There is a definite sense of renewal at this year's Milan Men's Fashion Week, and it's not just the designers. The National Italian Fashion Chamber introduced its new CEO, a former advertising executive whose job is to promote Milan's image as a fashion capital and help boost sales of Italian luxury fashion.
The appointment of Jane Reeve is part of the chamber's efforts to relaunch Italy's fashion system which has suffered because of the country's economic woes and growing competition from other fashion capitals.
Menswear has been driving Italian luxury exports as men become more daring and discerning in their wardrobe choices. Purchases are no longer relegated to special occasion tuxes or watches but everyday wear for home and office. That helps to explain the trend in Milan toward relaxed and athletic looks.
Still, there was no shortage of suits and coats for autumn-winter 2014. Designers emphasised tailored silhouettes, advanced textiles and artisanal work.
Even when loose and casual, the looks were underpinned by Italian tailoring, craftsmanship and innovative textiles, which put the focus on Made in Italy.
The Milan-based fashion house paraded out, along with the models, the tailors and seamstresses who create their garments at a factory in the southern region of Apulia to the strains of local folk music. "This show is dedicated to our tailors," said Kean Etro, who designed the menswear collection. "After all, we're together day in, day out." The fashion house that has made paisley a way of life devised this collection out of a jangle of contrasting checks and plaids. The silhouette was slim and tight, layered with waistcoats and topped with a wildly printed paisley wool scarf for a look that is pure 21st-century dandy.
Giorgio Armani has loosened up his mainline men's silhouette. He sprang to prominence with his 1970s deconstructed jacket with big shoulders. For next winter's menswear collection, previewed last Tuesday, Armani has reworked the jacket, taking structural cues from cardigans. The result maintains the emblematic Armani tailoring while being relaxed with gently sloping, raglan shoulders. Then he inverts his look. He adds a button-down vest, double-breasted with or without a slotted lapel for a new take on the three-piece suit.
His Emporio Armani menswear collection stood out for its use of soft fabrics that were so lustrous they almost seemed lit from within.
The collection was a masterful compendium of modern good taste. The narrow silhouette at Emporio looked fresh. Slim pants ended at the ankle over chunky oxfords. Jackets were tight, with three or four buttons and small, high collars.
The fashion giant's mod mariner cuts a boxy figure in loose-fitting, short jackets and generous sweatshirts paired with slim trousers and solidly soled shoes. The pea coat that anchors the collection sports a rich, knotty texture achieved by working a traditional Tuscan fabric with neoprene. Creative director Frida Giannini's palate of dusty pastels creates a mood of a just-calmed storm and lends smoky contrast to the perfect black that permeates the collection. The Gucci mariner dons his seafarer's cap and sets off into the sunrise behind his round sunglasses.
Dolce & Gabbana
North invades south in the design duo's menswear collection for next winter. The cold weather looks took their cue from medieval courts after the Norman conquest of Sicily. Fabrics and yarns were warm and woolly, while the colours were dark and royal. There is a thick, sturdy top bearing the image of a king over slim-fitting trousers. Bejewelled gloves, slippers and, of course, a golden crown finish the look. Knights wear a knitted wool cap, which is embroidered with sparkling studs to mimic chain mail.
The cowboy-themed menswear collection for autumn 2014 was outrageously fun, even by Versace standards.
"Our cowboy is macho, he's a biker ... he doesn't have a horse," designer Donatella Versace said backstage after the show.
Donatella's cowboys wear their boots with sharp, tight suits decorated with rhinestone horseshoes and cactus plants on both front and back. These cowhands head out on the town wearing red leather chaps over their jeans or sometimes just over their bandanna-print underwear. Cheeky indeed.
Designer Stefan Pilati, in his second full year at Zegna, looked to the cosmos for aesthetic input but kept his latest collection firmly down to earth. The drama and sweep of the collection came from the most unexpected places, like the staple scarf. Pilati's scarves were not mere accents, but part of the architecture of the collection, either knitted into and wrapped around a sweater neckline or sewn into the jacket. The designer combined formal and sporty looks. Roomy, quilted anoraks offer a cosy warmth, while short bomber jackets were offered with fur trim or notched collars. Colours were mostly dark and formal.
For the first time in a long while, no one came out to bow at the end of the show. The founder of the eponymous fashion house announced her resignation for the third time this autumn. Instead of naming a successor, the fashion house said a team assembled by Sander before she left would carry on. The new team stayed true to the house's aesthetic, showing a clean, moodily coloured autumn menswear collection. Sander's trademark deftness with luxurious fabrics was evident in thick overcoats and jackets with surfaces crafted into an eye-catching "packing bubble" texture.
Perhaps the most unexpected celebrity sighting at a fashion week was glam rock band Kiss. Gene Simmons, who is still wagging his tongue at audiences 40 years on, says fashion for him is "to be an individual and not to be a lemming". Singer and guitarist Paul Stanley said he's not a fan of fashion "because it's really temporary. Fashion is something that changes every year to sell products. Style is timeless."
They both agree that Varvatos, whom they met during fashion week last year when they happened to be playing in Milan, had rock'n'roll credentials.
"I knew John's clothes for years because they have all those elements that I love in clothes, which are timeless," Stanley said. "There is a style that goes back to some of the great rock and roll bands of the '60s."