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When did fashion become a 20th-century preservation society? From here on in, most of the menswear shows for Autumn/Winter 2016 in Milan then Paris are from brands and designers who started up at some point between 1900 and 1999. The Milan menswear season started off with a debut from Peter Dundas, a designer who presented his first ever menswear collection. Except it was actually more of a revival, since his work was for Roberto Cavalli, a house founded in the early 1970s. Here in Milan, it’s the past that counts.

Dundas took over as creative director of Roberto Cavalli less than a year ago, and in menswear at least he has a mammoth task ahead of him. The brand has no real presence in the new world of 21st century men’s fashion. It is not stocked by online retailers such as Mr Porter or Matchesfashion.com. On its own web store, it offers for men a scant few print T-shirts and the type of faded jean you hope never to see worn by an elder relative. Type the surname into Google, and first result is Francesco Cavalli, a 17th century Italian composer. Forget pre-internet. In terms of brand recognition, Roberto Cavalli is pre-electricity.

Dundas made his name bringing unashamed exuberance to Pucci womenswear. “When you’re a man designing for a man’s wardrobe,” he said a couple of hours before the show,“it’s about what you want, or what you want to see your friends or lovers wear. For women you are creating a different kind of dream. But essentially the Cavalli vibe is the Cavalli vibe that has no sex.” He paused. “Or lots of sex.”

He meant the men’s and women’s share a similar state of mind, and it ain’t frigid. The problem is, it’s also not very sexy either. This debut collection was very Cavalli, in that it looked like some musty stuff that should have been left in whichever old trunk it was found: snakeskin blousons, shaggy furs that resemble a dog which shouldn’t have gone in the water, belt buckles bigger than most smartphones, jeans attacked by an embroiderer who just didn’t know when to stop. Those jeans were like they’d been covered in barnacles, as if they’d been accidentally submerged on a mussel farm. What came on the catwalk was pretty much the Cavalli that for years hasn’t worked. Come on! It’s 2016!

Cavalli has a genuine pressing problem: Gucci. Under its relatively new creative director Alessandro Michele, Gucci now has ownership of a certain sort of decadent clothing. Its lace shirts and embellished tracksuits have a kooky contemporary pop that is charming, and feels new. Dundas needs to figure out how to harness contemporary life, and make Cavalli relevant. The best look on his catwalk by miles was a lovely red lace shirt, worn with loose, faded jeans. It looked like Gucci.

Before he struck out on his own, Dundas worked for a few years with Cavalli himself, so he has ingrained knowledge of this world. He needs to erase that part of his mind, because really Dundas has to start designing at the most basic level. Take the cut of the pant: so many pairs coming down the catwalk gave the models empty, flat crotches. It’s not something any man wants of his clothing, and is usually the result of designing by rote.

These humiliating trousers came one after another: some empty crotch wool pants; empty crotch corduroys, empty crotch jeans. Any item of clothing has to pass the dressing room test. When men try these on, they’re unlikely to flatter. Dundas has made his debut – great. Now it is time to go back to the studio and really examine the design of every single piece. It’s essential to the survival of this brand, because why else make clothing? Dundas needs to understand what design can do for the male form, not just let fashion act as surface decoration to hide the problems beneath.

For more reports from the shows, go to our fashion weeks page on FT.com

Photographs: Catwalking.com

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