The Sex Has Left the Runway

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

c.2014 New York Times News Service

MILAN — Where has all the sex gone?

The tango between dressing to please the id and dressing to satisfy the ego that used to define fashion in Milan, with a shimmy here met by a stomp over there, seemed, as the Italian ready-to-wear shows drew to a close on Sunday, to have turned into something of a line dance instead — everyone stepping in time to a more blandly choreographed tune.

It’s as if, in this brave new dawn of get-down-to-work Italy, there’s no room for the flesh and fantasia of yore. The bunga bunga has left the catwalk.

How else to explain the fact that at Versace, the brand that practically defined the idea of in-your-face Glamazon dressing (think: Elizabeth Hurley in that safety-pin dress; Jennifer Lopez in that cut-below-the-navel number), there were a whole bunch of ... jackets? Those would be suit jackets: single-button, thigh length and cut to mean business.

Granted, they came paired with midriff-baring tops and skorts, either brief or asymmetric, with one leg long and one short in a style reminiscent of Donatella Versace’s work at couture, and sprinkled among shifts with a graphic geometry, like a magnified version of the house’s famous Greek key pattern.

But even the crystal-covered evening looks — miniskirts and halter scarf tops in pastel shades — and the long primary-colored sheaths with a contrasting zigzag up the front had a Power Plate, as opposed to dominatrix, air. They got physical, it’s true, but it was the kind of physical that might burst into jumping jacks at any moment, as if Versace had been on an aesthetic cleanse and hit “refresh.”

Perhaps this is why Giorgio Armani, always the yin to Versace’s yang and a uniform of the executive suite, finally felt able to relax into his own signature instead of constantly contorting himself out of his comfort zone, as he has in past seasons.

He called his collection “Sand,” and started it with a short movie by Oscar-winning director Paolo Sorrentino (“The Great Beauty”) about nature on the Italian islands Lipari and Stromboli, including brief shots of an almost-naked man and woman bound by ropes and lying on the beach (which provoked a momentary shift of unease). But the clothes themselves were simply fluid examples of what Armani does best: washed silk jackets in multiple incarnations (cropped and swinging, three-button, embroidered or knit); straight, easy trousers; organza skirts silk-screened with images of rolling dunes; and expertly gathered silk chiffon dresses, all in the sun-bleached tones of the seascape.

At least until evening, when elegant beaded cocktail numbers were paired with sheer organza harem pants or cropped tulle trousers. As if it were really necessary to remind us that these are clothes made for a nomad of the corporate kind.

Thus it went, collection after collection, to mixed effect. At Tod’s, a meditation on gardens led Alessandra Facchinetti to squared-off or crescent-cut separates in forest green and white and mahogany hole-punched leather, meant to evoke the negative of the pebbles on the bottom of its famous driving shoes; palm-print silk suits; and mid-calf skirts. The workmanship was impressive, with some skins so light they looked, and could be manipulated, like paper, and the concept was clever, but the net effect was an intellectual exercise: the garments neutered.

At Salvatore Ferragamo, Massimiliano Giornetti produced a polished play on texture within the framework of the brand’s standards: cape coats, bias-knit halter dresses, midi-skirts, all often trimmed in snakeskin. Touched not by an angel but an animal print, and producing a very genteel purr.

And at Jil Sander, making a well-mannered debut for the brand that was once the secret sauce of glass-ceiling breakers everywhere, Rodolfo Paglialunga found his connection to the house’s history in schoolgirl uniforms, from the V-neck knit sweaters to crisp cotton button-downs, wrap gabardine skirts and hip-slung drop-crotch Bermudas. There was a suggestion of ... well, suggestion, in the slit back of a shirt, and a striking pixelated print, but it was hard not to think these clothes doth follow the rules too much. Letting the mind govern the body is one thing; letting it rule with an iron fist another entirely, as both Consuelo Castiglione of Marni and Tomas Maier of Bottega Veneta have always well understood.

Though there was nothing seductive about the former’s 20th-anniversary show, a celebration of craft and construction, it had a handmade, counterintuitive appeal of its own. Oversize rough canvas schmattas were whipped into shape by judo belts, or came in the form of tunics over loose trousers and calf-length sundresses; blinding yellow and metallic versions of the same were splashed with painterly florals.

At Bottega Veneta, Maier said he was thinking of a “dancer’s walk” and how garments move on the frame. And that meant knit cotton bodysuits and leggings (ahem), covered by long linen dusters, which led him to sweats, but rolled up and slouchy, the sweatshirt tied in a big bow at the neck, which in turn gave way to a series of lovely dresses cut like a ballerina’s frock (sleeveless, tied at the waist, generous to mid-calf), made from raw-edged dark denim or strips of shirting fabrics or crushed gingham, occasionally covered by a veil of black tulle like a scrim, and sporting corsages of sequined and appliquéd flowers. They were smart, in every sense of the word.

“I’ll have one of those,” panted an audience member on the way out.

Amid all this restraint, the Emilio Pucci collection by Peter Dundas stuck out like a many-spangled, rainbow-tinted thumb. There were tie-dyed spaghetti-strap chiffon maxi-dresses and bead-encrusted every-inch-embroidered body-tracing mini-dresses; suede hip-huggers with lightning bolts down the side and flowered crochet ponchos dripping fringe. There were studded leather chain-mail vests and hot pants with peasant tops. Granted, there was a trouser suit or two buried in the mayhem, but they were cut with a rocker edge and, frankly, a little beside the point (put there to show retailers there was more to the collection).

It was kitschy, no question, but it had a good-humored, hot-to-trot energy that was hard to resist, probably because it did not exist elsewhere.