Catwalk shows quite often point towards micro and macro trends that may in the next few months become popular not just in fashion, but also in other disciplines. One perfect example is the return of opera, and the rediscovery of this art form by a new generation of fans.
The staging last week at the Coccia Theatre in Novara of Giuseppe Verdi's Macbeth directed by horror master Dario Argento was a triumph of violence, blood, special effects (beheadings recreated on stage with special cinematic techniques..), controversial nude scenes, vague references to Profondo Rosso and a stage covered in salt to ward off bad luck.
Argento already tackled the subject in his 1987 film Opera that followed the vicissitudes of a young singer preparing for a production of Macbeth. While Verdi's opera is perfect for the cruel and violent times we are living in (Argento actually set it during the First World War), this representation was more about attracting an entirely new opera audience to the theatre, rather than relaunching Argento's career.
Though Argento explained that working on this piece brought back memories of his grandmother taking him to the opera in Rome, many interviews with the director focused on more modern aspects such as how certain opera pieces work better than rock music as the soundtrack for horror and thriller scenes.
This is not the first time Argento worked in a different field from his usual one: in the past he directed the A/W 1986-87 Trussardi Action catwalk show (though he was once refused the direction of Rigoletto since he wanted to turn the Duke of Mantua into a vampire...). You could argue that Argento combined in his career opera and film, but so did Pier Paolo Pasolini when he chose Maria Callas to star in the main role of his film Medea (1969), taken from Euripides’ eponymous tragedy.
As highlighted in a previous post, Medea has great connections with fashion: Italian tailor Umberto Tirelli and costume designer Piero Tosi came up with the idea of using materials traditionally employed in other fields - such as upholstery - and mixing them with other materials.
One of the fabrics chosen was the "cencio di nonna", that is waste linen canvas. The rigid material was matched with a lighter one, gauze, which Tirelli and Tosi bought in copious quantities from a hospital supplier. Different fabrics employed for the costumes in this film were also sewed together, put in a bath of glue, folded by hand and then dried in an oven.
Images of Maria Callas as Medea reappeared on the moodboard of Valentino's Spring/Summer 2014 collection. Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli actually claimed their inspiration came from visiting the opera costume studios in Rome.
The collection featured intricately embroidered pleated skirts and panelled coats; garments with lace work, floral or zigzagging patterns, and decorative geometries in a wide range of colours, from turquoise to bright red and vivid pink on a black background.
Though the leather hairbands with Roman coin-like studs donned by the models looked borrowed from classic times, the designs seemed to be the result of a sort of mix of traditional costumes from various countries, as if the designers had spent a lot of time not in an opera costume workshop, but in the anthropology and ethnography departments of a huge museum.
Yet it was this combination of different styles resulting in "folk couture" that was the key to unlock the collection. While working on Medea, Tirelli and Tosi - unsure about the historical period they should have taken as inspiration (since Medea was, after all, a mythical character) and to avoid falling into any stereotypes by creating unoriginal costumes generically inspired to ancient Greece - turned to research and fantasy.
Tosi avidly researched through numerous archives, analysing the traditions of ancient Mediterranean civilisations, the textures of filigree jewels, the mantillas of the Madonnas portrayed in the retablos, Sardinian folk costumes and Moroccan, Tunisian and African traditional dresses.
The colours became also very symbolical in the film: for the costumes of the Colchis people, Tosi chose a natural, earthy palette comprising brown and ochre; for the Corinthian costumes, he took inspiration from Pontorno and Rosso Fiorentino’s pinks, reds and greens. These connections explain the burnt reds, maroons and emerald greens in Valentino's collection, shades mainly employed for monastic Renaissance-like tunics.
Chiuri and Piccioli borrowed from different traditions and techniques to create a collection suspended between folk, costume and couture. In some cases their pieces also had a military and religious flavour about them: one cape with tasselled seams seemed to reproduce the shape and silhouette of Medea's ritual costume that comprised a sumptuous long dress matched with dozens of necklaces.
Flat leather sandals adorned with golden scarabs, scarab-shaped clutches and gold medallions of zodiac symbols contributed to recreate the mysterious aura of Medea the sorceress.
The problem with such a grand, opulent and operatic collection is just one - it falls into the costumy demi-couture category rather than into the ready-to-wear one and there is just a fraction of the entire female population who can afford dressing like this.
Throughout the history of fashion there have been other fashion designers fascinated by Medea: Romeo Gigli was a fan of Pasolini's movie because it portrayed Medea as a revolutionary character not afraid of rebelling to conventions. Hussein Chalayan's Spring/Summer 2002 "Medea" collection, featured ragged and tattered dresses characterised by the distressed aesthetic of the ragpicker.
After all, Tosi and Tirelli's costumes turned Callas into an extraordinary looking ragpicker: she looked grand, but the materials that contributed to her opulent look were really poor. Medea, the revengeful sorceress, wasn't indeed one of the ladies who launch and wear Valentino. This is what maybe Chiuri and Piccoli didn't grasp: it doesn't indeed take much to look grand when you're clad in beautiful clothes, but it takes a lot to look magnificent in ragged ones, so, in a way, toning down the opulence and giving back to Medea her revolutionary power wouldn't have hurt.
A final note: if you can't jump on the opera/Medea bandwagon by buying a grand Valentino gown, just start re-educating yourself to opera by actually listening to it. Then go out, buy yards and yards of gauze and make yourself a costume out of it à la Maria Callas in Medea. You can bet you will definitely be more gloriously rebellious than the ladies who lunch clad in Valentino.
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