June 24, 2014 1:42 pm

Milan Fashion Week: menswear report 3

No matter how fanciful, clothing should have a purpose. At Gucci, the overt theme was nautical. It was there in the anchor-embossed buttons, the bands at the wrists of jackets to suggest naval ranking, and in the buttoned flap front of sailor’s pants. Try surviving a few hours on a modern sailboat and you will wish for some actual function. And this was the problem at Gucci for spring/summer 2015: too literal a theme, no obvious use for what came down the runway.

Most designers start from some sort of feeling or mood. By the time it hits the catwalk, an evolution should have taken place to create something that is pleasing on its own terms. At Gucci, the nautical theme got in the way of making purposeful garments. Suiting often had four decks of double breasting. That is eight buttons positioned in a grid down the stomach. These buttons were those heavy ones with anchors. When a blazer came out of cotton, the buttons pulled at the cloth. It is what you do not want: unnecessary detailing that works against the garment itself.

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And so it continued. There was no convincing reason for epaulettes to be deployed, other than as an obvious signifier of the theme. A large naval crest added confusion to a sweater. This is not to say it is a theme that can never work – I am sure at the Glastonbury Festival this weekend, some young lads will buy a battered old naval jacket from a vintage stall and feel appropriately rebellious. But for such a piece to translate to the rails of a luxury house, more aggression and attitude is needed.

It was not the first time this season that a show in Milan had been too literal. Imagine how the buyers of department stores feel, having to put Dolce & Gabbana’s Spanish toreadors next to the nautical of Gucci. If only both brands had mined into their signatures and created something modern. Creative director Frida Giannini can do this very well. Her autumn/winter collection that is just entering Gucci stores is full of great desirable pieces. Hopefully there will be more of the same in the showroom, away from what appeared on the catwalk.

Giorgio Armani sent out a strong collection at Emporio Armani. The pieces felt like modern life solutions. Zip-up technical outerwear was gathered inside to give it shape. Hoodies were quilted and worn with trackpants. Many of the models had rucksacks on their back. For evening, he suggested shorts and T-shirts. His main decoration was horizontal stripes, best on knit jackets and zip-up blousons. Nothing was outrageous or farcical. For seasoned Armani watchers, this was a good thing.

At Fendi, a model came out with headphones on. It was as if he had been listening to music backstage and had forgotten to take them off before he took his turn. But then came another pair. The headphones were made by the brand Beats By Dre, recently bought by Apple for $3bn. These were souped-up headphones covered in leather. Above the Beats logo was the Fendi symbol. It would be a canny collaboration if Beats headphones were of a pleasing, fashion-forward design. They are not.

Oh yes, the small matter of the clothes. Best was the knitwear, especially a sweater made from a grid of differing horizontal stripes, varying in width and colour. There was a nice red sweater too. How pedestrian are those last seven words. But while there was much experimentation on display, such as leather blousons treated to look like denim, little resulted in successful outcome (that leather/denim looked like a big blue rash). Tailoring lacked definition, and apart from a leather blouson patchworked to look like a monster, there was little sense of what makes something Fendi.

At Brioni, its creative director Brendan Mullane was talking about the spring/summer 2015 collection when he noticed something. “Excuse me,” he said, and stepped across the shallow pool to a plinth on which stood one of his models. He was wearing a blouson, and the zip of the pocket was sat wonky. Mullane corrected it and stepped back. Even if it was a blouson, he still wanted it to be perfect.

This was Mr Mullane’s best collection yet for Brioni, one that was convincing for its contemporary air. There were suits dotted around, but zip-up blousons dominated, some embroidered with houndstooth, others of a photo print. The best were of various checks, worn with tailored shorts. These had a smartness that made them appropriate for this house. Whether a traditional Brioni customer will buy into them is a different question. But to push the brand forward was purpose enough.

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