There is nothing like a recession to get the creative juices flowing. And judging by the futuristic evening wear at Versace, the giant crystal meshes at Prada and the new play on deconstruction at Jil Sander, there is a new mood that will more than prise those handbags open next spring - wallets will be fairly jumping out. "The [financial] crisis is a big opportunity," Donatella Versace told the Italian business daily Il Sole 24 Ore this week. "It offers more stimulus for creativity... more ideas come about. To say that [consumers] only invest in things that last for years is to trivialise. If it were like that we would all close down. You need to incite them."
True to her word, Versace sent out a collection Friday night that takes the label in a new direction. After playing it subtle in recent seasons, she has put the funky back in the name with bold and sophisticated colours. Silver-panelled mini dresses, tropical green and acid yellow prints in stretch fabrics, hips wrapped in a pelmet of clear plastic and a reprise of the hipster trouser at a time when everyone else is touting higher waistlines are bold and brave moves. Versace was testing the waters, taking the name into a younger market with a sassier taste. The house has always been known for its adventurous spirit, but it also has not abandoned its signature evening gowns, which have been modernised with futuristic silver and mirror detailing.
One wonders if the elegantly deconstructed dresses and city tailoring that Raf Simons at Jil Sander produced could have been a metaphor for what the financial crisis has done to business in the past year. World events have certainly stirred Simons, although the label has a reputation for creating thoughtful and inspiring collections. Sophisticated dresses and trouser suits had strips of fabric torn off to either reveal bare skin or be replaced by fine mesh, while the scraps that had been removed were attached in a random appliqué of fabric swatches. Frayed suits in grained silk tweed and natural fibres, meanwhile, melded with fine gauzes to suggest a half-finished thought, or at least reveal something of their inner structure.
Since its early days, Jil Sander has been renowned for its fabric development and this collection experimented with the interplay of coarse materials and transparency. There were very subtle references to deconstruction in the Prada collection as well; bonded silks had a frayed, half-finished look about them. The influential Miuccia Prada, likewise, has a habit for giving fashion a big shakeout every so often. That sense of experimentation was evident again in her new spring collection. Set against projections of a hotel lobby lift, sparkling chandelier and tropical beaches, she presented a modern take on the beauty of the past. Nostalgic seaside photographic prints covered low-key coats, tunic dresses and caped jackets. The spare modernist lines and raw-edged fabrics neatly counterbalanced the saccharine quality of the images. Chunks of crystal worked in Sixties-style mesh aprons layered over shorts and dresses added to the innocent charm of the collection.
Experimentation is not a hallmark of Giorgio Armani; in the fashion business newspaper WWD published the day of his show, he said the economy had not changed his design approach. "I have learnt over the years that a designer who reacts to every fluctuation in cultural and fashion trends can easily come off the rails." Historically, the Armani and Versace houses have held polar points of view. Nevertheless, Armani focused on pretty, youthful party dresses rather than trouser suits. Unusually flamboyant colours appeared in a parade of dresses with Bauhaus prints or sequin panels that looked positively flirty from a man who 20 years ago was dressing the feminist generation.