Monday, March 2, 2009

Just when you thought you had it all figured out...

Roberto Cavalli

Had you asked me two days ago if I saw myself wanting to review the Cavalli collection shown this week, I would've told you no. So imagine my surprise yesterday while looking at images from the collection. I didn't want to review it because it was so painfully bad, like Gucci, I wanted to review it because I really, really liked it. My relationship with Cavalli goes back to when I first started following fashion circa 2001. That was around the time that he started getting a lot of attention for his brand of flashy, trashy, rock & roll. As for me, I was young and thought the clothes were fun, and mixed in were always some fabulous leathers, furs and prints. But as he gained notoriety his collections become more and more over the top, any kind of cool or hip factor he had was banished in favor of blinding beadwork, feathers, big hair, bright colors, and overdoses of animal prints. This could be why he's developed a reputation for dressing the so called "footballer's wives" type of woman; very loud, very over the top and pretty tacky. Looking at things in hindsight, the reputation he's gained is actually pretty different from what he was doing when he first started getting noticed. It's not that his earlier work was more subtle or anything, but it just had a very different vibe. Anyway, cut to now. For almost two years now, Cavalli has been completely suppressing his identity and experimenting with a more girly, soft and romantic spirit. The only problem is that it's not at all true to what Cavalli's about. So even though he might get praise for doing something new and less trashy than his usual work, the fact is that he's being praised for not being himself.

But thankfully, he seemed to find a good balance with F/W 09, and I honestly think it's one of the best collections I've ever seen from him, the other being F/W 06. The rock chick of old was back in full force, but the image was more controlled, less over the top and cleaned up a bit. That's not to say it wasn't in your face, because it was, but the elements were used more sparingly. The overall look of the collection was very tough, with Cavalli channeling a warrior vibe throughout. It was also very sexy, with crotch high leather boots meeting thigh-high hemlines, but there really wasn't much skin on display in most of the looks, save for a few transparent gowns with bodysuits underneath. Cavalli clearly has learned that being completely covered up can be very, very hot, sometimes even hotter that showing a lot of skin. From the start to the end the silhouette was almost exclusively short, with lots of leg on display whether it was those crotch high boots or skintight pants with lacing down the front or side of the leg. But while the bottom portion of the body was very fitted, the top was a bit more loose and layered. The first look out paired a short fur mini skirt with fringe at the side with a plain knit top, studded scarf and a coat with a floppy, oversized collar, all in shades of black. The next look was similar, only the coat had been removed and instead of fur, the wrap mini skirt was covered in flat silver studs. A loose fitting printed silk tank dress with an asymmetric skirt was belted at the hip, and apparently some of the prints used in the collection were distorted images of dresses from previous collections. Fur jackets were cut in slouchy, blanket-like shapes that were actually pretty reminiscent of Rick Owens, and loose fitting mini shifts cut in angular panels of fabric came covered in concentric rows of grommets that gave the dresses the look of chain mail armor.

The color palette was extremely limited by Cavalli standards. The entire collection of 35 looks was done completely in shades of black, navy blue, brown, taupe and gray. This really threw the focus onto the details, whether it was those grommets covering entire dresses, the thin woven strips of suede or lacing inserted into the skintight pants, or the tiny brass rings that decorated the few transparent gowns in the lineup. Although there was a lot of surface decoration, it was all done in a pretty streamlined, paired down way. It was less for the sake of sparkle and more for the sake of creating textural interest. But more than the decoration, there was a focus on tailoring. Most of the collection was made up of tailoring, from the razor sharp mini skirts to the oversized blazers with cropped sleeves and boyish little jackets. Cavalli also seemed to go back to his roots in terms of some of the leather work that was in the collection. Drapey leather or suede jackets and tiered skirts had bands of grommets around the edges that had a bit of an Alaia feel to them, and a mini skirt paired with a shaved fox jacket and simple knit top was made of thin leather cords held together by metal armor discs.

None of what was in this collection was particularly new to fashion, and there were elements of it that seemed influenced by other designers (like those drapey fur jackets), but the whole package was definitely new to Cavalli. The glitz was stripped away, the ruffles, mermaid trains, feathers and plunging necklines were completely absent and the collection seemed more focused on creating a strong shape and silhouette than creating a Vegas revue. Even the styling was cleaner. The models had their hair pulled into slick, tight little knots as opposed to the voluminous sex kitten hair Cavalli usually favors, and the makeup was kept clean as well, just a sharp black eye. The only accessories were the occasional suede scarf, opera length gloves and small, studded clutches. Even though this is pretty different approach for Cavalli, I think this is a much better direction for him to be persuing than the pretty, romantic flowery stuff he's been doing for the last few seasons. It still feels like him, just cleaned up and seemingly made with someone other than celebrities in mind. I feel like I've said this a lot recently, but I really hope this collection is a sign of things to come.


Evolution is rarely something you see on a Prada runway, at least not in any short term way. Sure there's been a definite evolution of the Prada woman since Miuccia Prada's Ready to Wear first became influential in the early 90s, but Prada usually prefers revolution to evolution. But lo and behold, Prada wound up evolving some of the ideas she toyed with in her fabulous S/S 09 collection for F/W. For the most part it wasn't an obvious evolution, but it was there once you scratch the surface a bit. For Spring, Prada toyed with an idea she described as being primitive, and while you could kind of see that in the wrinkled fabrics and overt sensuality, the primitive aspect of things didn't really fall into place until you saw the ad campaign. It wasn't primitive in some neanderthal way, but primitive in an ancient Greco/Roman way. Those wrinkled fabrics took on a whole new meaning. Instead of looking rumpled and textural, they suddenly looked like crumbling stone ruins. Anyway, for F/W 09.10 Prada continued that primitive train of thought. The collection, she said, was about going back to nature, something more raw and uncomplicated.

The show opened with sharp, bordeline elegant tailoring in heavy wool tweeds in colors like bark, ochre and crimson. The clothes were heavy and substantial, but thanks to the belted waists, kimono necklines that stood away from the collarbone and skirts with overlapping panels that opened up the side of the leg, the look was also entirely feminine. Skirt suits were paired with lug-sole high heel pumps. Fisherman's sweaters were worn with high waisted shorts and high heeled wellies with bulky socks peeking out the top. And a peacoat was worn over a matching sweater with thigh high wader boots completing the look. There were a few pieces in a tapestry patterned devore velvet that looked like it had been ripped right from the walls of a stately manor. And a simple sheath paired a deep v-neck top portion in ochre colored velvet with a fitted skirt in oatmeal colored tweed. The clothes thus far weren't obviously primitive, if anything they had a very English country life meets wartime austerity kind of feel, but if you want to be creative, you could say that the designs themselves were primitive in that they were such classic, traditional pieces. I know, I know, that's a ridiculous stretch, but half the fun of a Prada collection is trying to figure it all out. The only clue that there was more to these classic clothes was the hair and makeup. Some reviews described the hair as "roll-in-the-hay" hair, but to me it looks far more barbaric than roll-in-the-hay, and the makeup was anything but country ready; smokey burgundy eyes with streaks of red glitter on the lid are hardly something you'd see in the woods.

Overall the early parts of the collection, even the fisherman's boots that I have a hard time picturing in the real world, was very autumnal and fairly straightforward. But then, as with any good Prada collection, Miuccia threw a curveball; a straight-cut dress made entirely out of mink that was made to look quite a bit less luxurious than mink normally looks. Paired with the hair and makeup it draws the inevitable comparisons to cavemen and women. Another dress with a deep v-neck combined mink on the top and tweed on the bottom. Yet another had chunky beadwork that looked a bit like armor. And the suits and coats that opened the show now came in leather instead of rustic tweeds. There were also some stiff wool felt pieces embroidered with vaguely floral patterns done in black paillettes. Then came the final twist and the one that sealed it for me that this collection was in fact evolutionary; the finale looks. Dresses and skirts made from strips of leather that had chunks of paillette embroidery in places worn with linings that were covered in tiny studs were less goddess and more gladiatrix, but clearly Miuccia isn't over her interest in the ancient world. They wouldn't have looked so out of place in Sparta (the real thing, not the homo-erotic fantasy world of "300"), but the embroidery added a glamorous and decidedly quirky touch to them. No warrior would leave for battle without that staple accessory, a helmet with a giant feathered crest down the center of it, but since helmets have sort of fallen out of fashion Miuccia did the only sensible thing, she put the crest on the back of stack heeled studded pumps or sandals in pink patent leather and red velvet.

It pains me to say it, but I wasn't as blown away by this collection as I had hoped I would be. I think I'm learning to never get too excited about seeing a collection because you loved the season before it. Even if you wind up really liking the new collection, you'll still be let down if you get your hopes up too high. Like Jil Sander earlier in the week I was left feeling like Prada didn't go to the fullest extent of things. The barbarism that made up the last part of the collection was exactly what I was hoping for from Prada after her men's collection in January, but given how much of this collection was made up of basics (beautiful basics, but basics none the less) I was just left wondering why Miuccia didn't really expand upon it. That's the thing about the Prada woman though, just when you think you've got her all figured out it turns out that you couldn't be more wrong. I may be wrong, but perhaps that's the real secret to Prada's success.

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