June 24, 2013 6:06 am

Milan menswear show: runway report 2

Business suits give way to florid prints, trompe l’oiel seams and sporty bombers

In a season where the lack of business tailoring is becoming something of an issue, trust Miuccia Prada to take the opposite approach – from the get-go: pinstriped double-breasted high rise suit jackets worn over florid shirts with mismatched baggy tailored pants and assorted variations of trainers. The net impression was of young men playing business dress-up; the message: in a fashion sense at least, the business suit is now just a styling toy.

It was the pattern of those shirts that cinched it. Mrs Prada has done well before from a nostalgic trip to Hawaii, and here the prints blazed over shirts and zip-up blousons (as well as jewelled and ruched women’s dresses, as the brand was showing some women’s pre-Spring looks at the same time, the better to demonstrate the give-and-take between the genders). These prints were so arresting, especially on very desirable bags, the rest was easily overlooked, though it was all well worth consideration, from the cropped and tailored black blousons, to the short-sleeved knit sweaters that were worn over long-sleeved Hawaiian shirts.

The influence was clearly the dreams of American soldiers in Hawaii during WWII, but it was more interesting to think of the clothes on a contemporary man. One model carried a briefcase with a large luggage tag in the shape of a hula girl attached. The oversized tailored trousers were all fastened by a casual D-ring web belt. A few seasons ago, Prada’s menswear was wilfully obtuse. But just like the autumn/winter 2013 collection just entering stores, this was not just Prada for men who already love Prada.

Hang on though ... An actual business suit! Worn with a tie! At Bottega Veneta! The first I’ve seen during these menswear shows so far. Business suits made up the first look, the second look ... was this the strident return of corporate dressing? Of course not. By look three, creative director Tomas Maier started getting tricksy. Maybe he should have stuck with the opening vision.

But let’s cut him some slack. Every so often, a designer needs to play around to keep themselves awake. Maier drew trompe l’oiel seams and pockets on tailoring (a bit like Daryl Hannah’s outfit in Kill Bill part 1), and cut high-buttoning suit jackets short, to a length over the hips that was also seen at Zegna. In my notes, I wrote down “waiter’s jacket”. Is there a less derogatory term? Because there is something appealing about the silhouette.

Maier’s mood was often disruptive, with the front of a shirt covered in the chest of a knitted tank top (or vest as they’re known everywhere outside the UK). His work was much more successful when he let the pieces just be, whether a lovely ensemble of short-sleeved patterned knit worn with check trousers, or a hand-painted check polo shirt. Also great was a new men’s bag, as practical as a holdall, but with more luxury allure in its neat shape.

With all these zip-up nonsuit bombers, fashion is finally coming around to the sporty catwalk vision of Italo Zucchelli, men’s designer of Calvin Klein Collection. I say “catwalk vision”, because there’s barely a store in the world that stocks the clothes, a situation that’s been the case for so many years no one questions it. On Sunday, Zucchelli showed some of his excellent zip-up mesh bombers, the bodies so tight they looked like fencing armour. There was also an overly long series of tops printed with various stages of a seascape in sunset.

Still, generally there was a clear and consistent point of view. Maybe now that PVH has bought Warnaco, giving them ownership of everything Calvin Klein, they can move towards making these shows not just a fashion test bed, but a place where men look to find their future garments. Zucchelli’s work deserves more exposure. The suits should pay attention.

They could take a cue from the flexing of Italian corporate muscle that began the whole day. Milan fashion’s governing body, the Camera Della Moda, presented its new board, charged with kick-starting the city’s flatlining fashion weeks: Patrizio Bertelli, CEO of Prada; Diego Della Valle, owner of Tod’s; Ermenegildo Zegna; Angela Missoni, and others. It was a rare sight indeed.

Bertelli’s message was bullish about the importance of Italy to the fashion industry. “I do believe that without Italy, the whole global system would be in deep crisis,” he said. Zegna stated that “the fashion industry is a pillar of our economy”. Della Valle spoke of the possible source of future design talent. “All of our companies are full of young people,” he said. “The average age in the industry is pretty young.”

This last point is crucial for the future of Milan fashion. In London, young designers tend to be mavericks who have sought their own label from the off. Milan is full of graduates who opted for jobs in the design studios of the big labels instead. The big brands should be looking right now at the talent under their noses, and considering launching new young brands from within, providing Milan with much needed newness, and revitalising their own business in the process. Whatever jacket they want to show.

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