23-Sep, 11:07

04:53, June 20 176 0

2017-06-20 04:53:04
Fashion Review: Miuccia Prada and Sylvia Fendi Grapple With the New World

MILAN — The coming of the robots; the end of work as it was previously understood; the lonely, hollow ring accompanying the virtual noises ceaselessly sent into the ether, sounds without echoes: These were some of the unlikely themes linking a bunch of disparate designers here over the past week.

And — surprise! — philosophy and politics are of concern even to those who favor sling-back sneakers and satin for day.

Consider the case of Miuccia Prada, a designer whose sometimes banal efforts come dressed in big ideas. For her show on Sunday, she and her collaborators at Rem Koolhaas’s research and design studio, AMO, restructured and decorated the exhibition space at her headquarters with Ollie Schrauwen and James Jean’s large-scale illustration — rushing locomotives, giant ants from a ’50s horror movie, an ape beaming cosmic rays — inspired by graphic novels.

The stated theme was the urgency of narrative in the virtual age. “If storytelling is the root of all communication,” as the show notes said, “the manner in which we choose to tell them — abstract or complex or simple or direct — is significant.”

Ms. Prada’s métier dictates that hers is an image language. This is a challenge, since, in the stories she tells, translation is often required. There is a limit, of course, to how much one can read into a topcoat. That there were a number of these in herringbone, camel, bird’s eye tweed, in a show of summer men’s wear, was a tale all its own.

Perplexing in other ways were the trousers with high gathered paper-bag waists, vaguely emasculating short shorts, creepy Cliff Huxtable cardigans tucked into waistbands, fanny packs worn at the small of the back, shirts with popped collars reminiscent of Ming the Merciless. Blanche McCrary Boyd, a gifted novelist pal sometimes obliged, like most writers, to take on the occasional well-paying bit of journalism, used to joke of those pieces that they were “not for the collected works.”

You might say the same of Prada’s show on Sunday, were it not for the shirts and assorted garments ornamented with panels repeating the irresistible graphics drawn on the walls. Those were the collectibles, the surefire Prada moneymakers. In a certain sense, that’s all the story you need.

“Many jobs are vanishing,” Silvia Venturini Fendi said before her show on Monday. “But new jobs are going to emerge.”

She was in TED talks territory, that messianic digital realm of manufacturing supplanted by thought work, making with coding, storytelling with aggregation. “We have a Skype look,” said Ms. Fendi, the rare designer to include neckties among her offerings this week. “It’s only waist-up.”

Since all that matters in the world of videoconferencing seems to occur above the horizon line of a desk, you could be naked below the waist and no one would care. Correspondingly, Ms. Fendi showed shirts and ties and subtly colored jackets over shorts, the aforementioned sling-back sneakers, various wardrobe pieces ostensibly adapted to open-space working, hot desks and hoteling, although presumably the successful venture capitalists able to afford her genuinely beautiful and ornately costly designs may eventually arrive at that vanishing luxury: a corner office with a door.

“Androids will take the old jobs,” Ms. Fendi said. “But the only thing that they can’t replace is our creativity and our minds.”

Well, that and our quiddities. Among the key collaborators on Ms. Fendi’s spring/summer 2018 collection was the artist Sue Tilley, a contributor and biographer of the Australia-born British performance artist Leigh Bowery, the depths of whose intensely transgressive work are only now being plumbed.

Renowned among the portrait sitters for the painter Lucian Freud, Ms. Tilley is an artist in her own right and, in her longstanding day job, a benefits supervisor at a London employment center. For the Fendi show Ms. Tilley devised a number of ornaments (leather Martini-glass brooches, for instance) reminiscent of the costly luxury-goods oddments another fringe Punk-era British artist, Judy Blame, created some seasons back for Louis Vuitton.

Credit the English both for respecting creative people obliged to live marginal lives and also Ms. Fendi (and the gifted Louis Vuitton men’s wear designer Kim Jones) for seeing to it that they will not have to live out their dotage housed in a refrigerator box.

“What would Leigh say about all this?” Ms. Tilley asked backstage at the Fendi show. “He’d be jealous of everything that’s happened,” in terms of her recognition and celebration, she said. “He’d have wished he could have been here to enjoy it himself.”

Leigh Bowery died in 1994 of AIDS, at 33, outliving by more than a decade Sergio Galeotti, the life partner of Giorgio Armani. It is speculative, surely, to say of Mr. Armani that something in his creative spirit may have been arrested at that tragic moment. All the same, it is hard to resist the intimation that the intense nostalgia suffusing his designs is rooted in an ancient grief. So many elements of Armani shows are backward-looking that it is often as if one were looking through the wrong end of a telescope.

The show was titled “Made in Armani” and, given that Mr. Armani’s ancestry is Italian-Armenian, it can seem as if he is designing uniforms for his own imaginary nation-state. The softly tailored jackets; the sensual knit sweaters; the penumbral colors; the mannered insouciance of models disporting themselves on the runway; the summery legerity of a passage of white garments; the sense of a particularly romantic form of gay eroticism, soon to merge with mainstream culture, can be laid to Mr. Armani as part of his legacy.

If those things can occasionally seem anachronistic, it is worth remembering — particularly in an age of Tinder, Grindr and PrEP, and shifting national boundaries — that fashion is rooted in Eros and that both the easy sensuality of which he is an author and the tragedy of which he is an inheritor are inevitably elements of his creative truth.