January 18, 2013 6:40 pm

Is Milan on the money?

Menswear week in Italy’s fashion capital points to a new attitude to dressing
Designs from Dolce & Gabbana, Jil Sander, Burberry Prorsum and Prada©Catwalking.com

Autumn/winter 2013 collections by (from left): Dolce & Gabbana, Jil Sander, Burberry Prorsum and Prada

Milan’s autumn/winter 2013 menswear shows drew to a close last Wednesday, but what continues to resonate? Houndstooth. Cardigan-snug jackets. Pinstripe suits. Sweaters of great manufacturing complexity. And a feeling that Milan has chosen inaction as the response to its growing crisis – not the general crisis that leaps to mind, but that of having no notable new talent.

What it did have – at least in part – was a new attitude to dressing. Milan’s shows tend to stick to a rule-driven formula, with polite daywear followed by tuxedos that wouldn’t say boo to a goose. So when Miuccia Prada sent out her first look on Sunday evening, many in the audience thought something had gone horribly wrong: the collar of the shirt was wonky. Uh-oh! Wonky collar alert! And yet, with Prada, everything is intentional. The collar turned out to be a statement about how we view clothing, and what it means to be correct.

The result was the only show in Milan to have any real sense of how young men really dress, while also being chock-full of pieces for older men who can actually afford the stuff – particularly a houndstooth raglan sleeve coat that felt like an echo of the work Prada did when she still produced menswear under the Miu Miu label: great Shetland wool sweaters, either in block primary colours or with stripes; gingham shirts; and, for the more adventurous, traditional shoes with monster-sized treads.

Also resonant was the (literal) furniture on the catwalk, housed in open-plan room sets: boxy low-slung chairs and round primary-coloured coffee tables – all prototypes for a collection designed by Rem Koolhaas’s OMA, which will be produced with Knoll later in the year.

There was also a sense of off-kilter movement at Jil Sander, where coats came with detachable oversized collars, purposefully skewing the balance with the more sedate bodies beneath. See, for example, one style where the plaid in the sleeves faded as it approached the body, creating a ghostly effect – only to be halted by a great big red collar on top. It was as if the designer was saying, “Stop calling me ‘minimalist’” – interesting as a statement; as clothes, the coat would look better with the collar removed.

Still, it was Sander who showcased some of the most accomplished sweaters, with seemingly straightforward designs sitting within the knit itself, so that, in one case, a needle-punch technique was used to make spare criss-cross of lines across a crew-neck.

Model wears design by Bottega Veneta©Catwalking.com

Bottega Veneta

Elsewhere, the focus was on product. Bottega Veneta presented some of the most desirable pieces of the week, aimed at men whose working life transcends the standard uniform: men who, if they wear a shirt and tie, wear it in tonal shades. They will recognise themselves in creative director Tomas Maier’s soft tailoring, whether it be jackets like cardigans, cardigans like outerwear or city coats that hung obediently close to the body.

Others might see familiarity in Dolce & Gabbana’s real Sicilian models, used to show their signature black suit and white shirt in a soft new softer-tailored light. Gucci’s strength, meanwhile, was a series of tweed coats and suits, part of a general menswear trend to use traditional British cloths in non-traditional ways. Best were suits in houndstooth or an oversized Prince of Wales check, the latter of which also turned up at Versace. There, though, the check had been warped in the weave, characteristic of a show that aimed for excess, from its handpainted denim jackets to the lace men’s underwear. Believe it or not, there is a customer for the latter.

If this straightforward embrace of product meant that designers played to their strengths, it also made for safe shows without much excitement. So Calvin Klein Collection presented some neat quilted zip-up sportswear (quilting being a big Milan theme), while the sportiness of Emporio Armani’s zip-up raglan-sleeve bombers looked suitably vigorous, and Armani’s mainline show featured signature pinstripe tailoring and snug jackets – though they were ultimately overshadowed by an emphasis on fussy double-breasted military buttoning.

Model wears design by Gucci©Catwalking.com

Gucci

Burberry’s catwalk was, in effect, an online trunk show, with outerwear and accessories immediately available to order. As a result, its show was a stream of easy-to-digest wearable trenches, duffels, donkey jackets and the like. Chief creative officer Christopher Bailey kept himself amused with animal printed horsehair accessories and loveheart sweaters and shirts, and the audience titillated by the chimes of Big Ben that started the show, leading to speculation that the brand would soon be moving its menswear to its hometown of London as it has done with its womenswear.

If Burberry does leave Milan for London, following Tom Ford and Alexander McQueen, it’ll be another hole in the schedule. Milan has an air of diminishment about it. It is clear that fashion houses all act independently of each other, without any unified attempt to preserve Milan’s status as a fashion capital. Italy needs to work out its own way of discovering and supporting fresh talent.

The importance of Milan’s mega-labels is undeniable, but most of them were either founded in the 1970s and 1980s, or are rebirths exploiting an old legacy. It was only relatively recently that Milan took over from Rome as the centre of fashion in Italy. If something isn’t done soon, history may see Milan’s menswear shows of the late 20th and early 21st century as a brief storm of creativity, rather than a place where history was made, and then evolved.

For daily reports from the Paris menswear shows, see www.ft.com/luxury360

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