If the men’s runway collections presented in Milan last weekend revealed anything about designers’ current obsessions, it’s that many have one profound longing: to go back in time to a colonial idyll. All that talk of Brics (Brazil, Russia, India and China) seems to have sent imaginations off to another age when expansion was just as popular as it is today, and young men went east. Well, they do say fashion is fantasy.
Witness the Alexander McQueen collection, the first staged since that designer’s tragic death, where external photographers were forbidden as the house’s new designer Sarah Burton presented Victorian dandies with asymmetrical raincoats, patched pocket skinny cargo pants and shirts with multibutton, high-tube collars, all set against “Land of Hope and Glory”.
At Dolce & Gabbana, its 20th anniversary signature collection featured Annie Lennox on the piano and chaps in colonial plantation owner-white linen suits (meanwhile, junior collection D&G was entitled “Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe” after Manet’s painting). At Salvatore Ferragamo, men sauntered down the catwalk in linen blazers and bold striped pyjama bottoms, and at Giorgio Armani the finale was a feast of seersucker suits.
Seersucker also made a starring appearance at Ermenegildo Zegna, celebrating its 100th anniversary, though instead of the usual palette of blue or red and white, the fabric was reimagined in black and grey, navy and sky-blue. Though Zegna’s core business is sleek business suits, here the models sported bandanas instead of ties, presumably the better to forge their way through the wilderness. Of course, any tropical explorer could also opt for Bottega Veneta’s cotton suits in an abstract jungle print – either way finishing it off with what will be the nostalgic footwear fabric of the season: rope, as seen in sandals at Dolce, or as a trim on multicoloured patent leather wingtips at Prada.
Still, few brands summed up the patrician mood as succinctly as Tod’s, where owner Diego della Valle offered a smart line of updated topsider shoes called Marlin Hyannisport, after the yacht Della Valle bought from the Kennedy family, and moccasins, hand sewn in natural hemp thread in bright indigo, cherry red and yellow. Colour is key this season, especially at Brioni, where a David Hockney-influenced collection meant blazers of purple, coral and even wood green, and at Prada, where designer Miuccia sent out an invitation in Amazonian green, ski goggles worn as necklaces, and twirling top sweaters in hues more often found in active sports like power boat racing. (Etro was also to “dye” for, and based on Photoshop fantasies of paisley in see-through chiffon shirts.)
However, this being fashion, for every gentleman that appeared on the runway there was a counter-balancing gang of ruffians. At Emporio Armani, for example, there were chaps in the leggings and leather trenchcoats composed for the Lady Gaga video, “Alejandro”. At Versace, scrawny young dandies showed up in skinny suits finished with mini chains and fringes. At Burberry Prorsum, trenches segued into multi-studded leather bomber jackets, perfect for the British bands, such as Life in Film, seated on the front row and featured on the brand’s latest website, Burberry Acoustic.
Indeed, posh and perverse sometimes existed on the same runway, as at Gucci, where designer Frida Giannini showed silk sweaters with equestrian motifs; 1960s Italian Riviera playboy suits – and lizard jackets. Likewise, at Z Zegna, creative director Alessandro Sartori combined men in rugged linens and mixes of silk, cotton and even jute with blazers and Eisenhower jackets. And finally, John Varvatos mixed rock’n’rollers with country gent fabrics for a landed gentry-in-a-nightclub effect.
It was all surprisingly convincing, though a weirdly popular detour into the cape went a bit off the map. See Marni, where creative director Consuelo Castiglioni produced miniature cloaks; and Calvin Klein, where men’s design director Italo Zucchelli cropped logo sweatshirts halfway up the chest.
Ultimately, the most successful foray into new lands may have come from British brands building reputations on the continent. At the acclaimed mini-show by Scottish cashmere brand Pringle, for example, designer Clare Waight Keller had Scottish band Franz Ferdinand play a miniacoustic set to show intriguing jumpers knitted in denim and second-skin raincoats with an inner layer of see-through cotton and an outer rubberised layer.
Then there was the first full men’s wear collection from Liberty, the fruit of a recent licence agreement with Italian manufacturer Slowcar, which focused on smart new takes on signature micro-flower shirts and archival animal print tops. Fabio Guidotti, who forged the Slowcar deal, said, “Liberty is an iconic brand – properly managed, and with a product that reflects its heritage, we see great potential. UK names can have great international recognition.” In the words of Land of Hope and Glory: “wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set.”