The recent David Bowie retrospective at the V&A in London has been percolating through the Milan season. By midday on day one, Bowie's latest single, "Love Is Lost," had played twice (once at Costume National). Aladdin Sane-style lightning bolts crashed through two shows as well.
Costume National designer Ennio Capasa was calling up the spirit of Bowie outright. He'd been thinking of the singer's Berlin era in the late seventies. Not only did Bowie record three of his best albums in Berlin—Low, Heroes, and Lodger—he undertook to reinvent his look as well as his sound. "He tried to change his aesthetic," Capasa said backstage before the show. "And he succeeded."
The challenge for any designer is to walk the line between keeping pace with the rapid changes in fashion and holding on to what's proven to work. Capasa reversed the course of his last few seasons, trading the sharper, shorter tailoring he'd been plying for a swingier, softer look with an echo of what Bowie wore in his Berlin phase: flared trousers, double-breasted jackets and coats. Pant legs swooned over Cuban-heeled Chelsea boots, sweater sleeves dripped like candle wax out of jacket sleeves well over the hand, and jackets themselves flapped about the flanks of the models as they raced along.
The rub is that Costume National has been around long enough that it has trod this ground before. Capasa noted that he first tried some of these styles back in 2001. So it's less a wholesale aesthetic renovation à la Bowie and more a periodic shifting of gears. But it did offer a loose-limbed burst of freshness, the likes of which Costume National hasn't seen in a season or two. And Bowie himself has worn Costume—one such moment proudly featured on Capasa's mood board—so the designer can say with all confidence that he's got the master's seal of approval.