Armani, Bally, Ferragamo: The Last Days in Milan

MILAN – If Tomo Koizumi’s clouds (and caterpillar) were the exclamation point at the end of next fall’s Milan Fashion Week, Giorgio Armani’s collection was the bronze glow. He called it “Cipria”, which translates as “face powder” and explains why the models were made up with a clear emphasis on the cheekbones and temples. The result was a subtle diffusion of the heightened makeup favored by fashion photographer Guy Bourdin, whose radical, provocative work from the 1970s and 1980s is (fascinatingly) on display at Armani’s Milan showroom.

These were, of course, the years when Armani was blazing his own revolutionary path in fashion. In the exhibit’s wall text, Armani observes that although they seemingly had very little in common, “Bourdain didn’t follow the crowd and he didn’t compromise and I identify with that.” Then he adds pointedly: “I don’t think there’s any other way to leave a mark on the collective imagination.”

You could look at the collection presented by Armani on Sunday and see the lack of compromise, as subtly as it might have been tucked into the flowing tunics over slim-fit trousers, or the black velvet drape of a metallic fringed piano shawl, or indeed , the general saturation of the clothes, like an opiate dream from a silent film. The models had kiss curls. As the performance progressed, their heads were covered with fringes of beads, like hats with feathers. Armani has always made movies in his mind, but now, they’re more seductively quirky than ever. Like the late period of a great artist, where he looks in, not out, and draws help from intimacy rather than grand gestures.

In fact, almost every fashion designer makes movies in his head. And it is the youth’s prerogative to engage in the grand gesture. Hence Maximilian Davis and Rhuigi Villaseñor, the two young Turks hired to transform Ferragamo and Bally, respectively. Both chose the same guiding principle: Desire. I mean, if a designer doesn’t understand that desire is the evil motivator of fashion, then they’re doing the wrong job. Desire can wear many faces in fashion: I want to be brighter, I want to be more real, I want to be funnier, I want to be sexier. Davis and Villaseñor choose the path of least resistance – sex. In this, they can look to the special tutelage of forefathers like Versace and Ford. Villaseñor, in particular, did a great job channeling Ford in his first season for Bally. This time around, he’s expanded his repertoire, imbuing his collection with a lush louche that probably errs on the side of over-the-top. Like the most fetishized, cavalier patrician dressing. You could say that this was the fictional root of Ralph Lauren’s empire building, and like Ralph, Rhuigi is the perfect outsider, the Filipino boy who lived in the US for 20 years without a passport, his nose pressed into the Town and Country’s window. One lesson he’ll learn the hard way from Tom Ford’s patron saint is the power of the arched brow. You can’t take yourself too seriously with this particular vision. His show would have benefited from the effervescence of a disco beat, rather than the stentorian electronica that bathed it in confidence. But Rhuigi is 31. He practically has a lifetime to learn.

Maximilian Davis is four years younger. Speaking of grand gestures, his second Ferragamo presentation was staged on a towering navy wall that looked like it was commissioned by Richard Serra (although Villaseñor could claim Leonard de Vinci’s house as of venue…wait, I digress). And it wouldn’t surprise me, given the way the art world now seems to be spilling over into the fashion world. More than his debut, Davis tapped into his own body trends with this new collection. It was sharp and cool, and also had a bit of slyness in its celebration of good red, white and blue (and yellow). Ferragamo traditionally has deep roots in the US, at least in its Old Hollywood incarnation.

If modernizing that kind of glamor is one of the challenges Davis faces, it’s not yet clear how he can do this in a way that will appeal to a new audience. A silver lamé micro dress was an incredibly obvious flourish. However, if Ferragamo was traditionally an accessories house, there was certainly an abundance of eye-catching bags. Perhaps this is the platform from which Davis can spread his wings.

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