February 21, 2014 3:28 pm

Milan Fashion Week: The leap from catwalk to the street

Kiev was burning and in Milan, Jeremy Scott made his debut at Moschino with a series of bad jokes. This is not the non sequitur it might first appear. Mr Scott could not have known, of course, when he was designing his riff on Moschino/McDonald’s – his pun on fast food and fast fashion realised in red and yellow bourgeois suiting complete with golden arches-cum-hearts or Sponge Bob yellow and black polka dots, his evening silks with junk food prints, his gold-chain-bedecked quilted leather mini suits – what would be going on in the world when it was shown. But that does not matter.

It is not that fashion needs to be political, but – as Miuccia Prada said after a collection that gave proof to her words – it does need to “reflect life”, at least life as it exists beyond a 24-hour mini-mart shelf. Unless the point is that the mini-mart shelf IS modern life, aka contemporary culture. Which is cynical, and probably a hard sell to both the high-end and aspirational consumer. Imagine it:

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Vanessa Friedman

“What do you dream of?”

“Oh, I dream of wearing a party dress that makes fun of French fries!”

Fashion needs to be responsible: to women, and their cares, concerns and sense of self. It needs to consider the way they fit into the world around them, and it needs to give that form in cloth. Which sounds a little overinflated, but in practice is pretty much the base of good clothes. So a month of binge-watching Fassbinder films such as The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, for example, and Lola (whose star, Barbara Sukowa, actually flew in to sing a live soundtrack for the show) had Mrs Prada thinking about “humanity and emotion, which are so much a part of my culture”, and sexual awakening, and the dichotomy between high and low, sophistication and base fabrics.

“How that gets translated into clothes is hard to know,” she said, but the answer turned out to be: straightforwardly.

Oversized shearlings and faux furs came in shades of purple, red and mustard, the curly trim contrasting with the shiny leather exterior; there were graphic wallpaper prints on below-the-knee stewardess shirtdresses; V-neck tennis sweaters were elongated and thin; sheer sack overdresses were made to reveal what was going on underneath; and a series of black cocktail styles had waist, hips and bust piped in silver. The whole nodded to the 1970s (in a familiar, jolie laide Prada way) without taking the inspiration too literally, and had the power of self-confidence.

“It’s just a sweater and a skirt and a dress,” shrugged the designer. But that was the point: stripped down to the basic components a woman might need to move forward, these were not clothes made to please anyone but the wearer. Which is perhaps why it was so easy to imagine them walking off the catwalk and on to the street.

As it was with much of the more relaxed, slouchy suiting at Emporio Armani – wide culottes under easy T-shirts or jackets in flowing fabrics: tuxedo styles piped in pearls; even an Armani velvet playsuit among a series of LBDs – all best with flat brogues and without the overcomplicated accessorising (mosaic glass “neckties”, pearl-studded freestanding collars) in which Mr Armani feels occasionally inclined to indulge.

And as it was at Etro, where Veronica Etro focused on 24-carat fabrications, from devore velvets shot through with lurex to paisley chiffons trimmed in micro-beaded geometries and embroidered Mongolian furs, but used in shapes that had the ease “of a T-shirt dress” and often counterbalanced by menswear tweeds. Ms Etro called the combination “folk couture”, referencing as it did cultures from Mongolia to Uzbekistan as viewed through a window on the trans-Siberian railroad and the wardrobe of Nijinsky, but all that meant was cool hippie deluxe materials in quasi-street styles that did not make demands on the wearer.

The point is, despite the over-the-top textiles, it translated – could make the leap from catwalk to closet – which is important at the level of the Milanese runways, where every show involves a lot of money and people and, in the case of Moschino in particular, where Mr Scott is only the third creative director to helm the house, history. Otherwise, when something terrible happens beyond fashion’s borders (in Ukraine, say) you risk becoming entirely irrelevant.

There’s no question founder Franco Moschino built his brand on the knife edge of humour and deflating pomposity, but his clothes were not kitsch, and they were social commentary. Mr Scott’s “exciting new recipe” may well sell a thousand T-shirts, but it was neither. As a result, it felt like a calculated whack at an easy target, played for cheap laughs – except you know there is not going to be anything actually “cheap” about most of those clothes. It left a bad taste in the mouth.

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