Austerity? What’s that? Mario Monti may be tightening the bootstraps of the Italian economy but in the world of Milanese men’s wear the overriding aesthetic for autumn/winter 2012 is in-your-face luxe. Though this might seem self-defeating, it reveals a conscious decision to solve crises at home by making an all-or-nothing bet on consumers abroad – specifically, men in the Bric markets (Brazil, Russia, India, China) – and the idea that they will spend huge sums building their wardrobes.
From Fendi mink jackets where fur torsos morph into cashmere shoulders, to cashmere felt coats adorned with baroque bullion – the silver or gold thread embroidery first developed in ancient Phrygia – at Dolce & Gabbana, last week’s catwalks were dominated by expensive technological innovations, pricey furs and haute couture-quality finishes. Gucci’s Rimbaud-inspired redingotes boasted beaver on the outside, astrakhan inside; Versace’s rococo rock star leather motorbike jackets were bestrewn with gold chains; and Etro’s tailored devoré frock coats sprouted cock feathers while pony skin dancing boots were bisected with strips of grebe feathers.
Then there was Brioni, the label famed for dressing James Bond that was acquired this month by French luxury giant PPR for an estimated €350m. A “tableau vivant” presentation of models and real men such as perfumer Kilian Hennessy and actor Jack Guinness was premised on the concept of a “sumptuous wardrobe” and featured a fine wool suit with 24 carat gold thread. Hardy Amies, the iconic Savile Row tailor acquired by Hong Kong-based Fung Capital, was relaunched this season with its first show on the Continent, Prince Michael of Kent in the front row and jet-setting cashmere duster coats with fox collars on the runway.
“My family has been in business for four generations, selling goods produced in Asia to the west,” said Amies’ new owner, Lee Fung. “Now, we want to sell sophisticated western to Chinese obsessed with high quality.” He’s not the only one. Missoni pushed a modernist take on the “typical wet English country weekend”, complete with mucky-print nylon blousons, while at Trussardi designer Umit Benan found inspiration in Jackie Stewart, showing models in the padded racing jackets and flat caps favoured by the Formula One champion.
As Calvin Klein chief executive Tom Murry said, “The key driver of our growth has been China, and a good 70 per cent of our business there is to men” – the idea being that they will respond to the leather sweatshirts textured to look like concrete, transparent puffa vests that reveal the feathers inside and (another big Milan trend) nylon twill capes, the better to swish one’s way up the millionaire rankings.
Perhaps Miuccia Prada (whose company raised some $2bn in an Initial Public Offering last summer in Hong Kong) summed up the mood best, when she noted her show “was about the way a powerful man expresses his will through his dress”. Entitled “Il Palazzo” and featuring a celebrity gang including actors Willem Dafoe, Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and Adrien Brody, the collection presented patrician top coats in cashmere worn over lean serge wool suits, boasting breast pockets with miniature pistols, faux military memorabilia, and brogues and wingtips with painted carnations and rose petals.
Still, it wasn’t entirely bigger-and-flashier-is-better in Milan; a few brands acknowledged today’s straitened times. A stellar Bottega Veneta collection, for example, included the new jean – slimline and anchored below the knee with a quilted finish – as well as patchwork tweed suits complete with “mistakes” such as embossed paint patches. A slimmer silhouette also showed up at Ermenegildo Zegna, best in the finale of modernist micro suits (boyish jackets with nipped-in waists and trousers truncated to show a little ankle) as well as at Burberry, where designer Christopher Bailey covered his lean tweed suits in micro puffa jackets that ended six inches above the bottom of the jacket. Even Giorgio Armani reimagined his classic suit in a new lightweight tweed, then brilliantly deconstructed the three-piece, describing it as “Austro-Hungarian, just like one of my great grandmothers”. Salvatore Ferragamo likewise showed restraint, with slate grey leather spy trench-coats lined in felt.
Finally, there was an in-your-face aesthetic of a different kind from Raf Simons at Jil Sander, who packed his collection with suits and huge overcoats in black leather in a show some critics said evoked SS officers on a late-night prowl. As a sartorial offering it was certainly riskier than betting on the Brics but, overall this season, when it comes to men’s wear, the general consensus is: go all in.