MILAN — Ease and freedom were Peter Dundas' guiding principles in designing his debut collection for Roberto Cavalli, which previewed Saturday during Milan Fashion Week.
Dundas had the delicate task of reviving a brand that was widely viewed as past its prime while retaining its most iconic elements and paying due homage to the brand's founder, who hand-picked Dundas and remains an important stakeholder in the fashion house bearing his name.
"I wanted to accentuate the ease and the freedom that the brand represents to me," Dundas, who just completed a seven-year run as Pucci creative director, told The Associated Press backstage.
Dundas' debut was also a return home. He had worked at Cavalli during its heyday from 2002-2005 and the designer said he and Cavalli has discussed the direction he would take as his successor.
A 1980s vibe grounded the collection and kept it close to the Cavalli roots: denim, rock-and-roll sequin jackets and billowing chiffon skirt trains, with just a splash of animal print for old-time's sake.
Dundas put a fresh emphasis on daywear, staying away from more glammed-up evening wear that the designer says seems less youthful than the looks he was after.
Denim is central to the new look. The high-waisted, washed-out jeans and matching cropped jacket — immediately recognizable by anyone who lived through the '80s — was a bold move. There also were tough-looking stonewashed denim biker jacket vests and a pretty-in-pink belted denim mini-dress.
"All that easy clothing was a very important part of a Cavalli girl's wardrobe and I wanted to get back to that, because it felt relevant for today. It felt like when I think about my girlfriends, what I wanted to see them in and see the Cavalli girl in," he said.
In a twist, sequins and fringe were deployed on day, not evening, wear, worn with a silvery zebra-striped pant. Long chiffon open-front dresses, fastened with big bows over mini-skirts, were meant for the night. The billowing chiffon train was vintage Cavalli.
Also for night, a long suede dress hugged the curves, where it was fastened by skin-revealing buckles. The entire collection showed a lot of leg.
The result was feted by the Milan fashion world.
"It's tops. Stupendous," exuded Anna Dello Russo, editor-at-large for Vogue Japan.
Cavalli himself skipped the event, with the fashion house's new CEO Roberto Semerari telling reporters the founder wanted to let Dundas enjoy the moment.
Cavalli retained a 10 percent stake in the business after selling it last spring to the private equity firm Clessidra. He remains involved in the company on a consultancy level on both image and business issues, Semerari said.
Semerari said he will seek to expand the brand, both in terms of products and geography, over time. But he insisted that, despite perceptions the brand had gotten "older and overdone" in recent years, its image as sensual and self-confident remained strong.
"We need new freshness, but we don't want to reposition the brand, because it has very strong base," Semerari said. "As we say at headquarters, we need to open the windows and let modernity, renovation and rediscovery enter."