February 24, 2013 4:37 pm

Marni-Armani forge old ideas in new light

©AP

Between the maximalist and the minimalist poles in Italian womenswear there is, of course, a third approach: the centrists, who take a bit from both, forging sometimes surprising alliances. Into this category fall Marni, where designer Consuelo Castiglione has made a name for herself by combining an architectural simplicity with the judicious use of bling and Emporio Armani, where Giorgio Armani has married his trademark easy suiting with a lively, though not too challenging, sense of sartorial adventurism.

Judging by fashion mogul Renzo Rosso’s decision to become a majority investor in Marni last December, adding it to his stable of brands such as Diesel and Maison Martin Margiela, there’s an industrialist faith in this position. However, it can also lead to a brand trying to be too many things for too many people, risking the loss of its own specific point of view. What was the case this season?

Both, it turned out.

At Emporio, Mr Armani continued what has been a recent fascination with Asia, calling his collection “Kajal” after the kohl-like mineral used in make-up, and showing easy, Jaipur-print silk pyjama pants with matching tunics – mixed with 1920s cloche hats and bowlers; timeless muted pastel flannel trousers and jackets; wide mohair trousers (mohair trousers?!) paired with organza shirts; and jewel-toned ankle-length velvet dropped-waist dresses.

In other words, the clothes were pulled in many directions at once: not just East, but west, south and north, too, as well as back to the past and while some of it was wonderfully wearable, some of it was a little weird. Just when you had situated your mind in time and place – bam! – off you went through a designer wormhole somewhere else.

At least at Marni, Ms Castiglione focused on only two latitudes: the contrasts between “severity and grace, opacity and shine,” which she navigated, it turned out, terrifically well.

In a collection based on pared-down menswear wools and shapes – tailored cropped trousers, below-the-knee straight skirts, strapless peplumed tops, simple sheaths – luxed-up via shiny beaver trim on skirts and shoulders, she showed that the right ideas, carefully chosen, can add up to more than the sum of their parts. Indeed, without the tension inherent in such oppositions, the same silhouettes (in silks printed with wood scenes, or cracked pottery; oversize coats in shaggy fur or fuzzy mohair) were notably less interesting; not bad, but not particularly inspiring either.

Judicious unexpected juxtapositions, in fashion at least, force the consideration of old ideas in a new light. Who knew how good they could look?

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