Thursday, February 21, 2008

Milan Fashion Week: Love with a Proper Stranger

Where is Roberto Cavalli and who is the stranger that has taken his place? If you didn't know any better, you might think that Cavalli was compressed into tiny molecular particles and placed inside a time capsule with the year 1982 stamped on it. This capsule is in the Smithsonian, under strict orders not to be opened until the year 3000. When it is eventually unlocked under the watchful gaze of dully clad anthropologists, a riddle will be solved:

So that's wh
y Cavalli woman became extinct! Must have been one hell of a demise!

"Demise" refers to the last Cavalli collection that was truly decadent. The Big Bang collection. That occurred four years ago, and ever since then Cavalli has become, if not sensible, then comparatively sober. Fashion writers have been slow to notice this mutation, because, being human, they tend to become paralyzed at the sight of leopard. It wouldn't be truly Cavalli if the runway weren't also the veld.

Since that collection, the designer has been slowly reeling in his most extravagant tendencies. Last fall he confined the spots to workable outerwear and in the spring he abandoned Rodeo Drive. It is as if Cavalli realized that in 2004 he finally approached the boundary between ripe and rotten.

The result of this new (relative) sobriety is a Fall 2008 collection that was one third inspired by the young Natalie Wood. The other two thirds involved Peruvian Indians and c. o. d. Cavalli; one item was incomprehensible and the rest reflected the evolving leanness.

Never fear: There was still plenty to satisfy the wax figure known as Victoria Beckham.

A stranger to Cavalli might not realize that the full-blown Cavalli woman once existed in all her glorious ambrosia. She paraded around Beverly Hills with one breast exposed to the sun and the other covered in chinchilla. Wise men and history tell us that her wardrobe makes Cavalli's new collection look almost Puritanical. The episodic orgy of prime-time TV may be over, but Hollywood is still very much a part of the designer's lookbook. Time will tell whether this new script is something other than ephemera.

In the past, Cavalli painted in Dionysian oils, the thicker the better. Having switched to watercolors, the Wood-inspired dresses for fall were primly Apollonian. They were also white or pastel and styled like the underpinnings of a prom dress. This gave them an elysian perishability akin to being unable to watch Splendor in the Grass without separating Wood from the knowledge of her mortality. It also spoke volumes about the fragility of fantasy.

Overall, this part of the collection was simple but not arresting. To say it was seasonally incongruous sounds peevish. Expectation might be at fault here; when one is expecting an autumnal cliffhanger and gets instead an easy springtime ending one tends to question the price of admission.

Luxe returned, moderately, for the Peruvian-folk abstraction. Here Cavalli trimmed two coats with fur and used bright floral patterns on skirts inspired by the petticoat-like traditional polleras. Through no fault of the inspiration, a couple of pieces in this section failed to come together. A silk skirt and bodice fused onto a gray top looked like a mismatch. Balancing this misfit was a deluxe flapper dress with semi-sheer skirt and signature sternum slash.

Also part of the Incan third of the collection was a black silk dress with dropped, boxy waist. Its funereal starkness made it an odd fit. Not particularly figure-enhancing, it had a stiffness close to rectitude and yet was perhaps the part of the collection closest to a purist's bella figura, a Prada bella figura. "La bella figura" refers not just to an ideal image, but to the cultivation of manner. Arguably, the purist in Prada would be perceived as having a quieter, more refined aesthetic than the glamazon in the older Cavallis.

The collection was not meant to be unitary, although the demure Splendor in the Grass looks would have been more relevant in the spring. Why Cavalli chose to include them in the fall collection might be expressed by a quote from the writer André Breton:

"First one must love. There will always be time afterwards to analyze the reason."



Imelda Matt said...

NO, NO, NO Imelda doesn’t understand…I love those women, gawdy, OTT and just plain fabulous. With Donatalla M.I.A were does one buy spray-on leopard denim, I need to walk my camel?

I didn’t feel it last season with the white maxis and I don’t feel the love this season. RC come home and my chinchilla with you.

susie_bubble said...

I'd almost prefer the Cavalli that I know and loathe....
His recent collections which are neither here nor there don't quite work either..

iñaki said...

The leopard must be slowly going to sleep.
I was never a fan of his, but it was Cavalli, something that has to exist in a certain way as a horrendo grandmother's jar you wish to get rid of yet you feel it has to be there, just like that.
His spring collection was enough of a notice of this change, this new one is just dead Cavalli.


Eli said...

I used to work a few shops down from just cavalli and every trip across was cringe worthy. I cant believe they allow him to make stuff like that before.

Suzanna Mars said...

I have always liked the rich-hippie tunics and nothing, nothing, will stop me from wearing them, even as they are retro incongruities when set against the 21st century.

I do not wear them with bronzer or big hair.

The older Cavalli reminds me of my idea of glamour when I was 13. Fur, suede, velvet, gold thread, souks, les choses Marocains. Little bells, too. I may have not evolved beyond this point; that girl is in there somewhere, only taller and blonder.

riz said...

I cannot agree with Susie Bubble more!

enc said...

When I first saw Cavalli's work, I became morbidly fascinated with it, because of the scantiness and animal prints throughout. It was all so OTT. Then, about five minutes later, I became over-saturated and had to look away. That was about a decade ago. I never broke the association. I never saw the transition about which you write.

I don't recognize any of this, and it's kind of refreshing.

Suzanna Mars said...

enc, there is trash and then there is trash. Degrees of trashiness are quite important, and my ability to observe them minutely must make me a trashiness connoisseur. But then again, I was immersed in glam rock from the time I was 12, so it's no surprise that reduction, no matter how slight, would appear magnified.

And I have two leopard coats, of varying degrees of sedateness. Plus leopard mules.

enc said...

Mind you, I quite like a bit of trash.

Suzanna Mars said...

Goody, enc! We can start a club.

Thomas said...

As someone who only knows Cavalli through his H&M collections and fabulous Lagerfeld costume, I was a bit surprised to find that he is a bonafide capital "D" designer.

I should probably dip into the 80's to find his magnum opuses...opii?