What could possibly be shocking today in fashion?
That question weighed on Marco Zanini, the Italian designer charged with reviving a brand most famously associated with a powerful pink, along with a whole spectrum of daring, nonconformist styles, from shoe-shaped hats to an evening jacket with carrot buttons.
On a shock spectrum, opening a new couture house ranks up there, given the costs involved, the rare skills required and formidable competition among the tight group of storied practitioners still remaining.
One nice thing about Zanini’s couture debut on Monday was to see models removing their blazers for the photographers and turning them inside out. Surprise! Embroidered on the outside, they were just as gorgeous on the inside, embellished with panels of feathers or dense ruffles — decorative when shown, adding peplum padding when hidden.
Rather than reference Elsa Schiaparelli’s design legacy, Zanini said his guiding light would be the woman herself: cosmopolitan, witty and irreverent.
The collection was a fine start, grand yet approachable in the offhand way Zanini styled ensembles with flat shoes, hairstyles streaked with punky colors and the shrugged-on way models like Stella Tennant and Kirsten Owen carried the clothes.
The workmanship was superb. The fuzzy leaves on a pale-green satin coat were achieved via a painstaking process of shredding that took 200 hours by a woman in Lyon, described by Schiaparelli as the only one capable of the technique. Even the polka dots on a chiffon duster were drawn by hand.
The elephant in the room: The headwear and some of the clothes were reminiscent of the work of John Galliano, one of the greatest couturiers to emerge in recent decades — and said to have been a serious contender for the Schiaparelli crown after his expulsion from Christian Dior.
Zanini’s challenge will be that so many designers have referenced Schiaparelli — hello, remember the Prada exhibition at the Met’s Costume Institute — that some will misattribute references to any number of names of the recent past.
One solution could be for Zanini to add more of his own personality, and more of the spirit of today, exemplified by his terrific striped T-shirt gown composed of tiny rows of sequins. With his radical sideburns and tattoos galore, Zanini has modern irreverence written all over him.