Peter Dundas Goes Full '80s With His Roberto Cavalli Debut

In his first attempt at breathing new life into the brand, the designer looked to the decade of excess and sex appeal.
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Alyssa Vingan Klein
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In his first attempt at breathing new life into the brand, the designer looked to the decade of excess and sex appeal.
The Roberto Cavalli spring 2016 finale. Photo: Imaxtree

The Roberto Cavalli spring 2016 finale. Photo: Imaxtree

The house of Roberto Cavalli has long been known for a handful of signatures, regardless of the season: animal prints, flashy metallics, destroyed and/or blinged-out denim, exotic skins, sexy, skin-baring silhouettes and a powerful, rock 'n' roll attitude. (Not to mention the fine tailoring and craftsmanship.) However, this insistence on sameness has caused the brand to stagnate creatively, and in turn, to become both cliché and one of the less relevant labels in the current fashion landscape.  

But earlier this year, the Italian house acknowledged it was ready for a revamp: The 74-year-old Cavalli stepped down in March, bringing in Peter Dundas — a former chief designer at Cavalli who'd served as artistic director of Emilio Pucci since 2008 — as creative director. In addition, the label sold a 90 percent stake of the business to an Italian private equity firm back in April, which solidified the coming of a new era for Cavalli — and hopefully a shot at reentering the industry conversation.

On Saturday in Milan, Dundas presented his first ready-to-wear collection for the house, which, according to the show notes, was meant to be a reimagining of the brand's fundamentals with a central theme of "freedom." Many of the familiar, high-glam Cavalli elements were present, albeit with a more modern hand: huge ball gowns and mullet skirts were styled with sweatshirts and ripped tees; zebra print pants and chain-embroidered jeans came in vintage-inspired (yet very now) high-waisted cuts; a digital image of a lion's face was turned into a brocade used on tailored suiting, as well as printed onto silk and body-con knit dresses.

There was a softness that came through in the velvety, washed leather in pastel colors, lots of faded tie-dye and some airy silk dresses, but subtle this collection was not. A strong '80s vibe permeated the clothing, particularly the boxy outerwear, shiny embellishments, hints of acid wash and neon, oversized waist belts and one-shouldered tops accented with huge bows. A series of sexy minidresses — some with ruffles, some with cutouts, some with shiny hardware and twisted strips of fabric — is sure to please the party girl crowd (and reminded me of the edgy, trendsetting pieces that Christophe Decarnin showed during his revival of Balmain).

Dundas took an impressive amount of Cavalli's archival work into consideration for the spring collection, and while he injected some much-needed youthfulness and streetwear inspiration into the clothes, there was a lot going on here. Luckily, Dundas has a stable of beautiful, famous friends — Kim Kardashian, Natasha Poly, Joan Smalls, Anja Rubik — who will likely wear his creations for Cavalli during their various red carpet outings in the coming months. Then, we'll have to wait and see if the public (and Roberto Cavalli's long-standing customer base) will follow suit.