First of a two-part review of the shows that made a difference in the Autumn/Winter 2018 fashion week.
Arthur Arbesser and Fay: on the move
How smart of Diego Della Valle of Tod’s to choose for his Fay company a designer who has both vision and a sense of detail. Arthur Arbesser studied this brand designed for young people on the move. Not only did he create male and female sportswear, from a silvered blue trench coat to a sporty jacket, but he also showed a pleated skirt, or slim trousers, on a travel circuit, in which models moved from aircraft boarding stairs to trains. So close to real life, such well-designed clothes between smart and sporty. And so well presented that it told the Fay story with supersonic speed.
Arbesser has been steadily growing his namesake brand, and this Autumn/Winter 2018 show was exceptional because its angular lines and linear cuts were inspired by the past but still seemed relevant. Asked by his native city to take part in a project about Viennese modernism, marking the death of Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser, Egon Schiller and Otto Wagner 100 years ago, the designer created a collection that was as poetic as it was streamlined and wearable.
An accompanying pamphlet showed how Arbesser had used historic designs of rooms, furniture and vases to create a contemporary collection, putting a shining metal surface on pastel coats or by giving a modern look to the geometrical pattern of a puffer coat. Together, the grid of lines had a whip of severity.
But just at the right moment the designer sent out dresses with a riot of flowers that looked hand painted; or a satin fabric that took colour from pink to orange like a paint stroke. Austrian inspiration and Italian technique produced a collection as imaginative as it was wearable.
Marni: techno meets primitivism
As soon as I saw the threads dangling from dresses or jackets at Marni with Rossini’s “Cats’ Duet” repeated on the soundtrack, I thought of The Phantom Thread, the movie starring Daniel Day Lewis as a couturier obsessed with detail. In Francesco Risso’s third showing since Consuelo Castiglioni left the brand, the designer’s focus was on packaging, from the plump seating of wadded bundles to other piles of stuff heaped about the room.
The subject of the show was the wispy and unfinished – but shown with the hyper-industrial plastic-looking coats in eerie colours. Risso named the collection “Techno Primitivism”, making at least verbal sense out of the mixes of “stuff”, such as a coat that was half green animal print, half leather, the two halves banded together with a belt where strings of thread passed through a round wooden block.
The surprise was that the show did not seem confusing. It was as though Risso had taken Castiglioni’s passion for nature and made a collection that was a battle in fabric and colour between the livid and shiny and the wisp of a peacock feather in the ear. A designer to watch.
Stella Jean: making history count
The Berlin Olympics of 1936 and two rival sportsmen were the inspiration of Stella Jean, who made a long-ago leap against prejudice seem relevant. The German athlete Luz Long advised and helped the African American Jesse Owens, and when the former died in Hitler’s war, he asked his friend to keep contact with his son.
Stella Jean has always sought to communicate through clothes a concept of bringing together opposing worlds. This time, she dovetailed the sporty and the tailored: the slender white dress with lines like pencil mark, or skinny plaid trousers with a zippered sports top. Another bell-shaped coat had embroidered sports figures leaping around on the same check.
This mix-and-sports-match is hardly new to fashion; it is a stock item in any modern closet. But the designer has come a long way from when her penchant was for dirndl skirts with African prints, A full skirt with sports figures racing around was charming. And so was the French toile de Jouy pattern featuring a tropical paradise.
Romeo Gigli is back
The current fashion exhibition “Italiana: Italy Through the Lens of Fashion 1971-2001”, held at Milan’s Palazzo Reale, features two exceptional coats full of detail and workmanship, proving how much the fashion world misses Romeo Gigli. But the counter-culture leader against the extravagant Eighties has reappeared with a collection for Italian label Eggs.
The designer showed a quieter vision of his intense fashion years, but still included a golden beige coat with gilded decoration around the collar and subtle colours found more often in paintings than in clothes. Significant, too, were soft silken blouses slopping off the shoulder, and shapely coats given a dusting of decoration. Everything seemed super soft.
Those big shoulders, recently brought back by Vetements, were so much a symbol of the opulent Eighties, and Gigli has shown the fashion world how to bring richness to reality. His rose velvet cape from 1989/90 is still a masterpiece, 30 years on.