Fashion designer as artist? Few make as compelling a case for that distinction as Antonio Marras, who creates runway wonders of depth, emotion and great beauty. Sometimes artists take chances that prove problematic, which was the case with Marras’ collection, “The True Story of Shiro and Baingio.”
Marras draws from a vast well of cultural references in his work, and has just about circumnavigated the globe with magic and mastery. But the globe has become an increasingly treacherous sphere to circle for Western creatives seeking to contextualize non-Western cultures, even from a place of verdant homage. Here, Marras spun a fairy tale about a Japanese princess and Sardinian shepherd, their two lands linked in his mind by a love of decorative arts, specifically, textiles. The collection drew from the tropes of traditional Japanese dress, particularly the kimono (Marras upcycled some vintage pieces) and lavish embroideries. For the most part, Marras avoided obvious interpretations, working his typical sorcery while combining various materials and decorative treatments into his signature sartorial collages. These are steeped in duality: on one hand, eccentric, languid dresses, and on the other, his even more eccentric take on sportswear, with military, varsity, street and athletic elements rethought with haute assemblage and finishings. These characteristically inventive constructions fused high-intensity design and wearability.
Yet despite the storyline of the elusive, often invisible red ribbon that links two soulmates, this show lacked the emotional resonance of Marras’ most spectacular outings. First, the theater lighting didn’t do the clothes any favors, so assessing the fashion proved challenging. Then there were the onstage goings-on, through which models/actors performed derivations from traditional Japanese theater. Backstage before the show, Marras called the cultural dialogue “something extraordinary, in this case especially the encounter between two such different cultures.”
An admirable concept, but so difficult to enact today. Watching elaborately costumed women shod in traditional Japanese geta baby-step shuffle across the stage of an Italian designer’s show caused some in the audience to wince. So, too, the line of chorines who came out spinning giant red parasols. Too sensitive? Maybe. But the creative landscape now is wildly different than that of just a few years ago. A fashion show — even a long one — offers only a sliver of time in which a designer can argue his cross-cultural case. Here, despite laudatory ambitions, Marras seemed out of step with the cultural moment.