Milan Fashion Week: Menswear report 1

With menswear right now, it has to be modern. These Spring/Summer 2015 shows have been dominated by clothing for the present day, rather than harking back to some already well-trodden past. Crucially, there is a move away from overt literal references – it is the pieces that count, not the theme. So when Dolce & Gabbana opened their show with a succession of toreador jackets, little bolero things straight from the bullring and complete with elaborate frogging, there was an immediate problem.

Within the show were pieces that showed a desire to engage in modern life. A hoodie came out featuring an image of the Virgin Mary. Slouchy T-shirts were printed with bulls, the sleeves of the tees sitting below the elbow. Tailored trousers were cropped successfully to a toreador’s above-ankle length. These were pieces that interpreted a theme and made fashion from it, and were the beginning of good ideas.

But when the show was literal, oh boy. That frogging was allowed to roam free over various garments. It was bearable on modern garments like a black tank, but when the frogging went up and around a black tux, the effect was an overdone wedding cake. What am I meant to be admiring here? The obviousness of the idea?

Midway through the show came a red leather coat, which could be seen to involve some sort of technical process on the inside – maybe heat-sealing, maybe bonding. It was a great piece, and stood out because it felt new. Of course this is just catwalk, and what really sells for Dolce & Gabbana is the pre-collection of reliable black suits and jeans. But without catwalk innovation, the style of that selling collection is in danger of stagnating. More exploration of technique, please. Less reliance on overt theme. It does not feel modern.

Stefano Pilati found a sweet spot with his third collection at Ermenegildo Zegna, where he designs a line called “Couture” to signify that it is specially developed fabrics, the limited availability of the pieces and, of course, higher price points. You can easily follow the looping algorithm of his time so far at Zegna: his first collection a year ago was a bravura performance in modern easy dressing. His second felt as if he were using design trickery to push against the restraints of such a traditional house. Here he seemed to have found the answer: just make great clothes, with the odd twist to keep himself happy.

Soft jackets of broad but barely discernible blue and black stripes were of double-breasted cut, but held with only one looped button. Blousons are a favoured garment of Pilati, and these looked great with horizontal stripes in blues and greys. Trousers were cut loose around the thighs and tight at the ankle. Tech outerwear were tied around the body and worn over suits.

It all looked covetable enough, and Pilati’s additional design riffs, like the arm loops of a white tank hanging below the waist, did not interfere with the value of the work. Then came the stellar pieces: a half-raglan black coat of a pleasing rounded shape; a white polo shirt with the placket picked out in a thin border of navy blue, and a stream of exceptional quilted jackets, coats and tops. These were in nylon, of a complex pattern that looked mottled (and I use the word as a compliment). The pieces – such as a city coat, or a jacket with wide patch pockets – were of pleasing design and development. They were also extremely desirable, Pilati at his engaged best.

Let us be honest. The first day of Milan felt a bit of a drag, especially after the pace of London, where there were often three brands to see in one hour. Milan menswear continues to lack momentum or a sense of newness. A rare bright point was the show by young designer Christian Pellizzari, the latest designer to be offered by Giorgio Armani the use of his showspace in order to reach a wider audience. Pellizzari showed some great, wearable clothes, like the opening blue cotton suit, and an iridescent bomber that shimmered like peacock feathers.

The designer Andrea Pompilio has previously benefited from Armani’s largesse, and in a couple of days makes his debut designing for Canali. At Pompilio’s own show, he could have done with some restraint. Blazers had an integrated belt, which for some reason held one side of the body. Spring coats had huge great pockets, and large cut-out grommet holes for no purpose other than decoration. He needs to build up his codes of basic design before such fripperies could work.

A few years ago, the idea that Versace could be the highlight of the day at menswear would have seemed remote. How things change. This was the first show since the €210m investment from private equity firm Blackstone, money injected after a few seasons of growth in both sales and confidence. Versace is becoming a serious brand once again.

Of course it is still a hoot – the colours were rose pink and Riviera blue, the leather jackets came with sleeves cut open and tied together, and halfway through the show was a Roman toga party to show off the underwear. Some of the models carried Versace plates as accessories. But the clothes were talking too, especially the cut around the shoulder. Fluid crepe-de-chine suits still had shape because the shoulder seam is cut on a hard diagonal at the armhole; the back of denim and leather jackets are cut so broad it is like they are about to envelope the front. These things are longstanding house signatures, which Donatella Versace now feels able to play with, and make relevant.

In the end, a fashion show is an opportunity to display product, and here it was on abundant display. Particularly prevalent were necklaces, bracelets and watches, the kind of trinket that Versace is apparently selling in truckloads to men. Backstage after the show, Donatella seemed happy and relaxed, laughing with friends. At least someone in Milan has optimism.

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