Roberto Cavalli’s Ming-vase dress from Fall 2005—the one made famous by Victoria Beckham—is apparently part of the Met Museum Costume Institute’s big summer show, China: Through the Looking Glass. That was enough to make Cavalli look East for his latest collection. But there was more.In the Mood for Love, to be precise. The windowpane-checked cheongsam worn by Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar-Wai’s modern classic sparked a visible train of thought for the designer. The check was duplicated in white string embroidery on micro-sequined evening dresses, in the grid of white paillettes that nestled in a fur jacket, in the pattern formed by silk fringed to look like fur.
Then it was just a question of decorative detail: metal pagoda buttons, heavily beaded floral motifs from the Ming dynasty, sinuous opium-garden embroideries mounted on a faded tiger print, the gold fringing on a jade gilet, the abundant silk fringing that swept the floor in the finale. And the models walked under huge neon reproductions of traditional Chinese lanterns.
But this was potentially the collection that would seal the deal for a sale of the Cavalli company, so there were the signatures that underscored the brand identity, most obvious in the artisanal handwork but also inescapable in the more animal-based effects, like ocelot-printed pony skin, and in the tawny temptress vibe of evening dresses that floated in a cloud of sunray-pleated dégradé chiffon. Cavalli is lucky in that he is his own cliché. Judge him on his own terms, and this collection was a success. Widen the frame of reference, and you get the impression that something has to change.