Fit for the princesses
FABIO Novembre was holding court. His eyes smoldered and flashed. His long ringlets danced to his laughter. As usual, he was flirting outrageously. Across the table in the coffee shop, two chic young marketing executives eyed this extravagant Latin display with delight and occasional alarm. They were enjoying themselves hugely.
''Fabio can't keep his hands to himself. He keeps hugging and kissing us,'' one of them giggled. ''We've given him a nickname: the energetic puppy.'' What tricks he's been up to. A window that is at once shattered and solid; a changing-room whose curved wall seems transparent and can be; velvet chairs shaped like daisies and roses for the voyeurs - oh yes, that wicked young Italian architect is going to have fun this evening when his grand design is revealed at the opening of Hong Kong's first Blumarine boutique.
It's in the Regent Hotel shopping arcade and everybody who is anybody has been invited.
''All the princesses will be there,'' the senior executive promised. ''It's going to be some party.'' For ''princesses'', read Hong Kong's top socialites. Leading the festivities will be Rossella, daughter of Anna Molinari, founder and chief designer of Blumarine.
Like her famous mother, Rossella is a designer, though her main job is to spread the word about Blumarine worldwide. This may be necessary in Asia where the Milan-based women's fashion label is just taking off.
In Italy, where there are already 400 Blumarine shops selling an exhaustive lifestyle range - everything from clothes and accessories to stationery and eyewear - she can afford to sit back and smile.
Mama mia, what a to-do, Rossella must have thought last month during Milan's fashion week when the massive crowd waiting to get in to the Blumarine show degenerated into an unruly mob.
It was the same last October when Anna Molinari showed her Spring/Summer 94 collection, though as Fabio Novembre points out, there's plenty to get excited about.
''Versace, Armani - they are not the creative ones any more. Now everyone including the press agrees Blumarine is at the top. It got the March cover of Italian Vogue.'' In Italy, that's the ultimate stamp of approval. So what's so hot about Blumarine? First, there is superwoman Anna Molinari. Born into one of the leading families on the island of Capri, she started Blumarine in 1977 when she was just 24, shrewdly built up her business until 1987 when she took the Milan Fair by storm and last year embarked on stage three: worldwide expansion.
Above all, there are the clothes - stylish, innovative, often exquisite and calculated to turn male heads.
''For me, they are the ideal of what a woman should be: beautiful, sexy and proud to be female,'' said Fabio Novembre.
''If I didn't believe in Blumarine, I would never have taken on this job. The Regent Hotel shop is just the beginning. There will be a second one in Hong Kong before the end of the year and I'm also doing shops for Seoul, Taipei, London and Miami.'' Born in southern Italy and educated in Milan, the dynamic 27-year-old enrolled at New York University to study film-making as soon as he took his degree in architecture - ''in Italy you are considered a nobody until you are at least 40'' - and was only lured back by the determined Molinari.
The ideal talent for her overseas shops, the designer decided. She was right.
''I did the whole design for the Regent Hotel boutique in 10 days,'' said Novembre who, with a team of local builders, has taken just a month to create an interior that is bound to impress - some wonderful touches including light fittings in blood-red Murano glass - and inspire every copy-cat in town.
A couple of crucial ingredients will be missing no matter how hard they try: the energetic puppy's rich imagination and technical wizardry.
''By chance, I discovered that if you sandwich a certain sort of glass between two glass layers then strike the middle section, it shatters completely in a circular pattern - a fantastic effect which is completely safe,'' said Novembre who has used the technique for what would normally be a display window.
Whatever can be inside, shoppers are sure to wonder. Curiosity will be amply rewarded. Enter the changing room and you will find yourself standing on a mosaic floor featuring two large eyes. Flick a switch and real eyes will be staring as the opaque wall suddenly becomes transparent.
''Fun, eh?'' Novembre grinned. ''I also included a peep-hole in the changing-room, but was made to fill it in. Too naughty for Hong Kong.'' As tonight's guests will discover, there are plenty of other surprises including a couple that have been hatched especially for the opening party.
''Secret, I'm afraid,'' said marketing manager Judy Hunt yesterday. ''Hopefully, they will come off, though I'm sure the clothes will be a hit. I've had [local milliner] Elias Ben-Avi do some great fresh-flower hats for the models.'' Silk, chiffon and cashmere feature prominently in Blumarine's Spring and Summer line whose themes range from China to tennis. Especially tempting are Molinari's romantic flower prints and fine knits, and prices should appeal to the label-conscious - around $8,500 for a top and skirt, $10,000 for a suit and $5,000-$8,000 for dresses.
What sort of woman should wear them? All sorts, Anna Molinari emphasised last October with her choice of models - among them the tall, leggy Carla Bruni and the diminutive Kate Moss.
Legendary photographer Helmut Newton, who was commissioned to do a hard-cover catalogue for the summer collection, chose just one model: platinum blonde bombshell Nadja Avermann. ''Sexy, see?'' Fabio Novembre said triumphantly.