Jil Sander and Roberto Cavalli each have new designers at the helm, and the new talents at each maison face the same difficult question – how do you replace an established fashion master?
Ever since the feminist and minimalist Jil Sander left the fashion stage – albeit with several comebacks – the brand has had little in the way of nourishment, except for the brief period when Raf Simons was the designer.
But it might just have found its soul in Lucie and Luke Meier, who sent out an interesting and intelligent collection in a powerful setting: outside the raw building created by the late Zaha Hadid on part of the site of the Fiera di Milano, where Milan’s fashion history was built.
Lucie was part of the duo that took over Dior in Paris after the departure of Raf Simons, so her heritage seems suitably intertwined with the Sander story. Her pedigree is important because it gives authenticity to the Sander brand. Her partner worked at streetwear brand Supreme and co-founded menswear label OAMC, so offers perhaps a less rarefied vision of millennial fashion.
The show began as the sun was setting – the onset of evening signaling the removal of anything fussy or fancy, with the collection’s story told mostly in blocks of black and white.
The first note of color, a sheer checked dress in sky blue, appeared one third of the way through the show. Only the mix of a white shirt with a cream pleated skirt produced a stylish break from the more severe neutral shades. Much later, color appeared as a loosely knitted men’s sweater and an ankle-length dress in a complex patchwork of brown, green and yellow.
A pale china-blue coat with neatly tailored shoulders and lapels nodded to the namesake designer’s 1990’s aesthetic.
Although the building where the show was held is destined to be a shopping mall, its emptiness suggested an art gallery with the models walking some distance away. As they approached, it was difficult to see if the mesh front with dangling threads was a detail or part of a white blouse. When a mustard beige top with puffed short sleeves was teamed with shiny yellow trousers, the look was modern. But more mixed colors on a long dress in what looked like knitting seemed too arts and crafts-y.
TheMeier’s deserve credit for understanding Sander’s detailed modernism and following that path, even though the original designer was grounded in women’s tailoring, which is currently out of fashion in an era of stretch pants for wannabe Kardashians.
But it was a promising start and gives hope that Sander and her respect for women will find a worthy legacy.
“I wanted to come – to see what he is going to do,” said Roberto Cavalli, sitting front row and enjoying the limelight at the show that bears his name.
By contrast, British-born designer Paul Surridge, with a variety of previous menswear slots at Burberry and Z Zegna among others, was quiet and organized under the tented roof set up in a Milan park.
“I want you to feel sensual, I want you to feel empowered, I want a new sense of freedom,” said Surridge. “I want to celebrate the clothes of Mr Cavalli’s legacy – like animal leather goods. I use knitwear to bring modernity and freedom into eveningwear.”
“It’s a collage of multiple women, not just a singular idea,” he continued. “I don’t have a woman. I have a collection of women. I want to make it relevant for a global platform. To respect diversity. And also to serve a woman for her different needs in each day. We are a brand that’s very celebrated for a moment in a woman’s transformation to red carpet glamour. But I want it to be as important for the brand from the minute she wakes up to the moment she goes to sleep. I am inspired by a CEO or a lady president who could wear Cavalli. And to make it interesting, make it relevant.”
If that sounds like a pitch for the job, well, it probably was. But the designer was true to himself in respecting the Cavalli heritage while doing things his own way.
The show started with the sexy looks Cavalli is famous for; a sparkling black dress with lightly bared flesh appearing at breast, leg and navel stood out on the runway. The key difference, as the show segued into Cavalli’s favorite animal prints, was a sporty attitude with flat shoes appearing beneath the tiger and zebra patterns.
You could feel the relief, if not outward enthusiasm, from the line-up of store buyers who are always tasked with turning visually exciting designs into hard cash.
As a statement about the future direction of Cavalli, the show was underwhelming. But it had good, strong pieces and definite potential in the way that the new designer has taken the original cheery, sexy attitude into something more suited to millennials. There was something confident and powerful in the way the models would stride out, cut away shoulder lines exposing flesh as power. A pale blush pink on a streamlined dress also melded potency and prettiness.
Surridge made it clear that he was there to support the Cavalli name – and the man himself.
“I found it very necessary to embrace him into the brand,” Surridge said. “I am here to respect his legacy. I’m also here to push it forward. I have nothing to hide; I have only to show love – I’m honored that he’s here. He’s taken my invitation and I hope I do him proud.”