models on the runway for Roberto Cavalli's SS16 collection

I had a bit of a shock at Roberto Cavalli. Like many others, I had read an interview in WWD this week with the incoming creative director, Peter Dundas, formerly of Pucci and alumnus of the storied Milanese house of Cavalli where he worked in his early career. In it, he had spoken of a new modernity in his vision for the house, promising a “less colourful” collection with a “natural palette”, the introduction of new fabrics such as denim and a softer, sportier aesthetic. His first collection would also provide an experimental synthesis of the label’s two lines, Roberto Cavalli and its younger incarnation Just Cavalli, while he worked on the new house codes.

Strange how things translate on the catwalk. I imagined sober nude chiffons, easy separates and controlled print, something more minimal. What we got were big cat brocades, swirling ball skirts with ruffled trims which skimmed the crotch at the front and clouded behind the model’s backsides like steam from a train; snow-washed denim trousers, in hot pink and aqua, stretched high on the waist and cropped tight at the ankle; teeny tiny cocktail gowns in digitised leopard print, tied up in mega bows; silver lamé micro-dresses and sheer black dresses embellished with cat motifs and black-bead fringing.

The Cavalli silhouette, once long and flowing and essentially evening, had been hacked off at the thigh and was now dressed on top in an oversized biker vest with an exaggerated shoulder. “I wanted to create a more assertive, more powerful silhouette that would balance the very short lengths,” explained Dundas backstage. Skin tight, skin exposed, daytime in spirit and short, short, short. What had Dundas done with the Cavalli woman?

“I wanted to be independent,” he said of his new vision. “I love Cavalli, this is why I am here. But the very intense glamour can feel more mature,” he explained, “and I wanted the Cavalli girl to evolve. The materials — like the denim and the leather — are about ease. I wanted to look at what a woman needs, and what a woman wants. And these are all things a woman will want — whether she’s 15 or 80.”

I beg to differ. This show was unashamedly marketed towards the under-25s. Dundas had been scrolling Instagram to define the new look Cavalli, and these were looks made for short attention spans and maximum exposure — although I did love the earthy ease of the leopard print laser-cut leisurewear.

Roberto Cavalli wasn’t there to see the show; he sold a 90 per cent stake in the business to the Italian private equity firm Clessidra SGR in April. It is said to have paid €380m-€400m. As the new creative director, Dundas will oversee all the Cavalli lines, from the clothes, to the cafés, to the clubs, alongside a new chief executive, Renato Semerari, who has arrived from Coty.

There were a few of the classic house tropes here. Cavalli is, after all, the designer credited for “inventing” snow-washed denim and his legacy was honoured in Dundas’s “homage”. There were a handful of those gauzy, blousey full-length gowns so beloved by the yacht crew, and Cavalli big cats still pawed over everything. But this debut was a radical revolution, and at times it felt dangerously cavalier.

For more reports from the shows, go to our fashion weeks page on the FT web app


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