January 14, 2014 11:37 am

Milan Fashion Week: Menswear runway report 3

What is new in Milan menswear? The question seems apt as the shows near their conclusion. The answer: some stuff. Enough to keep you looking.

Or even, in the case of Gucci where it was not so much about newness as re-establishment, enough to rise above. The brand’s most recent trading figures showed a wobble, with Gucci revenues down 5.4 per cent in the third quarter of 2013. The response of creative director Frida Giannini? To reaffirm what made her version of Gucci such a success in years past. It was a clever tactic.

So Ms Giannini sent out pieces of handsome excellence: that now-ubiquitous autumn coat, here in dusty pink, a pale but resonant shade, worn with a simple low crew neck sweater; slim trousers, the look young and contemporary; a double-breasted peacoat with oversized buttons close to the cropped waist. Some sweaters had boat neck collars, others were like knit sweatshirts. These were the kind of pieces that made you want to go into a Gucci store again. Ultimately, should not that be the point of a catwalk show?

One caveat: about halfway through the show I wrote in my notebook the words “Saint Laurent”. Maybe it was the black leather shirts. Or the black top with zipper details around the armhole, which has become one of Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent tropes. Or the closing tuxedo look with leather trim lapels. The influence was interesting to see, but luckily, the cut and silhouette never moved towards Mr Slimane’s signature skinniness. The show had an identity, and an appeal, of its own.

Tod’s, by contrast, is one of the few brands in Milan to have a genuinely new story to tell. Following the success of Alessandra Facchinetti’s womenswear debut last season, owner Diego Della Valle has decided to fill out his menswear offering. Previously, Tod’s selection of lux clothing staples had been shown on hangers, as an addition to the brand’s shoes and bags, but this time round the clothes were on live models, sat in various staged vignettes. It felt like the beginning of an interesting, and profitable, transition.

Which is not to say radical. This was clothing for men of an age who have earned more than enough of their own money: a black peak-lapel double breasted coat; a hooded suede jacket; a grey windowpane check suit. Every so often, the models swapped their outer layers, an act designed to show the versatility of the clothing rather than any kinship.

Sometimes, details went from clothing to bags. One mustard blouson had leather trims highlighting the shoulders and armholes, also found on the label’s new bag, the Script, a tote big enough for, well, an actor’s script. Translate that to everyday life, and it means internal pockets big enough for iPads and the like. The perimeter was picked out in leather trim, the bag offered in a range of colours and sizes.

Many of the models were wearing suede trousers. How do we feel about suede trousers? I mean, really? Sometimes at the shows, you have to come up for air and ask such questions. A member of the crowd approached one of the models, breaking through the fourth wall, to ask.

“They’re lined,” said the model.

“Are they comfy?” said the person.

“Yeah,” said the model. ’Nuff said.

Giorgio Armani is a designer whose work looks most modern when he is not trying to be new. This sounds a contradiction, but his Emporio Armani collection clarified the theory: his design touch is enough on its own.

The opening tableau was four soft-suited men, all in ties. Yes: actual ties on the catwalk, a rare sight these days. Yet what followed were city smart pieces devoid of neckwear, trickery or excess detail, something that is becoming the overall theme of the week. Trousers had a trackpant-like informality (again, another emerging theme). Coats came in shearling (yup, trend). Patterned knits were particularly appealing. It was a satisfying collection secure in its own ability.

As was Fendi’s attempt at newness: a bench. (You read that right.) Previously, the brand has staged demi-shows, where the audience stood while the models trod a few times around a catwalk. Presumably, that was meant to be more informal, though it actually felt weirdly like inspecting a factory production line.

This time, the sheer fact of offering seating at the show makes it seem like Fendi cared more about its menswear. Or, to be specific, its fur. The catwalk contained so much goat that by the end it looked like a mucky pavement. I counted only eight looks with no fur, even if just simple trim (often a full coat). When there was no fur, the looks were young and interesting, with an emphasis on nice, neat grey suiting.

Earlier in the day, there had also been a full fur coat at Canali, the type worn for easy visual jokes in the recent Anchorman 2. Before these shows, I thought hard about what I would say if fur was put forward as a serious proposition for men in the 21st century. The times it has been seen at these shows so far, I have described it with no comment, positive or negative. But something was unleashed on the Fendi catwalk. It was relentless, a commitment to fur not often seen in menswear. And in the end, accomplished as the clothes were, it did not feel anything to celebrate, for anyone.

Straight from Fendi to Brioni, which once again staged one of its model endurance tests, asking young men to stand stock still for 90 minutes under hot lights wearing multiple winter layers. I saw one young man being escorted out by a security guard. At first it looked like he had been caught doing something he should not in a club. Actually he had passed out, the guard trying to keep him upright.

Exactly a year ago, I wrote the same thing: hardly the best conditions under which to consider luxury. Going round, I found myself just listing garments in my notebook with no particular description: grey coat, Prince of Wales check suit. There was little to deserve further comment, and it made me wonder: Does anyone even care about the new in Milan?

Early in the day there were empty bleachers at Andrea Pompilio’s show, even though he had chosen a venue a short skip from the following collection, Emporio Armani. Last season, Mr Armani had lent Mr Pompilio his showspace for free, in a bid to increase the profile of young designers in the city. This season, few international press or buyers showed up.

It is what happens in this city when you do not have the clout of an advertising budget to pull people in, which is too bad, as Mr Pompilio’s collection showed increasing confidence. It had a modernity and a reality absent most everywhere else in this town.

Quilted shirts were particularly interesting, as were quilted sleeves on a ribbed knit. Mr Pompilio now needs to push for his own individual stamp, as photo prints on a shirt were a little too Raf Simons, the tux stripe trousers and embellishment on the shoulder of a sweatshirt a little too Dries Van Noten. If he is going to be a “version of” designer, that is fine, but there is something in Mr Pompilio’s street-smart look that hints towards further possible rigour, and of work that demands a wider audience. Milan needs more newness like him.

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