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1.13.2017

Roberto Cavalli

Norwegian designer Peter Dundas' first outing as the man in charge at Roberto Cavalli did not go down well; "cheap looking" was the gut-shot blow delivered in the press reviews. There was much mournful head shaking in Milan for days afterward. But he was trying to strip away the spectacular -but heavy and expensive- ornamentation that is so a part of the Cavalli lexicon and present a cleaner, more youthfully accessible version of the Florentine hell-raiser's aesthetic. The theory made sense, but in practice it didn't work. This is round 2. In many ways, this collection was a vast upgrade over that ill-starred début. Peter Dundas is not only a man who started his career at Cavalli; he wears shades indoors and a velvet dinner jacket with the insouciance that your average man wears track pants and a tee-shirt. If Cavalli himself has to be retired, then Dundas seems the dream substitute. Before the show he said that this collection is "what I want in clothes at the moment. Nothing in the collection was anything I could not imagine myself owning, or my friends or my lovers wearing. And it's a start of what I hope you will consider the beginning of creating a Cavalli wardrobe and a Cavalli look. For me, I dissected in my mind every piece of clothing that I wanted and then how to give it relevance in my vernacular and the Cavalli vernacular, and how also to kind of position it today". And there's the rub. The ineluctable equation facing every designer who presents collections in someone else's name : how to present the work while being him- or herself, and being relevant to now ? The relevant-to-now part was easily dealt with : Peter Dundas' key "how to position it today" influence was a suddenly wildly relevant house whose name rhymes with that of his last workplace, but which begins with a G. That’s not to say that this was specifically derivative of Gucci. Yes, many of the guys teamed sheer blouse shirts with a pussy-bow twist of scarf. And yes, here were richly embroidered soft suiting and day pajamas in violet and other counterintuitive pastel shades. Also familiar was a gleeful aesthetic overload consistent with the editorial -and, buyers say, commercial- craze for the other Florentine house. But Alessandro Michele's aesthetic, like that of Miuccia Prada's, feels led from the head; Dundas's, like Cavalli's, emanates more straightforwardly from the groin. Those incredibly made paneled snakeskin jackets, the leopard overcoats, the outrageous striped fur cape, and the pastel green shearling outerwear earth-shatterer were all rule-the-room bold. The incongruous insertion of herringbone and tweed was a nod to the post-formal English rock'n'roll ciphers Peter Dundas had turned to for source material. And while the women's looks contained many examples of the now by-the-numbers strategy of presenting similar outfits on both genders in one show to express the versatility of fluidity, there were also some overtly Dundas-ian post-Pucci, big pimpin', ruffled show stealers. The problem with this project might just be Roberto Cavalli himself -or at least his semiotic legacy. The designer is one of the most entertaining and vivacious souls ever to be part of fashion. His designs, in their time, were cutting-edge. But what Cavalli never had was irony -he was always utterly sincere- and fashion now seems all about an exquisitely modulated sense of insincerity. This Dundas-authored Cavalli collection was a million times more enjoyable to watch than the previous one; it was sometimes magnificent. But the signifiers he is playing with -the legacy of Roberto Cavalli- do not yet feel divorced enough from their author to be fair game for the breathless cut-and-paste of now. Is it why Roberto Cavalli parted ways with Peter Dunas in October 2016 after just a year and a half ?

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