Antonio Berardi began his A/W 2011 collection’s show notes with a Goethe quote - hardly the thing to expect from London’s premer purveyor of Italo-sexpot evening frocks. But fear not, it was business as usual chez Berardi, where a dress simply isn’t a dress unless it cleaves closer than a second-skin and re-shapes your form like some kind of haute-couture hyper-girdle.
Peeking back at that Goethe quote, however - something about re-fashioning the fashioned ‘lest it stiffen into iron’ perhaps gives a clue as to Berardi’s intent this season - a softer, easier feeling based around firm, tailored underpinnings. That was evident in a few woolen overcoats, sometimes shrouded in karakul lamb, which curled and folded around the body in complex swirls of fabric. In fact, not complex, complicated - which was a watchword for most of this collection, fabrics layered endlessly over one another or folded and pleated like origami. Shovel on the decoration and coil the strippy-straps of the teetering Manolo Blahnik shoes up the calf, and it all looked far too much.
There was something endlessly overwrought about this Berardi collection, from the over-intricate patchwork black-and-white cocktail frocks through his prissily pleated tweed kimono-jackets, even to his parka - aerated to within an inch of its life, wasp-waisted, jutting out at the hip and smothered in pointless flaps of fabric. The latter festooned everything - a dozen or so hanging from the hip constituted a skirt many a time, when Berardi forgot all that Goethe taught him and buckram-stiffened those panes of cloth until they bounced like cardboard. His evening gowns were simpler, more straightforward, strapless sheaths with classic slender lines that could have been culled from Gilda. Leave well enough alone, you think - but rendered in glittering, sleazy lurex in brash red or a dirty gold they felt fit for a Jessica Rabbit skit rather than any real woman’s wardrobe.
From chignoned head to pointy-point toe, that was the issue here - almost everything felt laboured to the point of torture. The exceptions to the rule were few and far between, but they shone. A drop-dead simple, to-the-floor cape in wool melton and a plisse shift of lace knotted with a bow of velvet weren’t just could-haves but must-haves keeping Berardi’s Italian sense of sensuality, but rinsing it of the dodgier trappings of glitter. Next time, shove the rest of the collection in the wash at the same time.