Weirdly, in Milan on day three of the menswear shows, the biggest spectacle has been that taking place outside the venues. There, students and wannabes dress to extremes in the hope of appearing on street style blogs. Inside the shows, the focus is on product. It’s become a repetitive theme in the city, which increasingly seems to have no appetite or budget for grand flights of fantasy.
Gucci creative director Frida Giannini, for example, churns out a constant cycle of goods to satisfy consumers who want luxury to work at the speed of fast fashion and is smart enough to know when there’s such pace of product, it’s best when the garments themselves are made without fuss; see her strong collection of tweeds both softened and sharpened. That’s not a contradiction: take a Prince of Wales suit, where the construction has been minimised so that the cloth hugs the body like a cardigan jacket; the sharpness comes from the brevity. Her tailoring signature is a sense of snap.
There were many coats, some good for Gucci ad campaigns – Sergeant Pepper military coats – others aimed at real life, especially a grey tweed look with raglan sleeves. Gucci also does well when it covers all the price ranges and here the models had silk scarves knotted around the neck, often many at one time. Silk squares are big business when stuffed in pockets. Giannini was suggesting a new way to decorate with the cloth. To each their own.
Likewise, at Emporio Armani, Giorgio Armani found his way to good product by keeping things straight down the middle. Too much of his work in the 21st century has some sort of off-kilter complication, like a fussy asymmetric fastening or an experimental silhouette, far from the simplicity of the soft tailoring and sportswear that made his name. But for autumn/winter ‘13, his focus was a succession of classic shapes rendered in new bonded fabrics. They felt modern and relevant.
It’s not particularly fashionable to like Armani’s present-day work, but the colour combinations of some of the pieces was quite lovely, especially a grey coat with bands of blue over the hips, or the grey sweaters patterned with orange. Let’s draw a veil over the neoprene trousers and the leggings and be generous by assuming they were probably showpiece only and when translated into more commercial cloths, the peacoats, funnel neck duffels and biker jacket shapes will make much retail sense.
As will the suede bomber jackets that came lined inside by quilted goose down at Tod’s, as well as their suede duffel with neoprene inside and their hybrid of a traditional shoe and a hiking boot, the lacing all criss-cross. For their part, Fendi also created their own hybrid, though this time between a show and a presentation, with a continual long stream of boys walking in procession around a catwalk path. Visible in the stream were products that tied with the mood of the season, like coats in a Prince of Wales check, or leather coats fused with wool in a grade effect.
Things were more challenging at Brioni, where models wearing new creative director Brendan Mullane’s debut collection were trapped in Perspex boxes. Quarantine is not an emotion usually linked with luxury, especially when the models faced their 90-minute endurance test wearing parkas lined in cashmere fur, or bomber jackets in sheared mink. Still, the aim is to broaden Brioni’s business from just the sartorial and it was a nice start.
Trickiest of all, however, is Umit Benan’s position as the sole new name of note on the Milan menswear schedule. What to do? Follow the path of the luxury conglomerates, or create his own design world?
Unfortunately, his solution for autumn/winter ‘13 – balaclava-wearing graffiti artists/models tagging the wall along the catwalk – was too reactionary, providing further evidence for why Italy has never been known for its street culture, not to mention distracting from the clothes. That was a shame because Benan can make nicely specific pieces, such as printed and padded jackets. At the end someone sprayed “nothing is what it seems” on the wall. Men just looking for a good jacket might beg to differ.