Reality is a word not that often heard at Prada. But the menswear show that Miuccia Prada sent out in Milan on Sunday night was 100 per cent wearable – OK, maybe 96 per cent, given the odd pair of super-skinny trousers. Generally, however, there was nothing to confuse or confront, just a collection of real-life interchangeable separates worn by models looking like they were at their first day of college – some of them mature students. Even the set was smart: a series of idealistic rooms, the ambition and intelligence of which put other brands to shame.
The basic look was a raglan sleeve coat, probably houndstooth, worn over a crewneck sweater shoved over a shirt in a rush, so the collar was sometimes skewiff. There were also neat Harrington jackets with a wide rib in vivid contrast colour, and leather jackets that looked as if they were bought from the thrift store neighbouring the campus (a compliment).
It was all highly commercial, good news for the beleaguered male Prada customer used to seeing their dream pieces on the catwalk but rarely in store. It will do them proud at retail, and Prada has also grasped what few other brands will admit: although this season is called autumn/winter ’13, the clothes will hit stores in June. Hence nothing was too heavy, nothing felt out of context.
The twist came via some frilled evening shirts rendered in gingham, and footwear with exaggerated treads attached to traditional lace-ups. Mrs Prada has been pushing men towards some form of platform sole for a few seasons now, and these treads were a canny addition to her footwear language. Backstage post-show Mrs Prada herself was wearing a pale mac and, this being January, sandals. Around her, models had changed into their own clothes, but many looked like they could have been heading back on to the catwalk. Imagine it: male models dressed in clothes like those they actually wear.
And that’s the reality of Sunday in Milan: having to think about work. Bottega Veneta’s creative director Tomas Maier sent out a succession of suits designed for what he called “a serious moment”, ie the global financial catastrophe threatening his industry’s very existence. Of course, Bottega Veneta is aimed at men who haven’t felt the slightest turbulence the past few years, men whose work attire can be the softest tailoring, fit to please primarily themselves rather than any hierarchical traditions. If only everyone could wear suits like this: understated, supple, often with fastenings covered to keep the line pure. A cardigan jacket closed by large press studs was one of the most desirable, and wearable, pieces seen in Milan so far.
As for Calvin Klein Collection mens’ designer Italo Zucchelli, he has always designed clothing with a healthy dose of reality, and this season that meant zip-up bombers, neat peacoats, and tailored combat trousers with mesh detail pockets. However, the reality of the brand (as opposed to the clothes) is that it’s a laboratory of experimentation that the designers don’t seek to push at retail; its purpose to preserve the sporty clarity of the Calvin Klein name. And, ironically, that makes viewing these clothes an idealistic exercise, because the likelihood of seeing them on a rail, or any man’s back, is remote.
Still, the ultimate reality is that there are things more important than fashion, as the tragedy affecting the Missoni family following the disappearance of the aircraft carrying chief executive Vittorio Missoni in Venezuela made clear. The family nevertheless decided to stage their menswear show as usual, which in a cruel twist was meant to be celebrating the company’s 60th anniversary. The show’s best moment was visible not from the front, but from behind, with otherwise plain chunky knits decorated on the back with abstractions of their famous erratic knit. Save for designer Angela Missoni, however, none of the family was present to see it. For them, for this moment, life was elsewhere.