Roberto Cavalli AW2018 Milan Fashion Week
© Catwalking

The British designer Paul Surridge arrived at Roberto Cavalli last August and staged his first show six weeks later. His first collection was a bold statement about where the Cavalli brand might go next. The Italian house has always been modelled after a particular kind of Milanese glamour — animalia prints, high-wattage sexuality, lots of studs. It is the house of the Italian stallion. Surridge wanted to rein it in.

His first collection was determinedly modest — cleaner, more minimal, with a lot less flesh. This season, after a few months “embedded with the brand”, he was ready to unleash his wilder side. “I have tried to meet the expectations of the business,” he said shortly before the show. “And find a new glamour.”

It sounded like a coded acknowledgment that the Cavalli client had found his first outing too quiet — though the wholesale buy from that collection was strong, it is yet to arrive in store and is yet untested commercially. Cavalli needs a sales push: last April, the house reported a 13.6 per cent fall in annual revenues, or a €26m loss. Surridge has now had more time to meet his clients — male and female (this AW18 was combined). He knows they expect a specific brand of luxury that requires big dollops of excess. But, he insists, they want something different: “I want to breathe new life into what glamour can be. It doesn’t mean lots of nudity — that seems inappropriate now. To me it means power, and energy and attraction. Sexy is still relevant but I want to do a seasonal take on what it means now.”

Getting one’s sexy back is a tricky proposition for any designer right now, not least one who finds himself at one of fashion’s glossiest labels. There’s a reluctance to objectify the female form — a flash of nipple on the Alberta Ferretti AW18 catwalk earlier in the week looked especially crude in an otherwise covered show. But there is still an appetite for clothes that are saucy, and have an element of flirtation — and fun.

Roberto Cavalli AW18 Milan Fashion Week
© Catwalking

At a presentation for Attico, the young Milanese brand led by the ludicrously attractive former stylists Gilda Ambrosio and Giorgia Tordini, the designers had slashed hemlines well over the knee and were ready to party.

Roberto Cavalli AW18 Milan Fashion Week
© Catwalking

After a careful study, Surridge too was ready to be more free with his designs. His AW18 show was based on a dark Cavalli palette of black, wines, purples and tobacco. Silks were printed in a degrade pattern that echoed Murano glass. The silhouette was either whip-slim, with long, lean leather trousers and fitted shirts, or fluid, floaty, asymmetric and slashed at the thigh.

Roberto Cavalli AW18 Milan Fashion Week
© Catwalking

Cavalli’s “ani-malia” codes — the zebra print, the crocodile skins, the furry (shearling and wolf, as it happens) — roamed freely across the collection. There were covered studs, feathers, fringing and crystal embroidery. And while there was no nudity per se, the clothes revealed big cutaway and transparencies throughout.

Roberto Cavalli AW18 Milan Fashion Week
© Catwalking

Was it powerful? Good question. I don’t personally find ultra-feminine design especially empowering — no matter how “aggressive” the accessories. While the earlier looks, in black, were strict and elegant, the later designs seemed a little overwhelmed with extras.

Roberto Cavalli AW18 Milan Fashion Week
© Catwalking

If power is about inhabiting a certain attitude, or exuding an unassailable confidence, then Surridge nailed it. If you can pull off an asymmetric minidress and wine-red crocodile coat, then all power to you. I prefer Surridge’s tamer side.

Roberto Cavalli AW18 Milan Fashion Week
© Catwalking
Roberto Cavalli AW18 Milan Fashion Week
© Catwalking

Photographs: Catwalking

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