Vixens, Vamps, And The Vainglorious

While sexy (and sexed-up) continues to be a big theme this season, Versace is not following a trend. They can’t be when they have been doing that all along

This fashion week season in Milan, celebrity is major. But not any personality known locally. Rather, Italian brands are using American stars of the West Coast, who made their name in reality TV, to headline their collections. Most talked about was Kim Kardashian at Dolce & Gabbana earlier. But a day earlier, it was Paris Hilton at Versace. Ms Hilton may not be as big a contributing fashion figure as Ms Kardashian (although she appears as a runway model frequently enough) and had no part in the Versace collection, but she is recognisable a name to let any label get cooking. And she is considered “a fashion icon”, at least in the US, where, as CR Fashion Book noted last February, “she fearlessly leaned into the fashion trends of the day, taking them to the next level and ensuring their prominence in fashion history”. Well, we have been living in a cave.

So there she was, the former “most iconic y2k teen” closing the Versace spring/summer 2023 presentation. On the runway, she sashayed with a distinctive gait as she normally does, and in a sparkly and drapey dress (chainmail, in fact) not terrible different from what she wore for The Blonds in New York last year, or even her show Cooking with Paris. Donatella Versace talked about the women she designs for in the show notes: “I have always loved a rebel. A woman who is confident, smart and a little bit of a diva. She wears leather, studs and frayed denim and she has enough attitude to mix them with chiffon, jersey, and a tiara! She is a strong liberated woman; she is gorgeous; she knows it. She is the Goddess of Freedom.” Was Ms Versace also referring to Kim Kardashian, if not herself?

What are clothes for goddesses, specifically “dark gothic goddesses”? If they are extraordinary women, not deities, they’d need the extraordinary—specifically those that celebrate sexuality, not demonise it; show more skin, in the process, not hide it. We know Ms Versace likes her goddess-pals to be sexy—not deific, so every garment you can imagine that would radiate sexiness were there on the runway. But the mini-est skirt, so brief that the front pouch pockets were longer, was not enough to communicate the rigorism that Ms Versace employs in her designs. Women need more than boudoir fashion outside (even if empowerment means she could wear those too, anywhere). So, added to the lingerie this-and-that were slinky slashed-across-the-torso dresses; layered frocks over skirts, over pants; every pair of slacks except sensible ones: cargo pants, motorcross pants, leather drainpipes, jeans with repeated slashed Xs; and shirts—sheer, of course, and laced and blinked-out with iron-on crystals. A gothic goddess needed to dazzle too.

Just as you want to notice her, you want to sense her. This season, Ms Versace desired a lot of movement, or, to be more specific, superfluous stuff that swing and sway around the body. There were considerable fringing—on almost every spot you can add the decorative border, including bags (when fringes were too much, there were the rolled-up versions—tassels). To make sure that there was a consistent show of these dangling lengths, there were cording and lacing too, all left too long so that they can hang and swing, and lash, at the slightest movement. And to be certain that you were looking at those descended from the pantheon, the strutting idols wore bracelets that identify them as “GODDESS”. Surprisingly, Paris Hilton did not find her place among those so worshipped during the finale, or take the customary end-of-show bow with Donatella Versace. Perhaps, two “Goddesses of Freedom” are not at liberty to stand side by side.

Chic For Real Use

On Kate Moss, Bottega Veneta shows that what is wearable can be far from mundane, but others pulled off the proposition better than she did

She does not open the show, but she is there. Appearing the sixth of a 72 line-up, she saunters out as if she just stepped out of a ranch home. Kate Moss looks ready to work in the fields, if not to actually round up the sheep or milk some cows, definitely to put away bales of hay. Or, get into a truck to go to town to get some flour for an apple pie she would bake later in the afternoon. This is definitely not the Kate Moss we’re familiar with, not the heroin-chic chick, not the vintage junkie, not the festival style maven, not the TopShop collaborator, not a skincare businesswoman, not a rock star’s former girlfriend, not Johnny Depp’s ex in court. She wears a shirt-jacket in shadow check over what could be a tank top and faded jeans, unbelted. Only her leather shoes—not quite heeled—give her away: She isn’t going to do field or barn work. Strangely, Kate Moss on the painted Bottega Veneta runway does not look an urbanite as the other models do.

There is visual trickery involved here. What Ms Moss wears may look like flannel and denim, but they are, in fact, made of leather. Matthieu Blazy, in his second outing for the house, is reprising what he did in his debut: make leather not look like leather. It is a complicated process. Ms Moss’s top requires prints layered 12 times to achieve the chromatic depth of the woven equivalent. Mr Blazy calls this “perverse banality”, but it sounds like something Demna Gvasalia would do for Balenciaga couture. Other seemingly Normcore-looking pieces that might not be out of the ordinary at Uniqlo are given this leather-looking-like-ordinary-fabric treatment. Which means that if one does not examine the finished pieces up-close or in one’s hand, one may not know that the T-shirt is not made of cotton jersey and the jeans not cotton denim. The commonplace is not at all. Thankfully, Kate Moss did not need to do a Naomi Campbell.

The press describes what Mr Blazy does as “wardrobing”, creating practical clothes that have real use and place in a wardrobe. It is not a plan totally new to Bottega Veneta. Even as far back as the tenure of Thomas Maier, BV’s first superstar creative director, the clothes have been easy to wear. Its quiet luxury led Vogue to describe BV fans as projecting “stealth wealth”. The brand’s ready-to-wear line is, in fact, relatively young; its debut appeared only in 1998 (some 30-odd years after parent company Gucci introduced their first pieces of clothing). It was designed by Laura Braggion, the ex-wife of the co-founder of the house Michel Taddei, who, together with Renzo Zengyaro, developed the unmistakable intrecciato weave used in the bags, wallets, even shoes. Bottega Veneta has never alienated their customers with designs considered too radical for a functioning wardrobe.

Mr Blazy has not kept that approach in his blind side. This season the tailoring is elegant, with none of the exaggeration of silhouette that still plagues many other brands; the dresses understated but just so, with some in prints that are graphic as they are offbeat; the leather wear supple and slick, with barely a hint of anything rock or ruffian. There is nothing too forward or too retro about the styling, even the fichu neckline—absent in fashion for so long—is a neoteric, tad folksy flourish, so are the scarfs floating in the rear, their single tip secured to baubled necklaces. Those slim, sheer, layered dresses with padded appliqués and decorative trims are evocative of Prada, but perhaps that’s a certain Milanese sensibility shared by those who design with a certain élan, just as some brands are unshakably partial to flesh and flash. Matthieu Blazy’s follow-up to his debut is a well thought-out and deftly edited collection. And, best of all, beautiful too.

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