The Gucci year
Milan fashion week got off to a roaring start with Gucci's Jazz Age spangled flapper dresses defining a festive period for the hugely successful Florentine-based luxury brand as its 90th anniversary year draws to a close. Their year-long celebrations culminate in a lavish party tomorrow for the opening of a dedicated Gucci museum in Florence, and you just know what everyone will want to be wearing: those flashing Art Deco patterned dresses.
The Gucci designer Frida Giannini is on a roll at the moment. Like the gilded bugle beads on her flapper dresses, Giannini's golden touch has seen the luxury brand's revenues in 2010 hit US$3.6 billion (Dh13.2bn), much of that increase coming from the Asia Pacific region, which has become Gucci's number one market. This latest collection was about decoration and not just graphic beading, inspired by New York's famous Art Deco Chrysler Building. There were neat androgynous jackets (worn with 1980s-style high-waist tapering trousers) bisected with polished linear patterns in black, white, gold and shots of emerald green, and smart gold naval detailing.
The Art Deco touches are particularly on trend, tapping as they do into the 1920s theme that first emerged at Prada last season and on the catwalks in the past few weeks at Ralph Lauren (a Gatsby-esque collection) and Marc Jacobs in New York and Paul Smith and Holly Fulton (another one who knows how to work an Art Deco motif) in London. There is an overall move towards a silhouette that hangs away from the body and the drop waist dress is a classic example.
Given the archives are about to be thrown open to the public at the museum, there was surprisingly scant reference to the Gucci heritage in this collection, or indeed its famous money-spinning accessories. There were a few elegant chain-tasselled purses and the key shoe has a column heel picked out in strips of gold, but that is not to say there aren't plenty more styles that didn't make it to the catwalk. Although in its anniversary year, the past was limited to a soft black bag dating from the 1970s and the enamel tiger's head used on clasps, buckles and bangles. It was as though Giannini wanted to take a step back from all that history and add something fresh and new.
The 1950s theme has been kicking around for a few seasons now but the voluptuous va-va-voom vixen that appeared in the wake of TV's Mad Men success has given way to a cooler, primmer, ladylike vision. In London, the look had a whiff of 1950s suburbia about it - the easy sundresses and pinafores in their fresh, sunny prints were the sort of clothes favoured by Palm Beach housewives of that era. In Milan, the summer collections similarly have that loose, cool breeziness about them.
Fendi in particular presented crisp cotton dresses in shirting stripes, Breton tops, pinafore-style apron bib-fronted dresses, prim pintucked blouses and full-skirt combos for day. The look was cool and calm with a neutral palette and a few shots of luxe - perfect for a summer's day shopping in the city. Although a summer collection, the designer Karl Lagerfeld ensured the house's signature furs made a casual appearance in the lightest cobweb gilets, slipped over trousers for a sporty look, or as a colourful trim on vibrant evening clutches.
Hitchcock heroine hairdos gave a 1950s vibe to Ermanno Scervino's collection, where the silhouette was rather more body-conscious, with tightly fitted pencil skirts and delicate lace appliqués on sinuous satin dresses. Nevertheless, there was a pastel-prettiness to the collection, a delicate touch and that lingering sense that Scervino's vision is firmly rooted in alta moda, Italy's version of ladylike glamour.
So really, it takes someone as directional as Miuccia Prada to truly put the latest 1950s trend into context. That era has always been a recurring theme for the designer, but she has cleverly subverted the ladylike quality of the current version by giving it a bit of bad-girl attitude.
Models walking through the recreated parking lot set in their demure pleated over-the-knee skirts and loose, embroidered or lace car coats segued into girls with bandeau tops and tighter lingerie-style skirts under their coats, suggested that underneath that reserved, ladylike carapace there is something altogether more revved up. Classic frame handbags bore 1950s Chevrolet car motifs, as did coats; "hot rod" flames licked the hems of pleated skirts; streamlined shoes were shaped like car fins with go-faster spurs; while the swimwear was worthy of a pin-up girl.
Despite the adrenalin-inducing retro display, there was an overall modesty to the look: the bandeau tops with their vintage car prints were elasticated along the edge like a child's bikini, the witty Chevy motifs had the impression of being glued on to handbags and the palette of pastel shades had the sweetness of a child's wardrobe, which is exactly what Miuccia Prada intended.