Given that he was raised in Vienna and trained in London, the fact that Arthur Arbesser is based in Milan is easy to mistake for a matter of happenstance. Perhaps it was, at first. He spent seven years in the atelier at Giorgio Armani, and by the time he’d decided to strike out on his own, he’d made a life in Italy and was determined to stay put. But those years soaking up Italian culture and Italian craft have marked Arbesser, as his show today at Pitti proved.
His collection was, in various ways, an homage to Italy’s tradition of small-scale industrial producers, most obviously in its layered references to Bitossi ceramics and Memphis design. There were iconic Memphis pieces by Ettore Sottsass on Arbesser’s runway, and very Sottsass-ian prints and intarsia knits on the models. The patterns pulled no punches—they were wildly colored and boldly geometric—and so Arbesser hewed to strong, simple, accessible shapes, such as denim jacket silhouettes, lean little dresses, and stovepipe-slender, boot-cut pants. There were also some clinical touches, like the doctor’s-scrubs tops in soft nylon or the languid trenches that had a bit of a lab coat effect. Many of the designer’s silhouettes were adapted for both men and women; there were six men’s looks here, a tip of the hat to Arbesser’s hosts at Pitti. The styling was so androgynous, though, that the appearance of male models on the catwalk could very nearly have gone unnoticed. His androgynous tone extended down to the shoes—another nice collaboration with Sergio Rossi, one of those Italian heritage brands to which Arbesser’s collection paid implicit tribute—and up to the show’s standout intarsia knits, which he has made by a small manufacturer based not far from Florence. People tend to associate Italian craft with handicraft—the cobbler in his workshop, hammering the sole onto a shoe—but Arbesser’s neat trick was to remind you, with the cool surface-ness of his clothes and their technical textures, of all the beautiful Italian things that have been lovingly mass produced.