His wife, Patrizia, says Antonio Marras is "schizofrenico." If there was
ever any doubt about that, his latest collection managed to shoehorn
Queen Elizabeth II and the Vivian Girls into a wedding reception in the
Italian countryside. The world should know about the Vivian Girls, the
mythical family of warrior princesses dreamed up by the peculiar genius
of outsider artist Henry Darger, so Marras deserves a pat on the back for
citing them as an inspiration. He liked the idea of these tough female
cookies insinuating themselves into a world that was the complete
opposite of their own. Bad girls attempting elegance, in other words.
Pop culture has guaranteed that the Queen and the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy
in the U.K." will always be linked. But it was perhaps a little more backstory than this confusing collection of clothes could carry.
Marras imagined a mutation of the Vivian Girls' combat garb and the Queen's signature sugary pastels, a kind of front-and-back proposition. Picture a dress that presented itself as a rich, hand-embroidered floral and revolved to offer a khaki gabardine with jean stitching. The model Querelle stepped out in a beaded camo jacket over a silk organza shift with a big, beautiful, blurry watercolor of flowers. A combat jacket was hemmed in sequins and crystals, lined in silk. There was something so outré about such a notion that it seemed like the very embodiment of the Marras design ethos, which has always infused an almost couture level of execution with some kind of personal history. (The show was dedicated to Pier Ivo, Antonio and Patrizia's Jack Russell. "He's the real anarchist," she said.)
As far as that execution went, the proficiency of a new manufacturer means that Marras now has the capacity to execute his most elaborate designs. He re-created Darger's motifs in Swarovski crystals (12,000 in one top alone) on bouclés and brocades in sickly sweet shades. Silhouettes echoed the fifties, when the archetype of the Bad Girl first wormed itself into pop culture via Hollywood. A bandeau and a pencil skirt? Gloria Grahame was born to play the woman who would wear such clothes. Which is ultimately always the curse of Marras. So much beauty, so much workmanship, so much off-the-charts creativity—but what does it have to say to today? The question wasn't answered by the retro perfection of the final model march-past.