Can a British minimalist save Italy’s most famous purveyor of leopard print? That was the question on Friday in Milan when Paul Surridge presented his second collection for Roberto Cavalli. His muse for autumn/winter 2018, he said, was Sharon Stone’s character, Catherine Tramell, in Basic Instinct.
“I like the idea of a powerful seductress,” the designer told the Guardian minutes before the show began, explaining that he wanted to explore the interplay between men and women this season. “Cavalli is an alpha woman and an alpha man, but together they don’t cancel each other out, they complement each other.”
As such, his show – combining menswear and womenswear – allowed him to revisit a lot of glamorous, high-octane codes the brand is known for. This played out with side-split tailored coats and skintight dresses that came tasselled and split to the thigh for women (last season was about the back, he said, while this season was all about legs).
The men wore imposing aviator jackets, spray-on-effect tops, and leather shirts with fringing. Opulent fabrics, such as velvet, silk and lace, dominated both lines, while the palette was an intense mix of ochre, turquoise and amethyst in ombré effect. Multicoloured leopard print, for which the house is renowned, featured heavily. It was a highly charged collection, or as the designer put it: “Cavalli was always frisky and I think that we’re ready for a bit more fun in fashion.”
This was Surridge’s second collection for the house, and he has been vocal about respecting its history. “This collection signifies the change and growth in the last six months. I’m very fortunate that Cavalli has a very defined core, and this season I tried to understand that more.”
His appointment as creative director last July was not an expected one. Prior to joining the Italian fashion house, the Central Saint Martins-trained designer held senior design positions at Calvin Klein and Jil Sander, both historically associated with a clean-cut and minimalist aesthetic.
Conversely, with its penchant for leopard print, embellishment and floor-sweeping maxi dresses, Roberto Cavalli was known for bohemian excess. Surridge was also new to womenswear, having previously specialised in menswear. But if fashion reserves anything, it is the right to reinvent, and that is what Surridge is attempting to do with his skills and in turn, the aesthetic of this Italian house.
Surridge’s debut collection last September was well received but it is yet to be seen whether that translates into sales, which could prove critical to his tenure. The brand has experienced substantial woes over the last couple of years, losing 32.7m (£28.8m) euros in 2015 and 55.2m euros in 2016. CEO Gian Giacomo Ferraris was brought on board from Versace in 2016 to plug the company’s financial hole.
The brand said additional costs had been incurred in 2016 as Ferraris set about a dramatic restructure including 200 job cuts, moving all operations to Florence and bringing multiple licences – including menswear and childrenswear – back in house.
Surridge is only the second person to become creative director at the fashion house since its eponymous founder stepped away from creative responsibilities in 2015. Norwegian designer Peter Dundas, seen by many as Cavalli’s natural successor thanks to his luxurious retro-infused aesthetic, departed after only 19 months in the role when his designs reportedly failed to sell.
As such, a lot rides on the partnership between Ferraris and Surridge being profitable as well as pleasing to the eye. Two seasons in, the designer said he is feeling good.
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