The Milan men’s fashion week which closed today was another video festival, so its commercial link to the Milan Fashion Film Festival came rather naturally. When life gives you social distancing and travel bans, make fashion films and stream audience-less shows and presentations. This is simply the state of affairs in January 2021 — lamentations are pointless.
Under normal circumstances, Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons’ second outing as a creative duo would surely have demanded a grand show and yet the duo embraced video for a second time, with a sharply shot, perfectly edited, straight-to-the-point video, and it worked just as well as the first.
But for us critics, now that we are looking at the same screen and thus have access to essentially the same information as everybody else — save the de rigueur post-show Zoom chat — the task feels different, less in-depth than seeing the clothes in person. Instead, we can offer glimpses, illuminations, all-important keywords. Here a few, in the alphabetical (dis)order of a glossary, a format borrowed from my Il Foglio colleague Fabiana Giacomotti.
Colour. Men and bright-brights are an odd couple: the danger of looking like a parrot, a peacock or a clown for that matter, is high. And yet, after many dark months, some designers are betting men will be eager to invest in glaring looks. Silvia Venturini Fendi toyed with the idea of chromotherapy in a collection that started quiet and ended up going bonkers, following the indecipherable scribbles of comedian and artist Noel Fielding. Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons, for their part, explored garish combinations of purple, yellow, baby blue and pink from set to clothing to covetable accessories such as glove-purses, and from corduroy to teddy to knit. It felt a bit like a lysergic teenage dream. At Sunnei, colour is a given: the top layer of a unique recipe based on volume, abstraction and playfulness. There is a primary energy to what Loris Messina and Simone Rizzo do that invariably recalls the stripes and the joy of artist Daniel Buren. The endless video game format they chose as a presentation format was a bit tricky, but the clothes were there, albeit in virtual rendering.
Duet. The marriage between Raf Simons and Miuccia Prada went full circle this season, with the eagerly awaited first outing of their menswear. Men’s being Simons’ primary territory of expression, it felt like his input was stronger than hers. Or better: it felt like Mrs Prada offered Simons the Prada foundations — familiar ones, a little “best of” — on which to perform some Raf-isms. At times — the bombers, the crazy patterns, the sharpness, the collars — it all felt heavily referential on both sides. For sure, the creative dialogue needs to be fine-tuned. The impression is that Simon’s proclivity for teenage angst is perhaps limiting the usually free-ranging, or deranging, roster of Prada’s possibilities. What comes across clearly is a brand of overbearing control, the utter polish given to each look, the intense rumination on every little detail. But letting go a little would probably give things a much livelier feeling, which is what we all crave right now.
Format. The key dilemma at the heart of fashion gone digital is not about medium (invariably video), but format: A narrative film, or a recorded runway show? Both can work, but narrative scenes often tend to relegate clothing to the level of costumes, putting the actors first. Tod’s opted for a short movie in which up and coming actor Leonardo Zurzolo plays the part of a young actor in retreat to learn a part: concise and fairly bland in acting, it worked. Zegna’s fashion film was a captivating flow between insides and outsides, with the fabricated quality of the mise en scène revealed at the very end with a seamless coup de théâtre. Both Fendi and Etro, who had initially planned shows with an audience, opted instead for a filmed runway show, editing the video for length and rhythm. The results were stark, but they worked.
Inside/outside. Life, at the moment, happens in a liminal space suspended between the insides where one is forcedly trapped and the outside world into which one longs to dive. Style follows. Permanently persuaded by the unbeatable comfort of leisurewear, wrapped in those dreadful sweatpants for months, it will be hard getting back to a full suit. Who needs one, after all, if remote working is to be one of the permanent effects of the crisis? Nonchalance was everywhere this week, from Walter Chiapponi’s grunge-y layers tainted with a whiff of Italian-aristo attitude for Tod’s to Etro’s Saturday morning clash of this and that (and a printed velvet robe to top it off) and Prada’s long johns. Oh well, those made a body-hugging statement but felt a bit too much. Loungewear, or underwear, as outerwear, can feel a bit forced, a tad costumey, and a lot of posturing. Borrowing piping from a robe for a duvet coat, as Fendi did, felt better. Translating the flow of a robe de chambre for a jacket à la Zegna, too. In any case, the new wardrobe is meant to work both in and out of one’s living space.
Knitwear. “The consolation of comfort” is the explanation Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons gave for the abundance of knitwear in their collection. Knitted garments — the very epitome of homey, cosy comfort — were all the rage at Fendi, too, while most of the Zegna collection was tailored from felted cashmere jersey, in effect mixing a knitted fabric with a sartorial construction. Tactility is the message. On top of that, knitwear offers a zing of domesticity: a feeling of being at ease chez soi that it will be nice to bring outside when public life is allowed again.
New guard. In the commendable attempt to put some blood on the Milan fashion week program, the Camera della Moda launched an international scouting initiative, bringing brands and designers from all corners of the globe to the calendar. The mapping that ensued was rich in names, but the overall proposal felt surprisingly monotonous. Whether focusing on tailoring or sporty outerwear, this new wave seems forever trapped in the shackles of an abrasive, urban aesthetic — and let’s not discuss the influence of Demna Gvasalia as a mentor for a generation just like Martin Margiela (of whom Gvasalia is a follower) was for the previous one. From the rethought Blair Witch Project of Dalpaos to the tactile and earthy art attack of Danilo Paura, passing through Gall’s post-atomic — or post-pandemic — outdoors extravaganza, there was certainly no shortage of interesting fashion. The concrete jungle-worthy simplicity of Solid Homme felt remarkable, while the evolution of Andrea Pompilio, a talented veteran, with APN73 was convincing for its dynamism and concision. Federico Cina has a sensitivity all his own, while Magliano proved once again his mastery at cocky, sardonic hyper-masculinity. Samuel Ross of A-Cold-Wall, who joined the Milan calendar last year, is certainly not a newcomer. His merging of drama and function, of technicality and bold design, still feels fresh, but may soon be at risk of looking a bit repetitive.
Normal. “What is normal today,” repeated Silvia Venturini – as an observation, not a question — on the catchy soundtrack of her catchy video show. Normality is what mankind aspires to at the moment: getting back to where we were or, better, where we will be. Fashion-wise, it all took the form of a celebration of timeless classics, in classic muted colours: items so familiar to seem almost not designed, from the camel coat to the shirt jacket. Fashion that does nor scream fashion: Tod’s hunting jackets and trenches, deconstructed coats at Kiton, beautifully supple overshirts at Federico Curradi and Nick Fouquet, duvets at Woolrich and parkas at K-way.
Party hard. Apparently, underground parties are all the rage in this moment of new prohibition. Breaking the law is out of the question, but whiffs of partying hard gave a jolly feel to collections and presentations. The mythical reference, here, is the rave scene of the early Nineties: an unrepeatable moment of joy and abandon. In a very direct, effective collection, Massimo Giorgetti of MSGM kept thinking of mountain wear, in an urban setting, but he presented it in a rave-like scenario under a snowstorm: the clash of seemingly disparate elements worked well, and what emerged was MSGM’s straightforwardness. At Iceberg, James Long paid homage to rave culture, too, but the feeling in the clothing was more pragmatic than escapist. A party aura, complete with psychedelic coloured lights, was also evident at Etro, where Kean Etro was feeling free and positively deranging. There was a new lightness to the storied paisley brand that felt right for the moment and a welcome step forward from a recipe that, in the past, felt a bit stuffy.
Product. More than the concepts, this season, it’s the products that count. Working in quite extreme conditions, forced to envision a hypothetical post-pandemic future in the middle of dire times, and thus trying to predict the desires of tired consumers, designers ditched the storytelling trail that has been so prominent of late and focused on the items that matter. Not dealing with high flights of concept, but with product, at this stage, felt refreshing. From Prada’s bombers and peacoats to the ubiquitous duvet to knitwear, it was all about pieces.
Reset. Right before the pandemic started, exactly one year ago, fashion was beginning to enter a new sartorial phase after the streetwear craze of years before. Everything crashed, but the quest for a new formality persists, and it is Alessandro Sartori, at Zegna, who is perhaps most determined to reset the code and re-tailor modern men. Creating a contemporary sartorial code, truth be told, has been Sartori’s task since he was installed at the Zegna creative helm in 2017, but it took some trials and errors to get the balance right. This collection, after the spring/summer high, was his most accomplished and convincing: an exploration of fluidity that as felt proper and dignified as it was easy. The destiny of the tailored suit might not lay in a necktie — there was not one in sight — but if there is anyone who can convince the tracksuit generation to wear a full suit, it’s Sartori.
Sentimentality. We are all feeling emotional, aren’t we? We have rediscovered fragility, which is probably a real strength. The brand of masculinity that emerged in Milan this season was frail, introspective rather than macho. Poetic, too, as suggested by Federico Curradi and Nick Fouquet via soft tailoring and painterly colours. Melancholic yet tough, as suggested by Raf Simons at Prada. Sentimentality is the strongest addition of nuance the Belgian designer provided to the usually stark, cold Prada lexicon. It’s sentimentality attached to garments, such as the bomber, drenched with deep subcultural meaning and a longing for teenage years, which is both the strength and the weakness of Raf Simons. The Simons muse is a homme-boy who does not want to grow up. And yet, doing more to open up men’s fashion for a wider range of generations would be thrilling. Prada is a good place to do that. Willing or not, the pandemic teaches us all that we have to grow up.
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