MILAN, Italy — Funny how you can know someone for years, appreciate in the abstract that they're becoming successful, and then BOOM! one day they throw open the imposing doors on their monumental new headquarters and you realise with a start, "Oh, that's what's been going on for the past decade."
So it was with Neil Barrett
on Saturday as he launched his new collection and his new offices in Milan. The spirit of the artist Donald Judd — linear, minimal, precise — hung over both. In fact, “stark” wouldn’t be putting too fine a point on it, though Barrett scarcely needed Judd to prod him in that direction. The designer has always worked to a “much less is much more” philosophy, paring away superfluity until what remains is one of the purest aesthetics in menswear.
But, now that the sheer scale of his business has been made manifest in the building that bears his name, there was a sense with his latest collection that he was quietly celebrating his evolution. (The noisy celebration came later on Saturday night, with dinner and a d.j.) Never one for undue decoration, Barrett nevertheless scrupulously defined his designs in his own meticulous way, adding a strip of colour here, a stripe of reflective tape there, even letting loose with a lush, inky seascape graphic on a silky bomber jacket.
He checked the minimalism of the mid-90s as a reference, which roused memories of Helmut Lang’s heyday. Barrett has the same knack for infusing utilitarianism with sensuality. His tailor’s proficiency with proportion — whether cropped or exaggerated — means that you’re always aware of the body in the clothing. In the past, he’s translated that sensibility almost unchanged to his womenswear to make some of the best tomboy clothes on the market. The women’s looks he showed on Saturday were more obviously female in their form, some even flaunting a little flounce. Perhaps that was an expression of growing confidence on Barrett’s part, but they have a way to go before they’re as convincing as his menswear.