A full moon to highlight the romantic Florentine skyline, a manicured garden with marble statues and a front-row mix of nobility and celebrity–there could not have been a more perfect setting for designer Diane von Furstenberg’s European runway debut.
But then, Florence is a special place for the designer.
It was in this Tuscan capital in 1974 that she gave birth to the wrap dress, which marked the beginning of her fashion fame, in a nearby textile factory.
The theme of the collection presented Wednesday night, at the invitation of the Pitti Fashion Fair, was a suitcase packed with von Furstenberg favorites: wrap dresses, simple cotton jerseys, twin sets, shifts and cropped pants.
"When you figure out your suitcase, you figure out your life," the 61-year-old Belgian-born designer, who launched her fashion career in the U.S. in the 1970s, likes to say.
Dubbed "La Petite Valise" (the little suitcase), the pre-spring collection 2008-2009, speaks of globe-trotting, with stops in London, Venice and Florence, as depicted in the floral and geometic prints, from the postcard views to maps, hotel keys, luggage and passports.
"Just beautiful, just right and a little nostalgic," said Countess Bona Frescobaldi, an icon of Florentine high society, as she complimented the designer after the show.
Overall, the collection of 62 outfits was reminiscent of the well-dressed (and well-heeled) young traveler of the 1950s and 1960s–someone with an "Ivy-league meets Riviera attitude," as the designer says in her fashion notes.
Models wearing leather platform sandals and floral headbands walked down the circular synthetic grass runway in easy-to-pack shirt-dresses, ruffled shifts that don’t wrinkle, all-purpose jackets and cardigans and ultra-soft chiffon evening wear. Pants range from palazzo pajama to hot pants, with cropped Capris and knitted denim jeans in between. The flat envelope bag accompanied most of the outfits.
For her runway bow, von Furstenberg came out with Russian model Natalia Vodinova, wearing one of von Furstenberg’s original floral printed wrap dresses.
After the show the designer invited several hundred friends and family, including granddaughter Talita and Italian relatives from the influential Agnelli family, to a picnic dinner in the terraced Torrigiani gardens, sculpted in the shadow of a medieval tower.
Guests were served at long country tables decorated with herbs planted in terra-cotta pots and lit up with candles in glass jars.
The menu was an ode to Italian cuisine: fresh vegetables, homemade pasta, Caprese salad, chunks of parmesan cheese, candy-wrapped ice-cream bonbons, and trays loaded with fresh strawberries and cherries.
A happy von Furstenberg, in a black and white geometric printed sequined shift, sat at a family table. She tablehopped to chat with guests in perfect English, French or Italian.
"We were so lucky. What if it had rained?" she said.