You can call Armani ambitious, how could you otherwise describe a designer who just a few days and in the middle of a global financial crisis, opened a massive boutique in Manhattan? Yet what you can’t say about the Italian designer is that he’s ever produced anything that could be called extremely kitsch or mediocre.
This is why, while researching for a collection that could be outstanding and wearable in bleak times, Armani turned to chic and to his most classic 80s designs, updating them by adding an extra dose of glamour.
Shapes were important as the cropped fitted jackets, sarong-like tulip short skirts and tight trousers proved.
The most beautiful pieces though were the slightly asymmetrical flawless capes and coats with two or three side fastenings. Shiny patent leather berets worn tilted on one side and gloves completed the outfits, even the long and ethereal bejewelled column dresses paired with crystal encrusted flat boots.
Opera started in Italy towards the very end of the 1500s and from there it spread all over Europe and the rest of the world. The country has naturally got a strong operatic tradition, but it also boasts some of the best tailoring houses and even fashion designers who produced beautiful costumes for the opera.
It was therefore very apt for Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana to pay homage to this historically important universe in their D&G collection.
The first outfits actually evoked opera only in a few specific details: dark blue shirts had trompe l’oeil golden prints of curtain tassels; rich gold brocade dresses reproduced the thick fabric that often covers the walls of baroque theatres;
satin or velvet puffball skirts called to mind the elegant armchairs of theatre boxes, while red corset-like tops evoked grand opera costumes.
Then the inspiration became more visual with ample chiffon blouses printed with hand-painted tapestries and scenery or mini-dresses decorated with prints of curtains that opened to reveal a crowded stage.
Old covers of opera “libretti” and posters for Bellini’s "Norma" and "I Puritani", Verdi’s "La Traviata", Ponchielli’s "La Gioconda", Wagner’s "Tristan and Isolde" and "The Valkyrie", Donizetti’s "Lucia di Lammermoor" and Puccini’s "Turandot" appeared on the corsets of tapestry printed silk chiffon evening gowns.
Curtain tassels were interestingly used as belts and as decoration for the model’s hair, an easy to make trend that could produce interesting experiments this Autumn (I can already picture in my mind Italian girls ripping tassels off their mothers’ curtains to dress up an old outfit...).
There was a strong opera connection also with the venue where the catwalk took place, the Metropol cinema and theatre (now owned by D&G), where Maria Callas - whose image the Italian design duo printed on their T-shirts paired with denims or tulle tutus - recorded Bellini’s “Norma” over fifty years ago.
If this collection could be used as a subtle way to educate to the opera young audiences that would be great, unfortunately, the fear of seeing some of these operatic evening gowns worn by one of those bland celebrities out there is much more tangible than the educational value of the D&G's A/W 09 collection.
As a whole the collection had some strong saleable points, especially in the Maria Callas and opera programme shirts that have the potential of becoming favourites in the wardrobe of fashionistas and opera fans alike.
While fantasy and opera was in the air at D&G, drama was unfolding at Gianfranco Ferré where journalists seemed to be more interested in speaking to Stanislao Chimenti, Andrea Ciccoli and Roberto Spada, the three experts appointed to manage the bankrupted IT Holding, than in talking to Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi.
The fashion media were reassured, but there are still doubts about Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi's second collection for Gianfranco Ferré being actually produced, which is a shame for this design duo who has so far showed they have enough potential to bring the brand forward while respecting its origins.
The ubiquitous pagoda style shoulders that appeared in Paris at Armani Privé and were spotted just a couple of days ago at Gaetano Navarra, reappeared here in the jackets, trench coats and dresses.
There were tributes to Ferré’s iconic white shirts with white tops decorated with big bows or architectural motifs created by folding the fabric origami style, but there were plenty of new bold designs such as sharply modern jumpsuits that cleverly mixed together a jacket, a dress and a pair of jodhpurs.
Heavy beaded embroideries on jackets and dresses might have been toned down a bit, while elegant and timeless column dresses revealed one of Aquilano-Rimondi’s strengths, their perfect cut.
The design duo also showed in this collection their knowledge of fabrics, endowing their designs with a special tactile quality by combining in the same garment at least two or three types of fabrics.
A different kind of drama developed instead at Jil Sander's as rumours spread about the brand’s Hamburg-based atelier closing down, so that the catwalk show ended up being a sort of celebration of the artisanal skills behind the Sander label.
Raf Simons showed how it's hard to beat down beautifully tailored double-faced cashmere coats, suits and sheath dresses in a palette that comprised white, ice, grey, navy and camel.
Though not dramatically, the designs changed when Simons introduced his outfits inspired by Pol Chambost’s ceramic pieces.
Like in the French ceramist’s works, flashes of bright colours - from yellow to a dark orange - peaked out from collars, hemlines or necklines.
At times Simons' sculptural curves radically altered the shape of the female body and made it look rather awkward, though in his most successful Chambost-inspired designs such as the final column dresses, architecturally striking shapes and volumes were almost chiselled out of the fabric.
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