Does anyone look to shows with an eye for trends any more? There was a time when designers dictated the colour of the season – or the decade – that would go on to be slavishly copied. It’s still possible to view this week’s Milan menswear shows for spring/summer 2015 through some notional trends: technical outerwear, blousons in place of blazers, shorts as a given, a reappraisal of denim. But these aren’t connected to designer whim; more to how men live their lives. The best shows in Milan were those that gave a heightened sense of this reality.
Prada’s strong collection was one of studied simplicity. Its main identifier was white topstitching, which picked out the hems and pockets of clothing in navy and black. It was a detail that made sober pieces playful and exaggerated the purposeful normality of Miuccia Prada’s work. For the first time in years, she showed jeans on her catwalk. These were cut to sit away from the body, against the tide of skinny jeans that has dominated the past few years. Prada can be obtuse. Here, all was approachable.
This was also a collection with seasonal reality. The fashion industry’s archaic labelling calls it spring/summer, yet these clothes will first reach stores in January 2015. Hence the chunky sweaters: some in straightforward camel worn with a blue shirt, others some sort of cable knit set at an off-kilter diagonal. It’s an admirable path for Prada to follow: rather than jolting men into something strange, she offers them newness of cut and detail in what they think they already know.
Prada is a house with customers open to experimentation. For them, this season is a respite. For Stefano Pilati at Ermenegildo Zegna, his task is to convince its tailoring clientele into more casual clothing for its couture line. A model came on to the catwalk in a suit. Around his waist was tied a lightweight technical parka, on his feet, sneakers. It’s a balance that worked.
There was a triumvirate of such brands engaged in heightened reality. The third was Bottega Veneta, where creative director Tomas Maier showed a succession of wide shorts to just above the knee, often worn with great sweaters. A few seasons ago, a city short was a novelty. Now it is a norm, and Maier’s outfits looked lively.
Contrast these shows with the work of Dolce & Gabbana, or Gucci. Both worked with an old-fashioned literal theme for their shows. The former got stuck in the world of the toreador; the latter, overt nautical referencing. In previous decades, both themes might easily have been called trends, even if they eventually had no trickle-down effect to what men really wore. But fashion doesn’t work in such a blatant way any more. People communicate with their smartphones, not with one-dimensional fashion messages.
When two such major Milanese brands fall short of our high expectations – they are brands that have produced and are capable of important work – it matters. There is a sense of diminishment to the city’s fashion schedule, in stark contrast to the invigorating London shows that preceded them.
This is another aspect to Milan menswear, of shows that are more important commercially than they are stylistically. Milan can sometimes feel as if it is dominated by brands that wield great financial clout but offer little of creative value in return.
There were other brands that showed good work in Milan. Emporio Armani did what it should, which is to produce youthful city clothing of a sporty air, particularly its tech outerwear and drawstring tailored pants. Calvin Klein Collection felt the most contemporary show of the season, with its layered tanks and shorts. Contemporary, that is, for young men with muscles (who, in this age of gym ubiquity, number many).
And then, in a universe of its own, was Versace. The house had previously lost its way but for the past couple of seasons Versace has profited handsomely from a mood of extravagance among luxury consumers. Here, tailoring and blousons were rose pink in crêpe de Chine, leather jackets patchworked with tropical fauna and Roman statues. Halfway through there was a toga party to show off its new season’s underwear (some models even carried plates as accessories). At least someone is having fun in Milan.