Vogue International Editor Suzy Menkes is the best-known fashion journalist in the world. After 25 years commenting on fashion for the International Herald Tribune (rebranded recently as The International New York Times), Suzy Menkes now writes exclusively for Vogue online, covering fashion worldwide.
Suzy Menkes: Romeo Gigli's Operatic Return
Costumes for Don Giovanni recall the Italian designer's poetic style
24 Января 2017
The line-up on stage looked, from the red plush seats of the opera house, like a box of artistic crayons. The coalition of colours included terracotta, yellow, pink, mauve, green in all its leafy shades and candy floss pink worn with orange.
I was catapulted back to the era of Romeo Gigli, with his fantastic mixes of colours, or just a single juicy note when the fabric told the story and one shade stood out - like a sudden splash of royal blue suit or a green blouse on the Florentine stage.
Long since the designer disappeared from the Italian fashion scene and lost his name to his company's owner, Gigli has come back in a collaboration with surrealist interior designer Barnaba Fornasetti, to give a magical aura to one of the world's most famous operas — Mozart's Don Giovanni.
"Of course I am working because I have to support my family — I do different things, secret collections," the designer explained.
If Gigli was dispirited by the long battle it did not show in the opera that was presented with a rambunctious energy in an Alice in Wonderland-style, with an ever-changing series of sets in Florence's Teatro Della Toscana. The orchestra, playing period instruments under the hair-tossing enthusiasm of conductor Simone Toni, caught the spirit — even before the arrival of the colourful cast.
Between the rose red draped dress of Raffaello Milanesi as Donna Anna, Lucía Martín-Cartón as Zerlina's lemon yellow dress with its floating petal effect, and the purple dress fluttering like feathers worn by Emanuela Galli as Donna Elvira, the performance was vivid with colour — not to mention sexual energy.
As if the dashing wig and blue linen body-hugging suit of Christian Senn as Don Giovanni were not enough, the singer also sported a codpiece, while Renato Dolcini as Leporello wore taut mauve trousers and a shrunken jacket set off with a lime green pussybow.
The ever-changing set, designed by Barnaba Fornasetti, had everything from plates transported into faces, through to golden sun rays; disproportionate body pieces to Fornasetti's famous playing cards and a line-up of knives and forks which the Commendatore broke through at the grand finale.
Don Giovanni opened in Milan before Christmas 2016, moving on to Florence at the beginning of this year. But this is not a new venture for Gigli.
I was transported back by the Don Giovanni costumes to the Romeo Gigli fashion era when the designer brought an original spirit to a fashion world dominated by brash clothing and the Italian face-offs between Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace; Tom Ford's sexy Gucci and Miuccia Prada's feminist streamlining.
Searching for Gigli's unique vision, I remembered a style that was fresh, fairy-like, but respectful to women and deliciously decorated.
I asked the designer where this particular vision of tender beauty had come from.
"When I was a young kid, my family — they were antiquarian book collectors for generations — taught me to be a collector. I was surrounded by antiques, but my parents died when I was 19 and after my family collapsed, I started to travel in South America and around the world.
"Because I was lacking my family, I started to collect art and culture so that my mind became a huge melting pot of culture — antiques and contemporary. I remember that I started to collect colours, but at the same time I contaminated all the colours of the fabrics with contemporary interference. So it's a combination of everything.
"I started thinking about the 17th century, but with so many interferences, and at the same time I was drawing and collecting the colours. In this way, I can get inside the head of the opera. Every time I am working I start that way. A little bit crazy, but that is my way."
I looked back at my reviews of Romeo Gigli. In March 1997 I wrote: "The joy of the show was in its opening coats and in fabrics that seemed to draw their rich colours and lattice or tapestry textures from the artistic soul of Italy."
All I can say now is that I hope for Gigli himself that his dream comes true — to recover his name in 2017. He — and fashion — deserve his renaissance.