In the history of architecture panels can be interpreted as very inspiring elements as they interconnect modular units and offer great combinatory possibilities. This concept instantly came to mind as soon as the first models walked down the Prada runway yesterday afternoon during Milan Fashion Week.
Knee-length skirts matched with cropped boxy jackets integrated indeed panels in different fabrics (mannish tweeds on neutrals were an example) that created juxtapositions and contrasts.
At times the suits came in striped versions or were built using combinations of shiny and matte textures, while short or see-through skirts were matched with suede pajama-like jackets.
The suits then appeared in other versions, made for example in a see-through or semi-transparent material also employed for light yet squarish coats and slip dresses layered on shirts with surreal motifs of rabbits and rockets or matched with graphic knitted tops with geometric motifs (for that twisted and kitsch edge).
Though time warps were introduced via drop-waist dresses with Art Deco motifs, the mood was intensely futuristic.
There were occasional references to Courrèges such as the dynamic and clean shapes or the flat boots and the pointy flat patent and suede shoes with ankle straps with a spherical moon-like metal ball perched on the toe, and Cardin (the white and brown leather and snake jacket echoed some of Cardin's more famous looks), even though the palette was borrowed from '70s interior design, while it also called to mind Irma Broom's Colour DNA wallpaper for Droog (based on the portrait of Alida Christina Assink at the Rijksmuseum).
Interior design was actually a strong theme in the setting: the Prada headquarters in Via Fogazzaro was transformed in a strange spaceship-like environment with fiberglass and polycarbonate tubes and fixtures hanging from the ceiling.
As a whole the structures called back to mind Ugo la Pietra's design for the Milan-based Altre Cose boutique.
Designed at the end of the '60s, the boutique was characterised by a forest of see-through plastic cylinders suspended from the ceiling and protecting garments.
The translucent element hanging over the runways in this case referenced the translucent designs such as skirts and raincoats.
There was also another architectural reference: the room was bathed in a golden light and models were given an eccentric twist to their otherwise conservative looks by adding a shade of gold lipstick courtesy of makeup artist Pat McGrath.
This may have been a reference to the new Fondazione Prada spaces in Milan. Set in a 1910 gin distillery, this new arts centre for the Prada Foundation includes indeed a building covered in 24-carat gold leaf, a material that reflects the light infusing an amber glow on the rest of the industrial complex or establishing contrasts with the pale gray or charcoal buildings surrounding it.
The effect was more or less the same on the runway with the gold shade reflecting on the heavily embellished suits covered in sequins, while coats in metallic snakeskin and suede stripes, estalished further correspondences between industrial design and fancy spectacle.
Accessories included large sequinned baubles and geometric disco ball-like earrings (has Miuccia developed a fascination with polyhedra?), while the shoe details were derived from interior design and construction materials.
The spike of a heel ended up in a flat disc (or was that meant to be a drawing pin or a nail?), while net-like lace elements were casually thrown on top of suits and coats giving the impression the models had been passing through a street when they were hit by bits and pieces of construction safety nets scattered around by careless workers (were these hints at workwear and utility gear)?
As a whole the collection was suspended between good and bad taste, in a perfectly polished remix exercise of different moods and textures, of past designs from Miuccia's own archives or from someone else's that still left her as defiant as ever.
Spotting all the references and sources in her collections has become almost an intricate fun game, but at the end of it Miuccia the remixer always comes out as the winner.
The history of fashion may be studded for example with ball or sphere heels to give the impression the wearer was on top of the world; Miuccia puts the ball on another section of the foot - say on the toe - almost to symbolise her own kick to the world and to anybody daring to criticise or dissent with her vision.
Yet nowadays Miuccia is not alone: the remixing process that has led in 2015 to the transformation of Takeji Hirakawa's "Fashion DJ" into a professional "Fashion Remixer" has become a fully fledged art as seen also during Gucci's show, located in a disused train depot.
Here Alessandro Michele continued the theme of the mash up throwing everything in this expanded womenswear collection (he opted for 64 pieces).
Yes, there was literally "everything" in the collection, that included references from the 1400s on, and featured vintage botanical and ornithological prints with some insects thrown in, classic Gucci pieces from the archives (obviously remixed...) and glasses with a '70s frame, but '50s embellishments.
There were Royal Tenenbaums moments with more than one look that may have been favoured by random characters in a Wes Anderson film; suits that Jarvis Cocker may have liked around 1996; parrots and pineapples; berets and neck ties; sheer blouses and transparent dresses for ethereal muses; pleated skirts and school girl uniforms; inverted cupcake pleated python skirts matched with leaf-shaped organza tops; vintage prints and brocaded suits; long knitted shawls and lurex waistcoats (a nod to early designs by Missoni?); sequinned birds of paradise on organza dresses and metallic bees on jacquard trenchcoats, plus random ladybirds, eyes and lips brooches for that added Surrealist edge.
Art met history in motifs stolen from Chinese art or ancient pottery vases, and there was a reference to French philosopher Madeleine de Scudéry, author or the psycho-geographic Carte de Tendre (Map of Tendre, 1654), detailing female emotion.
This map of an imaginary land called Tendre appeared as an engraving in de Scudéry's novel Clélie and was reprinted on a dress in the collection.
Accessories included punk studs made of bullet casings scattered on high heel shoes; perilously high platform shoes; squarish heels on which snakes contorted; beaded motifs (bolts, birds, ribbons, strawberries, and all things kawaii) on classic Gucci bags; tiny glittery bags shaped like tiger heads and '70s luggage with red and green stripes and prints of exotic birds.
If you managed to dig through all the various inspirations you would have realised that one of the key themes was optical illusion: there were indeed a lot of trompe l'oeil sequinned collars, cuffs and ruffles (that spilled also onto the mules) pointing towards Roberta di Camerino.
This theme was remixed in an architectural key in a dress that feature a ceiling that may have been borrowed from Michele's current Gucci office inside Palazzo Barberini in Rome (designed by Raphael View this photo) to which he added an exotic key twist with an appliqued image of a sequinned bird.
Michele used the collection as a psycho-geographic map of emotions in which he recorded his own thoughts and ideas. In a way it was almost too easy to spot his process: Michele works with books, old documents, archival pieces, film images, music and fabrics.
He throws everything into magic cauldron and, through his personal alchemical process, he finds correspondences, creates links and then adds an element that causes utter chaos and confusion (for example a red and white poisonous snake on the back of a trompe l'oeil dress à la Roberta di Camerino View this photo).
The impression at times is that he is mixing too many references that are contributing to take consumers on an endless journey without a precise goal. Yet fashionistas seem to love it.
Alessandro Michele may be sporting long hair and a beard but he is definitely not Jesus, yet his mix of elements borrowed here and there from different sources has turned him into Gucci's own saviour, winning new acolytes and establishing the brand as a rival of Prada's quirky style.
For the time being, Michele remains an arty decorator with a soft spot for luxury nerds rather than a dressmaker and tailor, but there are points in his favour: he is older and more experienced than many other younger designers currently considered geniuses who are showcasing in London or New York; he has read more books and knows where to find subtle or obscure references and how to combine them together (a process that also characterises the work of Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino); and, last but not least, he is also more knowledgeable when it comes to fabrics and materials, something that has helped him quickly mastering Miuccia's remixing technique and her skills at combining the high and low, the minimalist and the decorative, the poetic and the cartoonish.
In a nutshell, Michele may be threatening quite a few designers out there, Miuccia included, while making more than one fan of Italian fashion hope in a final Renaissance of the Italian city over the other fashion capitals. As retro-eclecticism is currently sweeping through Milan luring the heart of fashionistas, the trick from Michele's part will be to stop cluttering Gucci's collections with too many references in an attempt at imitating Fellini's beautiful chaos in 8½.
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