January 13, 2014 4:09 am

Milan Fashion Week: Menswear runway report 2

Miuccia Prada is often expected to pose questions with her shows; questions that are complex, elusive and have no immediate answer. This can sometimes distract from the core of her menswear business, which is actually fine and wearable clothes. Her autumn/winter 2014 collection redressed that balance with a selection of desirable new Prada standards.

The main focus was autumn coats: lightweight, to the knee and of various colours. Brown was a particularly favourite shade, especially worn with blue. There were bands of scarves around the necks, and tailoring too. At one point, out came a black two button suit with a low revere: no trick, no gimmick. Just a beautifully cut suit.

Of course, there was more. One strong section featured a series of thin quilted gilets belted on to the body like armour, offered in a variety of lengths, and occasionally lined with fur. One model wore a full fur coat. Mrs Prada has been gleeful in her recent use of fur in her women’s collections, and I’ve wondered when she’d press that button for men. This answered the question. Fur went from being an accessory (fur scarves) to a detail: a half-belt of fur at the back of a coat, like a sudden ridge of pelt on an otherwise plain dull blue cloth (in Pradaland, “dull blue” is a compliment).

Perhaps it was all an exercise in cleansing the palette. The Prada spring/summer collection that’s just hit stores is full of Hawaiian print and excesses of pattern. Here the best looks were often the simplest, such as a little brown jacket worn with matching trousers that looked like the uniform of a UPS delivery man (again, a compliment), or a grey knit T-shirt that clung pleasingly to the body.

(By the way, we might be in Milan for the men’s gig, but there are so many women’s pre-fall looks at Prada, I’ll cross genders for a second: long thin leather dresses. Knit skirts. Lots of fur. Thin strapped rectangular bags. Enough? Think I’ll stick to menswear.)

Meanwhile, the main question at Salvatore Ferragamo was about neckwear: what to do now ties have been all but banished from the catwalk? The suggestion that worked best was a trim of mohair woven into the placket of a concealed button shirt to provide that central vertical line if so desired. The show felt connected to the real world, and all the better for it.

At Calvin Klein Collection the poser, as always, was how to engage with the past while pushing to the future? The answer was clever sweatshirts emblazoned with the names of the brand’s fragrances – Obsession, Eternity etc – a smart commercial move. Of the forward-looking pieces, the best were the thin quilted layers, similar to those at Prada (a pleasant coincidence – the Klein show took place four hours earlier).

And so it went. At Bally, new CEO Frédéric De Narp must justify the brand’s very reason for being. He has only been at Bally for a couple of months, but has already started on a new tack. The shoes were unashamedly classic, the bags practical, and the clothing the kind of coat and sweaters that will lure a businessman into a Bally airport store in pre-boarding. It felt appropriate: this brand needs business ambition and clarity, rather than trying to mimic the twists of fashion.

“It’s good stuff for real people who’ll wear it every day,” Mr De Narp said, “not just buy it, wear it and then throw it away.” Mr De Narp comes from Harry Winston, and was many years at Cartier, and the long-term strategies found in the watch and jewellery industry should serve him well in apparel.

Of course, sometimes what you want from a show are not questions, but solutions. At Bottega Veneta, creative director Tomas Maier excelled with answers both expected and enlightened. In this season of sleek and unlined coats, Mr Maier’s had particular exactitude of cut and cloth. Some of the coats were double-faced, with an inside check carried through to the lapel, contrasting with the plain wool outside. Blousons were cut with an exaggerated rib. Suede jackets were paper thin. All seemed a satisfying fresh rendition of a known Bottega Veneta tune.

Then out came a mustard suede tracksuit. Sometimes designers send out pieces not as genuine propositions, but as a visual indicator. Here, Mr Maier was shifting attention to the bottom half of the body, specifically to tailored trousers with an elasticated waist. Long have I felt alone in my desire for men’s trousers to move on from fiddly buttons, a design feature created before elastic was invented. Yet finally here they were on the catwalk: elasticated trousers looking especially smart as part of a check suit.

Afterwards, backstage, I told Mr Maier how I felt. The designer put his thumb inside of the waistband of his smart trousers, pulled them out, and let the elastic snap them back. He smiled. Nothing more need be said.

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