Benetton shoots for an endless summer on the eve of Milan Fashion Week
A joyful wave of color broke over Milan on the eve of the Lombard capital's fashion week on Tuesday night, as Jean-Charles de Castelbajac signed off on his second runway show for Benetton. The designer chose the historic Piscina Cozzi, which dates back to the 1930s, to present his "New Wave" in glorious technicolor. The collection was sporty and summer-ready, just like the swimmers in colorful swimsuits and bathrobes who opened the show and the speedo-clad divers who closed it.
Some fifty men's and womenswear looks glided the length of the 33-meter pool, accompanied by an electro-pop soundtrack, courtesy of DJ Michel Gaubert. Fun lightweight outfits channeled seaside vibes, while black mini-dresses were zipped up like wetsuits, and jacquard jumpers were decorated with anchors and sailboats, as well as wave-shaped stripes.
Dressed in a veritable fruit salad of vivid tones, the models sported visors and dark glasses to protect themselves from the sun, topping their ensembles off with white sailor berets. These looks were complemented by sandals with blue and white striped platforms that put one in mind of foam kickboards or surfboards, worn over cheerful striped socks and stockings.
A postcard from the Côte d'Azur
Touches of summery Côte d'Azur chic could be seen in breezy outfits in pale-pink gingham, modest skirts in St. Gallen embroidery and playful cotton postcard dresses. The fronts mixed large rectangles of fabric that extended round the models' sides and depicted the port of Saint-Tropez, with white and red check. Round the back, the dresses looked like real postcards, complete with addresses and messages carefully written on a white background. Models wound fabric around their waists in a variety of different ways, like wraparound skirts.
"I wanted to extend the holidays, that's why I chose this peculiar place," joked de Castelbajac backstage. "After the first show in February, I wanted to create a new experience and I chose this pool because I found lots of links with the marine world and water in the Benetton archives. There's also the idea of the journey and exploration. Pools have always been used for mankind's great conquests, like space, because they offer a sense of weightlessness."
Having been given free rein at Benetton, de Castelabajac has been busy with a range of different experiments. This season he worked with paper – the tough, reinforced kind used in bags for cement or flour – transforming it into a raw-looking, 100% waterproof trench, a top or a decoration added to a skirt.
As in February, rainbow colors dominated the runway. Here they were splashed across tops and pleated skirts with broad, drippy brushstrokes, applied in wide strips to a short-sleeved sweater, hidden in the folds of a denim kilt and used in stockings that alternated the transparency of white nylon with thick stripes in bold shades. One stand-out piece was an original marinière dress embellished with mini Benetton sweaters with mulitcolored stripes, some of which served as pockets. Elsewhere, the same micro-sweaters appeared on jackets and jumpers.
"I'm hoping to preserve a certain idea of tenderness. You always have to remember the child you once were," commented the creative director, making no attempts to hide how much fun he's been having since he joined Benetton. "This last year has been amazing. They never say 'no'!" effused the 69-year-old designer, who was called in to rescue the stagnating brand by its co-founder Luciano Benetton last October.
Sales of his first collection for Fall/Winter 2019-20 appear to have proved the Benetton boss right. According to de Castelbajac, "The younger consumers that the brand had lost are coming back into stores, Generations Z and Alpha. All the new basics were received enthusiastically, the Micky Mouse and Snoopy jumpers are among the best-sellers, as are the striped sockettes. Even the 1,200 euro coat with the mini-sheep with curly wool has been a hit."
The designer is creating "new classics" for Benetton. He therefore wants to reuse certain pieces, varying them from season to season. Such new classics include the cotton shirt-dresses, pants and blouses featuring the Benetton colors in details such as pockets, stitching and lapels, like blotches on a white canvas.
"The idea is to build the collection around three positions: basics, fashion basics and cutting-edge fashion," explained de Castelbajac, who will soon also take over Benetton's kidswear, set to become "more rock and roll."
On top of this, he is visibly working to reposition the brand's menswear with new essentials, like next-generation suits designed to be worn with sneakers. He also targeted the sporting man this season, sending out streetwear-inspired pieces like crumpled overpants and nylon jackets.
For a final flourish in his latest collection, the designer gave a nod to Oliviero Toscani, reproducing details from his famous photo campaigns for Benetton in prints used on white maxi-sweaters and t-shirts.
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