By GUY TREBAY
Published: January 19, 2011
At Cavalli, a New Generation’s Take on the ’70s (January 17, 2011)
BANKSY said it best: “In the future, everybody will be anonymous for 15 minutes.” The British graffiti artist and prankster’s inversion of the weary Warhol dictum about fame comes as a tonic in an age of self-promotion and so-called social media. No one thinks Twitter or the Situation are about to go away anytime soon, but a growing number of people find themselves seeking relief from a culture of doofus semi-celebrities and henpecking P.D.A.’s.
Right now few things seem as appealing as having a random thought and deciding to keep it to oneself. Suddenly anonymity, the kind that lets you blend into a crowd, looks pretty desirable, too. It certainly did during a week of Milanese fashion shows that were so unostentatious as to be generic. Almost across the board, designers here chose a low-key approach, one that was not merely commercial (that’s expected in Milan) but almost self-deflecting.
Miuccia Prada, who called her show a personal statement (whatever that means), was characteristically in tune with the spirit of a particular contrarian and countercultural moment. In the past Ms. Prada has had her way with men, making them puppets in an ongoing exploration of gender norms, or else giving them unaccustomed roles to play in the anachronistic garments of earlier eras. But this time she built a silhouette from generic and neutralizing volumes.
A big square-shouldered black overcoat of fingertip length, scaled to slipcover a refrigerator, was paired with narrow trousers or knickers and worn with striped knee socks and shoes with round heels. Mentally erase the styling gimmicks, and the clothes conveyed the message that the wearer would rather you not take particular note of him. In some cases, they looked as if, should you undo the coat buttons, you would find nobody inside.
There can’t be any more overused word in fashion than modern. But if by modern one means culturally attuned, then the Prada collection was particularly well judged; the clothes looked protective without being armoring. They were mostly without gimmicks (about the Lurex sweaters, the less said the better) or even gadget pockets. There were, though, some strange Hitchcockian valises of just about the right proportions to contain a portable typewriter or perhaps even a severed head.
It would be stretching things to draw connections between designs at labels as unalike as, say, Gucci or Versace or even Dsquared. But at all three of these houses there seemed to be a determination on the part of designers to stick to basics. Consumers have too much on their minds, even in this post-recession, to be caught up in fashion theatrics and folderol.
At Gucci, Frida Giannini made an obedient nod to the 1970s and the brand’s “heritage,” as if someone in corporate had jerked her leash and given a command: “Tom Ford!” But Ms. Giannini is shrewder than that and, after several years of heading the design team, more independent. Yes, there were vaguely retro bell-bottom trousers and satchels and coats made from materials (crocodile, lizard and sheared beaver) that would send Bambi racing to the forest to sound the alarm. But there were also straightforwardly tailored garments made from modest materials (mainly corduroy), in sensible proportions, as well as shearling coats that might as well have “Christmas present” printed on the lapel.
At Versace, the vagrant design course of the last few years — oligarch enforcer meets Vegas pimp on the way to Promises Treatment Center in Malibu — was dispatched in favor of almost martial severity. As you can tell from looking at her, Donatella Versace favors shapes that are tightly controlled. Her own strenuously achieved Barbie figure found its masculine counterpart in rigid suiting and long coats with the holster-style belts that so many people have “borrowed” from Helmut Lang (who got them from the military, of course) over the years that the designer should be paid some kind of royalty.
The stern styling — the models, seemingly cast for their knife-edge cheekbones, had rouge-tinted lips and hair pomaded to resemble patent leather — was the one bit of theater in a show that was held at the Versace palazzo. With the exception of a humming Prussian blue, the palette was limited to what you might see if you split a coal sack and dumped it on the ground.
Similarly at the Dsquared show, the usual loony backdrop (a camping wagon in the snowy Western woods) and clever styling tricks that are the stock in trade of Dean and Dan Caten (blacksmith aprons, cotton surplices, bad-guy Borsalinos right out of Sergio Leone), when stripped away, revealed a fairly characterless selection of dark wool jackets and artificially banged-up jeans. Is it damning with faint praise to say of the black coats that they looked sensible and warm? Given that these are the designers who pioneered style innovations like plunging necklines for men and plumber’s cleavage, it probably is.
A complaint often voiced here is that stylists rule the roost because so few designers design. Even at venerable labels like Giorgio Armani — still so potent a force in Hollywood that he led the pack of designers in the number of stars to be seen wearing his clothes at the Golden Globes —silly gestures like sarongs printed with Mr. Armani’s face and knotted over cargo pants barely obscure a general paucity of new ideas. It seems clear from Mr. Armani’s commercial dominance that the consumer base for this powerhouse brand comes to him for the familiar, not for innovation. But even the most devout Armani customer might gripe about the curious proportions of double-breasted jackets buttoned high and tight across the rib cage and trousers with expandable balloon pleats that make even snake-hipped models look broad in the beam.
Like Alice, men mysteriously shrink and grow in Milan. The body type favored by most designers remains ectomorphic. The coltish models cast for shows are uniformly narrow and delicate of bone. “Luckily I had the cheeks, and that’s what counts,” the Michigan-born English model Sebastian Sauve said before the Dsquared show. He also has all-important suction-cup lips.
“I’m 6-foot-3, and I weigh 190 pounds,” Mr. Sauve said. “That’s too big for the business, really. My agents used to say, ‘You need to get smaller legs.’ ” And I said: ‘Sure, no problem. I’ll just put myself in a coma and then come back in six months.’ ”
One remembered this when revisiting the Jil Sander show online, attempting to conjure again that imaginary consumer who happens to have a boy’s pencil thighs and an adult’s line of credit. As in the past, Raf Simons showed clothes of deceptive simplicity: cardigans, sleek skimmers, clothes that favor micro-quilting and the bonded fabrics that are the sine qua non around here. And as in the past, he employed sharp colors that make it seem as if he got first pick of the good Crayolas while other designers were stuck with black and granite gray.
Well, not everyone. Mickey Mouse primaries were a feature at Dolce & Gabbana’s cartoony show, and Tomas Maier at Bottega Veneta seemed more than usually influenced by his life in the Sunshine State. Yet as amusing as those sharp chemical hues may look in shop windows (and the neon clothes in the window of the Jil Sander store here exert a kind of weird magnetic pull), it is a rare consumer willing to risk standing on a street corner looking like a traffic cone.
The somber austerity of Jil Sander stood in contrast to the jokiness at Thom Browne, who, having already mined aquatic and wheeled sports for his Moncler collection, turned to equestrian ones. Five dressage riders atop big-rumped horses opened the show, held in a freezing cold dirt-floored arena. There followed a fairly ludicrous selection of garments based on fox-hunting gear worn by models leading leashed beagles. Or maybe it was the other way around.
A dramatic slash of red, the kind one associates with Manet, was the first thing to greet the eye at the McQueen show, which was held beneath a typically hectic crowd scene in a Tiepolo fresco adorning the ceiling of the Palazzo Clerici. It was the red of a handsomely exaggerated fur-collared redingote designed by Sarah Burton, a modest woman of outsize talents who took charge of the label she had long helped Alexander McQueen design in the years before his suicide.
There were many signs this week that the capacities of the tailoring trade are undiminished and still available to produce wonders. This seemed true of the perfect and perfectly nondescript two-button blue suit that was an adjunct to a small, three-piece collection presented by Umberto Angeloni under his Uman label (sold exclusively at Barneys New York). It was true of a singularly smart duffel coat in an off-white 1970s blanket plaid and with rope toggle closures, designed by the former J. Press designer Mark McNairy for Woolrich Woolen Mills.
And it was certainly true of the many subtle touches in Ms. Burton’s assured first collection for the McQueen label, which pulled off the impressive feat of advancing the design brief of her brilliant mentor — there were off-kilter jacquards, gorse-colored blazers worn over woolen track pants, jackets with mildly exaggerated pagoda shoulders, theatrical cloaks with military frogging, and unabashedly kooky Heathcliff capes — without in any way impersonating him. In the modest spirit of the moment, Ms. Burton chose not to take a bow at the end of her show, holding on to her anonymity while she still can.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 19, 2011
An earlier version of the article incorrectly stated the designer of Woolrich Woolen Mills as being the former designer of J.Crew. *****
An earlier version of the article incorrectly stated the designer of Woolrich Woolen Mills as being the former designer of J.Crew.
Michelle Obama’s Signals in a Red DressBy CATHY HORYN
Michelle Obama’s gown for the state dinner for President Hu Jintao of China sent out a number of signals. Fortunately, they were not mixed.
The red silk organza dress, with a streaky print of black petals, invited the suggestion that the color was chosen in honor of the Chinese leader. Mrs. Obama has worn black and red before — memorably, on the night her husband was elected president.
The full-skirted design of the dress — by Sarah Burton of the London house Alexander McQueen — recalled some of the opulent state dinners of the Reagan era. Made for the McQueen’s 2011 resort collection, the style originally came with short sleeves, which Mrs. Obama evidently had altered to suit her taste. Most of all, her choice had a just enough pomp to signal the importance of this state dinner.
Among the guests at the dinner were the designer Vera Wang, who has family ties to China and also produces some of her clothes there, and Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of American Vogue. Not on the list were designers typically associated with Mrs. Obama, like Jason Wu and Thakoon Panichgul.