Here we go again: Less than 10 days after Apple stole New York Fashion Week’s thunder comes another enormously important, globally resonant, trend-setting, record-breaking, consumer-facing event that has nothing to do with the ready-to-wear shows.
It’s the Alibaba I.P.O., doncha know (dare you to say it 10 times fast), a.k.a. the New York Stock Exchange listing by the Chinese giant that could change e-tail as we know it.
Faced with such competition, what’s a nice Milanese brand to do? Look to the past, young man, look to the past.
The overwhelming trend of the Italian ready-to-wear shows thus far has been memory lane, and very specifically the memory lane of almost four decades ago. For whatever reason — discomfort with what President Obama calls today’s “messy” world and the technology that lets us see it all; a desire to return to what seems in retrospect more manageable times, despite Nixon, the Yom Kippur war and the oil crisis (everything is relative); maybe just Vulcan mind-meld — nostalgia is taking a very literal runway turn.
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You know something is going on when even a “new” designer like Marco de Vincenzo, whose work is marked by a uniquely inventive facility with both color and fabric, nevertheless starts playing around with macramé, fringe and basket-weave — though to his credit, in his hands they became something else entirely: the silk fringing a vehicle for movement in miniskirt suits and flapper dresses; the weave, a rainbow checkerboard in a gray snakeskin coat.
And yet, when Miuccia Prada trucked in 150 tons of purple sand and piled it up in dunes atop a brown-carpeted runway, it was not about, as some in her audience posited, either “desert rose” or “Middle East” or some sort of Martian landscape.
“Head in the ...” was closer — though the actual answer, according to the designer who was dispensing her trademark gnomic explanations backstage after the show, was the “confrontation of antiquity and today.”
Not that there were ancient treasures buried under the drifts, or little pickaxes given to the audience, though that would have been a new twist (digging for bags!). Rather there were narrow notch-collared belted trenches shown on the runway, the seams picked out in contrast stitching. Also, truncated “jean” jackets and matching skirts, likewise piped; smocked and folkloric details; and coats that looked as if they had been patched together from an old quilt.
The silhouette was lean — sleeveless tunics over pencil skirts; round-necked thin-strapped dresses with neatly demarcated waists, narrow skirts and sometimes a yoke of luxe material inset, like a special scrap. The fabrics were brocade and chinoiserie and leather, mixed with raw linen, most often with unfinished hems trailing loose threads. And the mood was 1970s-meets-grandmother’s trunk.
Pulled into the present, the result had an alluring, wistful prettiness with a 10-gallon edge; the saccharine subverting the square dance and vice versa, to the advantage of both.
“Antiquity” is clearly a relative concept in a world where a garment that is five years old qualifies as vintage, though given that Ms. Prada originally made her name by challenging perceived notions of the decade that fashion once forgot (or tried to), she has a certain legitimate claim to the archaeology of her own line.
As do both Etro and Missoni, names that came to prominence at that time — which perhaps is the key to explaining the current catwalk situation: the 1970s were, in Italian fashion terms if nothing else, a halcyon era. In the game of Remembrance of Things Past, those signifiers are sartorial madeleines.
Etro, for example, was founded in 1968 and shot to prominence on a rocket ship of paisley. So, really, it should come as no surprise that the print was present for spring, along with many associated staples of Pocahontas-channeling earth mothers: feathers, fringe and Indian beading. Often all at the same time.
They appeared on caftans, handkerchief-hemmed washed-silk numbers, ponchos and maxi-dresses; on knee-length boots with tiers of suede fringe and drawstrings dangling tassels and shells. Editing optional (though encouraged).
And though Missoni, whose zigzags practically defined the pre-power shoulder/bling jet set, made some effort to shake off the dust of heritage — or at least abstract it as opposed to indulging it — it was visible in light-as-air embroidered lace maxi-dresses, rainbow stripes fading into each other for the merest suggestion of tie-dye, and palazzo-wide trousers paired with oversize silk button-down shirts. Treated with restrained celebration, it made for an effective point of contrast. Even, perhaps, something for a future Alibaba’s cave.
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