In the lead-up to the coming Spring ready-to-wear shows, your recumbent Examiner has been taking stock of fashion’s diverse currents from the street to the haute couture – and sometimes removed by some incalculable distance from either pole. It can be fascinating to see where these points meet and what they reveal about the way we’re living in 2013.
Conceptualism, whether it concerns an art purely of ideas, an encompassing thematic or design framework, or simply a cluster of inspirations and associations inducted into the method or technique of fabrication, as discussed in a previous post, today seems applicable in almost every respect to a number of design and artistic enterprises. In their 50-plus look haute couture collection for Valentino, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli seemed to have extrapolated directly from the inspiration boards or sketch books to the notion of a ‘collection’ parallel to the couture collection itself – a multi-disciplinary, but focused and personally inspired collection of a museum or, as expressed in their publicity materials, the wunderkammer. Variously framed or screened behind lacy gold filigree embroidery, plaited fabrics, and guipure lace (or variations on it), were panels of coral or coral snakes, birds and rhinoceri, moths and dragonflies, Black Sea fans and scallop shells, turtles and octopi – all in painted or printed silk.
The collection was outstanding in its restraint in the most literal sense. A refreshing emphasis on dayclothes played into this. But everywhere, in clothes for both day and evening, there was a certain tension between what was revealed and what was concealed; what was held back, or merely held-in, contained, and what pushed forward to the surface. Filigree velvet was latticed over collar and shoulders with fur-trim circumscribing the bustline; a capelet-bolero in tweed had a tent-like aspect that nevertheless bared the forearms. The painted or printed silk foliage or scrollwork panels seemed to float upon herringbone tweed or embroidered coats and skirts and dresses, adding a sense of illusion. Elsewhere, the gold filigree lace that screened or framed underlying silk layers gave way to sheer lace in gauzy black chiffon or organza. It was remarkable how even a sheer black lacy sheath covered the body from the neck to well below the knees – a Moreau moment. Or consider the notion of a negligee wedded to a nun’s habit – a dark brown velvet shoulder yoke or tabard draped like a scapular and descending axially down the middle of a sheer but structured brown chiffon dress with well-defined waistline and articulated drapery to a matching brown velvet hem. (There were a few looser, almost casual renditions of this idea – e.g., something that almost looked like a caftan or poncho over pants.) The ‘reveals’ for both day and evening looks – of shoulders, neckline, bodice – were discreet to the point of emphasizing how covered the body was. In general, the neckline was emphatically covered. The collarbone hasn’t been this sexy since Jackie Onassis’s off-the-shoulder gowns.
There was also the sense of illusion conflated with the concealed – plainweave coats over feathery paillettes (or the plainwoven paneled dress in silk or tweed beneath an openwork coat; floral/foliate scrollwork in shimmering feathered paillettes beneath a plain brown velvet blouse.
There were, expectably, beautiful bits of orientalia – in brocades, avian, floral and foliage embroideries, paisleys; but with oriental splendor held in check by its nature-bound inspirations. The color palette – also restrained through most of the collection, in blacks, grays, coppery-beiges and metallics, off-white or anthracite gray – occasionally bloomed (with the orientalia) into turquoise and luminous lemon-yellows. (It wouldn't be Valentino without red – and yes, there were a couple of reds, including a spectacular gown; but Chiuri and Piccioli are definitely charting their own course.)
As the défilé proceeded, with its succession of beautiful dresses eliding into capes and skirt-trains that were vaguely reminiscent of Narciso Rodriguez, you kept wondering when an actual opera coat would appear; and sure enough it did – in heavy black silk with red coral arrayed around scallops like lightning bolts struck off a Tesla coil. The notes struck here are of things wondrous and cherished – both from nature and human-made or elaborated. Nothing of menace or malice here. Yet through the play of illusion and material stuff, the concealed and the transparent, there was that sense of fragility, endangerment – the bolt of lightning, the bird of prey. I couldn’t help thinking of an old Talking Heads song – “Warning Sign.” Well. Have a look at the dresses. ‘I like the design.’