Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Rebuilding fashion: Call in the architects

Chris Moore/Karl Prouse Salvatore Ferragamo

MILAN: Geometric lines, a firm silhouette and buttresses in swoops in cloth - there is a sense that fashion is being rebuilt for a new era.

This is the moment to call in the architects, rather than the decorators. The powerful Milan collections for winter 2009 are from designers who can keep everything clean and clear.

And that has helped Salvatore Ferragamo, where the designer Cristina Ortiz has always liked large, architectural gestures to create a clothing image for this house built on a foundation of shoes.

This collection of tailored coats and short jackets with cropped pants - the better to view the footwear - was calmed down from bold to beautiful. The clothes looked classy and right for now, always with thoughtful design details to illuminate classics, as in cape shoulders, swelling sleeves and even elbow-length gloves to give a feeling of class.

The only decoration was a rose, built into a glove or a neckline, except for the shoes themselves, where intricate fretted work produced leather lace that, in its decorative effect, offset the clean lines of the clothes.

You have to wonder why this elegant outing of desirable fashion, from tailoring to knits, had to end with evening gowns - especially when Ortiz went back to her passion for displaying the body, using sheer fabrics that seem so over. But from the purple color worked into neutrals to the well-chosen proportions, this was collection that put Ferragamo fashion in just the right place.

Etro Fall 2009, Davide Maestri
Veronica Etro was faced with a challenge: How can a house known for intensely decorated fabrics and ethnic wanderings along a hippie trail seem relevant for now? The designer rose to the challenge by literally caging in the excess. Taking a Byzantine theme, which embraced the shiny, gilded fabrics that are the new season's hit, Etro created a lattice of metallic beading that gave a strict, linear structure to the embellished dresses. And where once there were floating hippie de luxe dresses, this show opened with tailoring and with tops and skirts for ordinary daywear.

Trained at Central Saint Martin's in London, Etro produced exemplary work on the theme, which never overwhelmed and was deftly blended with the house's more familiar paisley patterns. It was a fine example of moving a line forward without losing its identity.

As a designer of romantic fashion school, Antonio Marras made an intelligent turn toward the classic, founding his art-inspired collection on a strict grid. The designer listed his inspiration as "Picasso and the Masters," the subject of a recent Paris exhibition, but it was the Cubist floor pattern and the wooden closets as the backdrop that instilled the instant message.

So instead of the rich vein of velvet Victoriana that Marras has mined previously, here was a postwar scenario - the Spanish Civil War perhaps - where the models wore pinstripe and khaki tailoring but tinged with embellishment. It seemed almost as if these women had brightened up their drab outfits with their own imagination: embroidery and appliqué. The result was a fine collection, showing Marras as strong and individual as ever but not oblivious to a changing world.

It is a mystery how Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Raimondi were able to stage their own carefully crafted show for the Aquilano.Raimondi label, as well as Gianfranco Ferré, where the brand is in financial turmoil.

The two must have worked extremely hard to get both collections together. But maybe they need to draw back at this point and decide what is their USP, or unique selling point. Is it the fact that they make rich clothes that are at the same time young and fresh? Or could it be that they have a spirited way with the back view, so that almost every exit has a drape or an origami fold?

In a nutshell, these talented designers need to decide if they want to be decorators or architects of a fresh, upscale Italian look.

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