser design that repeatedly appeared in this show was a pair of riding jodhpurs created from floppy satin, tapering into the ankle to leave two flaps of fabric fluttering around the model's hips. That isn't an effect which many women - Italian or otherwise - will appreciate.

Jodhpurs, usually skin-tight and highly structured, just couldn't translate into the Armani look, which is characterised by soft and unlined tailoring. Armani took the stuffing and stiffening out of men's tailoring back in the late Seventies, and the softer designs are still his best.

Washed, wrinkled and purposefully worn-out fabrics dominated yesterday's show.

The man the Italians have called " il Signor Beige " is also known for his love of neutral colours, and there were plenty of those shades for next spring, besides acres of white: nude, pale grey, duck egg blue and yes, beige, all strutted down the Emporio runway at high speed. White and near-white colours have already proved to be a trend for next summer at the New York and London collections. Armani, 70, doesn't take the sole credit for designing Emporio Armani any more, and he took his bows yesterday with both his niece, the designer Silvana Armani, and a dozen-strong studio team.

He saves himself for the higher-profile signature range, Giorgio Armani, which is shown in a separate presentation, held today. Aside from fashion design, he has his fingers in a whole batch of pies, most of which refer to a big promotional push in America, which had been previously scheduled for 2001. A public catwalk show in New York next month and the publication of a book of Oscar-night party photographs in conjunction with Vanity Fair - presumably featuring many of his red carpet gowns - are just some of the tactics intended to boost the company image.