Paris Fashion Week | Cavalli’s Clash with the Zeitgeist

Cavalli insignia projected on new flagship, Paris

Cavalli insignia projected on new rue St Honoré flagship

PARIS, France — On Saturday night, at the grand opening fete for Roberto Cavalli’s new Paris flagship on ritzy rue St Honoré, they were giving out large, plastic-coated goodie bags in the bold, signature leopard print for which Mr. Cavalli has become known over the years. Most recently, he used this to great success in his collaboration with H&M, which effectively introduced the Cavalli brand and aesthetic to a whole new generation of consumers.

However, there was one significant oddity about the goodie bags in question: there were no goodies. Except for a glossy white magazine with the brand’s latest, over-styled advertising campaign featuring Daria Werbowy, there was nothing inside.

While this did seem to say something about the state of the economy, as goodie bags are usually teeming with freebies and samples, even more, the empty bags seemed to be a real-life metaphor for the new store itself. Behind all of the sparkle and bling, and even with hundreds of people packed in side, the 8,640-square foot emporium felt a bit empty and soulless.

Cavalli acknowledged in an interview with WWD that the store may be perceived as too over-the-top for the current economic environment. But, he stuck to his personal mantra that “there’s no success, without excess,” asserting that what we saw was actually a toned-down version of the original plans. I can’t even imagine what the toned-up version was supposed to be like. It might be time for Cavalli to catch up with rest of the world and take a better sniff of the zeitgeist of restraint, value and authenticity that is gaining steam amongst consumers around the world.

This is especially notable when high-profile industry influencers like Anna Wintour and others are calling for “a sense of clarity, a sense leveling off and a sense of reality.” But there was no evidence of this advice being heeded at last night’s uber-fiesta which drew hordes of celebrities, aggressive paparazzi and a crowd of onlookers who mobbed Kanye West as he and his entourage arrived in the store filled with gold metal and crystal chandeliers.

For a bit of a reality check, perhaps Cavalli could speak with another man whose love of excess seems to have known no bounds. John Thain, the former CEO of Merrill Lynch, famously spent $1.2 million re-doing his Manhattan office, days before announcing a $15.3 billion fourth quarter loss at the embattled investment bank a gross error in judgment which has become one of the defining stories of these troubled economic times, along with Sol Kerzner’s ridiculous opening party for the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai and Bernard Madoff’s hedge fund-cum-ponzi scheme.

Granted, the store had been in the works for sometime, and it would have been almost impossible to completely the scale-back plans at this late stage. And, even if he could have toned the store down in the vein of more discreet brands like Bottega Veneta, Cavalli has always been a showman, and glitz and glamour are part of his brand’s DNA.

But was all the brouhaha about opening the store really necessary? Instead of completely shutting down one section of a busy Paris street to accommodate hundreds of revellers and onlookers, Cavalli could have settled for a quieter opening that was more in tune with the current mood. It’s not that people don’t want to have fun of course they do. But the super-glitzy party only served to draw even more attention to the store’s design being completely disconnected from the current reality.

Then again, for some people, there is clearly still some allure to be found in Cavalli’s mantra of excess. On my way out, at the back of a niche area displaying some of Cavalli’s most blinged-out leather goods, an elderly woman was surreptitiously (well, as much as is possible at a big fashion party) stuffing three of the empty goodie bags into her oversized handbag for a quick exit later. As she struggled to make them all fit, I wondered what she planned on doing with them. Eco-friendly bags for her shopping trips? Gifts to friends or daughters? Easy-t0-wash table placemats?

Whatever the case, I decided to leave mine at the front door. Better it go to someone who actually buys into Mr. Cavalli’s excessive approach — or, at the very least, be picked up by somebody looking for another extra shopping bag.

Imran Amed is the Editor of The Business of Fashion