Over the past few seasons, Milan Fashion Week has – from many fashion critics’ perspectives – lost ground on the international stage. Partly as a corollary to the rise of London Collections: Men, partly due to Florentine menswear fair Pitti Uomo’s increasing importance on the international men’s fashion calendar, and also partly due to a (perceived) lack of emerging talent.
This season though, it felt like there were new shoots growing. Nowhere was this more evident than at Gucci, where recently appointed creative director Alessandro Michele showed his first ‘proper’ (as in, he actually had more than a few weeks to prepare it this time) menswear collection.
The result was a truly lush display of textures, colours and above all, concepts. Gucci (like some of the other houses currently showing) has been seemingly stuck on a single template, subtly altered, for season after season until now, and Michele’s collection proved that it’s certainly not ideas that are lacking in Milan.
The unbridled retro-romantic 1970s theme burst through in spectacular juxtapositions of materials and a collection that spanned everything from monogrammed jacquard trench coats and silk pyjamas to rich floral suits and lace vests.
In this way, the 55-look show was about expressing a mood rather than a colour palette, and showed that Michele has apparently been let out of his cage. It could well be the making of both him and the label.
There was something of a revival at the storied houses of Versace and Missoni, too. Donatella swapped her leather-clad, bulging himbos for a collection that blended the contemporary streetwear vibes of London with the refined tailoring of Milan – teaming longer-line silk shirts with her signature punchy prints and eschewing the dusky pink found elsewhere for an in-your-face set of violet jewel tones.
The Missoni collection also felt like a step forward for the brand. Its signature zigzag stripes are just as recognisable as Versace’s aesthetic, but they were dialled back in favour of a relaxed colour palette of blue, gold and dusky pink for a collection that felt fresh, modern and – crucially for this Italian brand – relevant.
One thing to remember when looking at the Milan shows is that so many of the houses currently on the schedule are founded not by designers, but by craftsmen – from both the worlds of leather goods and fabric production.
Stefano Pilati at Ermenegildo Zegna demonstrated this with his characteristic light touch and relaxed approach to tailoring. Playing subtly with proportions, the Zegna collection mixed a slightly wider cut of trousers with a stricter cut for jackets to push a new silhouette, while the collection also embraced madras checks and the dusky pink vibe – both key trends from MFW.
It was Zegna’s diaphanous tailoring though – almost sheer in parts of the monochrome suits – which really allowed the house’s fabric heritage to come alive.
Elsewhere, this fabric focus was the main talking point. Calvin Klein Collection, on first glance nothing more than classic garments in an ultra-conservative monochrome, denim and camel palette, were rendered in luxe jacquards, gorgeous intarsias and woven silks for an effect that might mean nothing to the casual observer, but to a detail-oriented fashion eye (and, crucially, for the wearer) made these pieces infinitely more satisfying.
Wearable silhouettes were key at Emporio Armani, where the navy checks, commercial separates and tailoring that so characterise the house got gradually more exciting as the 88 looks exited.
Dolce & Gabbana’s 105-look behemoth (that’s almost twice the size of Gucci’s) was an exercise in self-indulgence, and basically a rehash of the brand’s last collection of oversized silk tunic tops and questionable silk chinoiserie suiting.
Likewise, Neil Barrett and Prada showed collections that reworked previous seasons and themes, but at least in their case there were a few new ideas, and the resulting garments had both an element of commerciality and ingenuity.
Barrett’s graphic streetwear was subtly moved forwards with new approaches to materials and fabrication techniques, while Miuccia Prada continued her exploration of school uniform codes, youthful naiveté and an irksome atmosphere. The knitted graphic jumpers are sure to be a sell-out.
Elsewhere, Tomas Maier at Bottega Veneta took luxury fabrics to a new place, showing a collection with a distinct hippie vibe, along with a set of sophisticated separates in a neutral colour palette.
Meanwhile, over at Brioni, a label renowned for its suiting, there appeared to be another of those shifts characteristic of Milan this season: classic suits were produced in technical fabrics, checks, navy and green jewel tones, and unusual cuts that (not unlike the Hardy Amies show in London the week before) cast tailoring in a new light.
It just goes to show that, in menswear – even for the traditional houses – there’s plenty to explore, but only if the designers at the helm are given enough leash to do so.