Gianfranco Ferre's Autumn/Winter 2011 menswear show in January was cancelled - a sure sign of a house in distress, especially in Milan where the urge to save face and give a show of corporate might almost always outweighs the need to scrimp on the flashy trappings of a fashion show. Those flashy trappings are what Italian fashion is all about.
That said, great things are often born of a crisis. Perhaps Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi should keep Gianfranco Ferre barely-solvent for a while longer if it thrashes them into action like this, as today's Autumn/Winter 2011 womenswear was by far the best they have created for the house. It eschewed fashion's current sixties-seventies fixation, and the eighties heyday of the house, for fresh stomping ground. Well, fresher: the nineties, the tighty-whitey minimalism of Helmut Lang and the continuing Philo effect that's still trickling through fashion was the undercurrent of this show, all sleek lines, strict tailoring, and no extraneous detailing. Extraneous detailing was what Gianfranco Ferre was all about - this is the man, after all, who sent Naomi Campbell down the catwalk wearing a pair of velvet draped curtains replete with watermelon-sized tassels, in 1998 no less - so that was a brave move. It's not quite so brave to tag onto the bandwagon of reductionism a good three seasons after everyone else, but Aquilano and Rimondi made it look great, and gave it a new spin.
That new spin, frankly, was desirability. You don't go to a Gianfranco Ferre show expecting to want to look like the models. You go to marvel at the over-enthusiastic embroidery, to giggle at a finale exit tripping over a trailing fur in overly-high heels, to frown disapprovingly when the Italian press office start wave after wave of artificial clapping for the overwrought eveningwear.
Today, some of Aquilano and Rimondi's collection looked pretty good. Hell, most of it looked terrific - tight white wool and leather dresses inset with putty-coloured leather, triple revers curling over on a couple of melton overcoats, and a wonderful greige jacket shorn of lapels, cropped of sleeve, and with what looked like the vestiges traditional velvet riding collar at the back of the neck. The eveningwear was overwrought, again - but it was the exception rather than the rule to a collection where Aquilano and Rimondi cleaned up, buckled down, and showed not only that Gianfranco Ferre can have a future, but that it deserves one.