WEEKEND IN MILAN
It was zeal Milanese in the Italian fashion capital, complete with a handful of milestone markings, a few quirky collections and some truly sensational clothes.
Dolce & Gabbana: Southern Italy! Sicily! Carnivals! Zucchini! Chili peppers! Sophia Loren! If that's not a recipe for a rollicking show, what is?
In case you missed it, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana are proud Italians. At times they may stray here or there, from the painterly artist's studio to the land of the cyber dominatrix, but they always come home. For spring they returned from fall's celestial travels to southern Italy with something specific on their minds, setting the mood in their theater with a gleefully over-the-top installation of traditional carnival lights. "There is a connection about food and style of life," Gabbana said in a preview. "The food is important. It's a good message. It is happiness; it is life." For the designers and countless other men, Loren represents a different kind of happiness (maybe two different kinds). Here, they looked to her Fifties' heyday in Dino Risi's "Pane, amore e..." all to the relentless refrain "Mambo Italiano." So out came the full-skirted bustier dresses, the hip-wiggler skirts, car coats and a lot of romper action. Familiar, yes, but lovely to look at. The food connection: prints, in blown-up, festive imagery of the aforementioned veggies and other cholesterol-lowering varieties. If it's hard to imagine a mad consumer rush to the farmer's-market-cum-expensive-retail-rack by any but the hungriest Dolce devotees, there were similar shapes in black. For the ladies who live in the middle: pastel floral guipures, some with demonstrative appliquA[c]s.
The designers transformed their signature finale into their very own Miss Italia pageant, the entire lineup of girls all 60 of them in bejeweled corsetry inspired by, and in group competition with, the surrounding festival lights. Guess which won?
Jil Sander: In every fashion season, one finds plenty of appealing clothes. (We're in positive mode here; it's not pertinent that every season has its dogs as well.) At some point in the show schedule, not necessarily the end, many among that appealing subset start to blur, some merely hazy, some to the point of interchangeability. Then there are the moments of real fashion when your eyes widen, transfixed by images impossible to go fuzzy three shows, or three cities, later.
On Saturday Raf Simons offered one such moment at Jil Sander, a perfect fusion of high chic and high-mindedness. Before his show Simons said that after years at the house he finally feels comfortable giving his own aesthetic equal weight with that inherited from the house founder. In this case he applied his zeal for midcentury modernism, which he called "the highest form that survived and that you always see coming back in contemporary creative outings."
With its raised white walkways and pools of colored stones, the set cribbed from the suburban modernist house in Jacques Tati's quirky comedy "Mon Oncle." The clothes played on the same architecture, without the mockery but with elements of street culture and of the couture with which Simons has been so taken of late. Fusing the two: street-savvy beanies veiled A la Fifties cocktail chapeaux.
Simons started with a Sander standard, the white shirt, and worked the daylights out of it, often with tense sensuality delivered via contrasts of traditional shirting and sheer fabrics. These came in endless shirt and dress takes, referencing variously the austere uniform sector (his particular fascination, women who treat other women at resort spas) and, with one of his marriage dresses, the post-New Look Fifties. Otherwise, a large-scale pink paisley added spunk; gingham pants and knits, both in lean and thicker versions the latter with riffs on Picasso ceramics sanctioned by the artist's family trust sportif; and sleek cocktail dresses, an uberelegance that sadly, feels retro these days. Some of these got a pair of jeweled broaches at the waist, in front or back.
Every move Simons made, every cut, every seam, every combination, he put forth with obvious deliberation. In that sense, though often sporty, there's nothing casual about these clothes. The designer worked with economy of flourish but never of impact, and the collection dripped with chic and a clear sense of the modernity he had set out to capture.
Versace: Sparkly starfish! Golden studs! Neoprene, leather and legs! Donatella Versace's spring show …