Non-Irony and Nostalgia at Versace

Last Friday’s Versace presentation was gorgeous. No, it wasn’t necessarily “new” in concept or realization, but it was MEGA-important. To discern exactly why, one must consider the perplexing contemporary style landscape in which it contextually occurred; buckle up, doing so is an “ironic” and wild ride.

Could it be that somewhere amid Vêtements flirtations with Juicy Couture nostalgia, Hood By Air propositions that boots can indeed go both ways, and Gucci aesthetic assertions that, “it’s about this…and that…and that other thing over there…and yeah, this thing right here too…etc., etc., etc.,” our collective taste compasses grew misaligned?

Don’t get me wrong: “Irony” (like “minimalism” and “street”) fought hard to earn its place among the contemporary tenants of high style. It was ushered in by designers as diverse as Martin Margiela, Vivienne Westwood, and Franco Moschino—each carving iconoclastic lexicons that swam against the fashion industry’s sensibility current—and has now centred within the broader cultural dialogue committed to eschewing perfect, pretty, and all things precise in manufacture (see: Girls, Insecure,, and Cardi B.).

For these reasons irony has found endless embrace by the digital era’s delightfully disillusioned youth set. They don miniature eyewear, toss every garment askew off a shoulder, and hunt for hideously functional orthopaedic sneakers as much out of a need to thumb their noses at the luxuries denied to them by the current economy as to “do it for the Gram”. Entrance to the fashion industry has realized an odd mega-ball-lottery style democracy as a result: the right “wrong” Insta-post could get you plucked from small town obscurity, showered in top-notch designer swag, and offered lucrative #influencer retainers that make 9-5, workaday reality, a thing of the past.

It’s all left those of us who used to swoon for that proverbial, beautifully executed ensemble, fit to perfection on an impeccably cast “Glamazon”, wondering if our collective ships have sailed (rendering our communal days numbered).

Photo by Giovanni Giannoni/WWD/REX/Shutterstock (5895781ap)
Models on the catwalk, fashion detail
Hood by Air show, Runway, Spring Summer 2017, New York Fashion Week, USA – 11 Sep 2016

Friday’s Spring 2018 Versace presentation offered a life raft of sorts in the way of a retrospective stroll-cum-strut through the brand’s glamorous Gianni-helmed heyday. Fished from the house’s archives were all of the hallmarks of Versace-dom that came to epitomize the ovahness of early-90’s dolce vita: symmetrically placed, bordered baroque scarf prints? Check! Dayglo Warhol-referenced Pop extravagance? check! Vixen-worthy ecclesiastical severity? Check! Check! Check! All (as well as cotton-candy heeled loafers, opaque primary-hued hosiery, and married-to-the-mob elevated mom caps—if we wanna get granular) were there in spades (and jewel embellished crosses as is the Versace penchant). One would fear for the whole production going irrelevant in the the way of a TV-land rerunning of “This is Your Life”.

But to the contrary, the looks proved to fall right in-step with one of the industry’s subtly brewing rhythms, in striking contrast to the “bad taste as good taste” tide. Whether or not these archival gems make it back into production, Friday’s Versace presentation served to remind us of how much we savored a “good” that was just “good”. Yes, the nostalgia of it all does inject a healthy dosage of inherent irony; ya gotta laugh a little at how what went around truly did come around again….really makes one wonder why we did all that shopping in the interim?

“Is it just the same old stuff?” is of course the question that soon settles within our collective consciousness. The answer is both yes and no: when “it” comes around again (if done correctly and compellingly) there’s inevitably some manner of refreshing engaged in the archaeological and curatorial processes. To Versace’s credit, the show’s beauty directives were spot on (a post-highlighter, return to what rivalled Kevin Aucoin’s perfected rich, healthy glam) and the casting plucked a range of ethnically diverse, house faves spanning eras new and old (note: the opportunity to hit an epic home run was missed via not re-cutting archival pieces to fit curvy top models like Ashley Graham and Candice Huffine).

Versace ad styled by Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele

The presentation’s styling stayed true to the maximalism codified by Versace’s relationship with fashion luminary Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, and her era-defining work at Elle and American Vogue. The exuberant-luxe look of that work is very much in a part of today’s top stylist’s tool kit: from Nikki Minaj’s bubblegum pink pump aesthetic, to Ariana grande’s mohair sweater penchant, pop imagery continues to sip heavily from the gilded Versace well.

Gone were the Oribe, Versailles-caliber waterfall ponytails (grafted then by Madonna for her Blonde Ambition tour and now by the aforementioned, Grande) and in their places were middle parted blow outs-looking chicest at blunted modern-bob lengths, and even the occasional short-length afro.

The icing upon the presentation’s cake proved to be the team of bonafide “Supers” revealed to flank “often imitated, never duplicated” current house Creative Director, Donnatella Versace during her runway bow. Carla, Naomi, Helena, Cindy, and Claudia glistened (statuesque as ever) in liquid, brassy-toned chainmail gowns, with hems all hovering at a notably retro, above-instep length. Yes, George Michael’s “Freedom ‘90” was pumpin’ in honor of the occasion.

No other tune would be as apropos for this sort of celebration, nor would many other houses commit so whole-heartedly to presenting a “best of”; Burberry’s inside-out trench inversions shown last week were nods to their legacy as opposed to full-on archival surveys.

And perhaps the takeaway for the industry shouldn’t be “what was old is new again”; few brands have as distinct and captivating a legacy as Versace’s. What we might be best served to glean from this “moment” (as it makes its way across our Instagram feeds thousands of times within weeks to come) is that to be timely, “good” doesn’t have to be “bad” . . . it can in fact wow us when it is “excellent”.