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Last season was all about youth pop, hashtags and @ signs. For SS16 Donatella Versace was striking a more mature attitude: a fact precipitated perhaps by her appointment of Anthony Vaccarello, in January, to oversee her younger diffusion line Versus. While other houses are sloughing off their ancillary lines (Just Cavalli has taken a sabbatical while Marc by Marc Jacobs is now enjoying an early retirement), at Versace the two collections will continue to co-exist. The need for each to serve a more defined demographic, therefore, is more acute.
Vaccarello, the young Belgian creative director who had been moonlighting at the house for two seasons, has been quick to insinuate a new urgency at Versus. Ms Versace, then, has been able to turn her attention to the ladies.
“She’s definitely not a young girl,” she said of her “urban jungle” SS16 collection, which she had relocated from the usual showrooms at the company headquarters, which are being refurbished, to the elegant old exhibition halls at Piazzo vi Febbraio (a nice touch in the year of Expo Milano). “She is a woman with problems, a woman with a busy life.”
She’s a woman wearing khaki. “Less flashy,” she instructed of the cotton drill used on the opening looks: sharp tailored utility jackets fastened with a band of khaki striped webbing and a giant Versace lion-head clasp. “This is a woman who needs to be noticed, but not just for wearing strong colours.” It’s also a friendlier, more flattering shade than the inky black of which Versace is traditionally so fond.
The look was announced as utility but here was an inescapably military theme. Her women pounded the catwalk in combat-soled heels and a vivid camouflage of acid green and neon yellow. The pattern was first introduced as a loose cut lounge suit, with hip-slung slouchy trousers, before exploding over skins, stitched in a patchwork of camo leathers on a bomber jacket, printed on delicate open-backed blouses with trailing sleeves, and re-imagined as a digital print, refracted and used as a fil coupe appliqué on flowing cocktail gowns.
“She’s fierce. She’s a fighter. She’s not fragile,” said Versace of her take on “utility”. She had set the show to an anthem written to commemorate International Women’s Day. This was feminist fashion, she insisted, and it was ferocious.
She had also tailored the military green into a super sharp suit, a deep dark green with a crisp yet fluid jacket and a long flared leg. Less flashy, less trashy - despite its narrow bandeau top. Ms Versace showcased the house’s exceptional skill at cutting to shine without embellishment. The suits were immaculate, a camel offering with a raw-edged hem was highly desirable. Versace had played with the pinstripe, too, knotting the ends to keep the “emphasis on easy.” In a season of lingerie silks, skirts and frilly dresses, great suits have been lacking. Here they were.
This combative collection found the company in fighting form as it readies to IPO, as announced earlier this year. In March Versace announced a second consecutive year of growth and a 27 per cent growth in net profits. A strong, streamlined line division, a great spread of merchandise — that sequin, camo backpack! That lion’s head khaki hold all! Those camo floral brooches! That belt! — and a plan for overseas expansion see it well on the road. Versus SS16 is already selling online, all part of the vital new infrastructure that is transforming the luxury market. Donatella took her bow in green camo trousers. This lion is roaring.
For more reports from the shows, go to our fashion weeks page on the FT web app