The bicycle tyres on set, interspersed with bony hands and elongated fingers, should have given a clue — even without going backstage at the Antonio Marras show and seeing his mood board of the Italian outsider artist Carol Rama.
In my ignorance, I had read only a preview of the current exhibition of the 96-year-old artist’s work at Nottingham Contemporary in England, ahead of major retrospectives in Barcelona and Paris.
“She was the creative spark. For me it was the dichotomy between different elements, the explosion of flowers, hands, pleats,” said Marras.
From his programme notes, I understood that he had personal knowledge of this artist whose work was an intimate vision of her troubled life. Her art is a response to the suicide of her father after his tyre factory failed (hence the bicycle set), and the complex female sexuality she saw when visiting her mother at the ‘mad house’.
I admire the sincerity of Antonio Marras as a truly original designer. But has the connection between art and fashion been pushed too far?
Dresses with three-dimensional flowers at the front were beautiful, artistic and no doubt had some deeper meaning for Marras himself.
In a different spirit, there was tailoring with blue and red horizontal stripes — and the same colours for full-skirted dresses. Emphasis on the waist is a Marras signature, and his collaboration with jewellery designer Monica Castiglioni for the jewellery resulted in striking pieces.
The show was often charming, always tasteful in an unconventional way. But, fundamentally, fashion — even when it’s expressing a designer’s deepest thoughts — is an applied art. And ultimately, this was a summer collection of light, bright and wearable clothes.