Friday, February 22, 2008

Milan Fashion Week: Ich hab noch einen Koffer in Berlin


Until the turn of the century, the Berlin skyline was a jumble of cranes. For the prior decade, the cranes had been a symbol of the city's rebirth and reunification--die neue Berlin-- after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

This was not the first time Berlin had experienced a resurfacing. At one time the intended seat of Hitler's Germania, the city that was once noted for its Bauhaus and medieval architecture became a structural testament to the intended Thousand Year Reich. At war's end, the city was in rubble and what was left of it bore the stamp of its reprobate modern history.

By 2000, much of the new construction was completed. As international architects left their stamp on areas once vacant or historically questionable, Berlin acquired a polyglot postmodernism perhaps best expressed by Daniel Libeskind's design for the Jüdisches Museum. Other areas of transformation included the Potsdamer Platz and Stresemannstraße.

Berlin is where Donatella Versace found inspiration for her Winter 2009 collection. While visiting the city, she was struck by its newfound confidence. The new Berlin was swathed in visually arresting shapes and colors suggestive of strong forward movement. The use of bright hues and unexpected silhouettes created a fullness of energy and attitude that Versace quickly translated into a series of silk dresses printed with active cityscapes.

These were not just any dresses. They were reminders of the signature print scarf, long one of Versace's totems. The scarves had formerly been cacophonous to the point where they were nearly audible. Transformed into simple apron dresses, they carried bustling scenes based on the photogenic variety of Berlin.

There was not a Medusa head in sight, or, for that matter, much hangover Versace miscellany.

Much like Roberto Cavalli, Donatella Versace's last gasp at fashion debauchery occurred in 2004. This was the final year of design gluttony for both, and subsequently each embarked on the process of streamlining their labels to accommodate a shifting consumer power structure.

While Cavalli continues to have trouble rehabilitating his Cavalli woman into cutting-edge pertinence, following her own stint in rehab Versace has had an easier time. Unlike Cavalli, who has taken a sauve qui peut approach, Versace has almost abandoned the hyperventilated binge that once detailed the label as gaudy Euro-chic.

For the Winter 2009 collection, the designer continues to work with the important 360° silhouette. Gowns and dresses that appeared spare in the front had distinct eye appeal in the back, with flowing cape-like panels giving a sense of airiness and flight.

The highlight of the collection was a pink-toned beige gown whose curvaceously draped panels appeared to unfurl like the petals of a rose. Thirteen additional gowns had varied degrees of success; when the designer reverted to vestigial habits in one dress it seemed out of place among the more belletristic pieces.

Daywear didn't benefit as much from the trip to Berlin, leaving one wondering if Versace's impressions of the city had been no more intellectual than snapshots. Trousers grabbed and pouched at the crotch and long button-down sweaters belted over shifts looked banal. Certain coats and short dresses had muʻumuʻu sleeves that looked fresh in some instances and gauche in a pink fur number that looked more like a housecoat than it did an exciting piece of outerwear. Or perhaps it was a dress.

That item proved how hard it is to exorcise the past and also decries the necessity of doing so in the first place. Much like Berlin, the question of whether to topple cultural monuments for the sake of a clean slate introduces a challenging and energizing dialogue.

"I always keep a suitcase in Berlin," Marlene Dietrich once said, and perhaps Donatella should as well.

Images: Style.it

15 comments:

Claire said...

The dynamics of how people choose to see and express their inspiration and what people see and take from others artistic creations has always fascinated me. I would never look at this collection and think, "Clearly, Donatella has been spending time in Berlin". But it might encourage me to look at the city in a different way, next time I visit.

susie_bubble said...

It does make me wonder from the recent collections what sort of consulting work has Christopher Kane been doing for Versace...

Suzanna Mars said...

Claire, Donatella said in an interview that Berlin had inspired her, hence the prints on the dresses. Not that anyone would know that, unless she happened to pick some of the landmark architecture or a crane.

Suzanna Mars said...

SB, good question. Not sure one could competely rid oneself of the visual tat so quickly. Well, relatively.

WendyB said...

Nice, but then, I've always had great luck with Versace.

miss cavendish said...

These are two stunning images. The second one is a perfect shade of pink that reminds me of glamorous powder puffs from the 1960s.

Suzanna Mars said...

WB, we know! But then again, you seem to look great in everything!

Miss Cavendish, for me that gown was the highlight of Milan and more than made up for slight wobbles elsewhere. The shade, as you noted, is incredible. It's almost life-like, or like life enhanced.

enc said...

I love the first dress. I'd throw it all away for that one. The furry pink thing, why, that's a different story.

I think Donatella's finding her way in a more coherent fashion (groan, bad pun) than Cavalli.

Even though the Versace and Cavalli lines are both supposedly changing directions now, I'm still waiting for Cavalli to "change." I see the difference in Versace's looks, but Cavalli . . . he seems to be slow off the block. Or maybe I'm missing something.

Suzanna Mars said...

enc, isn't that spectacular? Also so very understated and agile. This just about sums up what fashion means to me, taking into account basic artistic principles.

WendyB said...

P.S. I like the fuzzy pink thing. If someone would be kind enough to buy it for me, I would love it and pet it and name it George.

enc said...

Oh, WendyB, you made me laugh out loud with your Gossamer quote. I love it!

enc said...

"Spectacular" is exactly correct. It's amazing to me how a design so basic and minimalist can create such a visceral reaction inside me.

"Agile" is the perfect word to imply grace in motion, which—if it's possible—is personified by that dress.

Imelda Matt said...

I love the Donatella of old when too much was never enough. Yes there are some stunning dresses but can you see Donatella trotting around St Barts in them? I can’t.

riz said...

Ok, I am so surprised by the continuing changes in Versace. I quite like the line right now. I never thought I would ever say that. And like SB, I wonder what hand Kane has in all of this change...Your comparison between Versace and Cavalli seems apt. He is certainly struggling at the moment. He should stay true to leopard prints!

STARVING.DUD said...

it's funny how deep my love for Versace is. beyond any logic the brand feels so familiar to me, so darling. i love the essence of the modern versace, some concervative chic. which is not dusty, nor extravagant or heavy or grotesque, it's simply opulent and nothing more. i love how donatella doesn't try to impress with something she is not. that's the honesty i cherish (the honesty, the strength of being yourself after all).
i guess Berlin was not the most obvious inspiration and to me it was more about the idea, the attitude. Somehow your essay made me think of German high society women in the pre-war times. Helmut Newton's mother in particular, as described in his autobiography. you know this type of woman, a grand dame, die Frau, chic, strong and powerful. A woman who has everything she needs and doesn't need anything she doesn't own. A woman who enjoys her life and the opportunities her blood and her surrounding gives her. (I guess same can be true for Karl Lagerfeld's mother. That's definitely an archetype, no?). It's all about the presence and the appearance, the image. I guess this is what Versace about, celebrating what you are, not what you're trying to be.
Who knows, maybe it's just the Medusa's magic is speaking in me...