FASHION / Look at Men Now: Milan's message from last week - dandy, Dracula and multi-layered global grunge

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TIME WAS when everyone in the menswear trade came to Italy to buy their ever-so-reliable classics, but preferred the Paris shows for excitement and innovation. Now Italy is proving it's not short of innovators.

It is only three years since Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana first tried their hand at menswear, but already everyone wants to buy their clothes. Or copy them. Likewise, Romeo Gigli is a strong influence, combining simple, elegant shapes with a predominance of spicy, earthy colours that have been so successful in his women's wear.

Paul Smith, meanwhile, is adored by the Italians who love the look inglese. Last week he staged a one-off show in Florence, at the invitation of the organisers of the prestigious menswear trade exhibition, Pitti Immagine Uomo, in the grand 19th-century Stazione Leopolda. At the end of the month he presents his catwalk show again in Paris and opens his first shop in Europe on the Boulevard Raspail.

It was obvious that this year, men will be taking up a look women enjoyed last year: the dandy is back - in frock coats, ruffled shirts, tight trousers and waistcoats made from soft velvet and tapestry fabrics. There's nothing fey about all this. At Dolce e Gabbana he's positively creepy in head-to-toe black, a direct homage to Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula. Long hair is de rigueur, the round mirrored glasses and Artful Dodger top-hat optional extras.

Paul Smith's version, though, would win applause from Savile Row - his jackets are beautifully nipped in at the waist with a hint of flare and the fabrics are ultra-traditional, from pinstripe and chalk-stripe to checks and cords. Gigli's dandy comes from the designer who is a connoisseur of elegance and luxury: the slim-line trousers, close-fitting tailored jackets and coats in exquisite peachskin-soft fabrics, with details kept to an absolute minimum.

When it came to loosening up, all three designers took a global grunge tour: a whip round South America, Tibet, Russia and Africa, and everything stuck on together. This is the style we've seen emerging this season, which is amplified into next. The models came out wrapped up in military greatcoats, fringed ponchos, patchwork blanket waistcoats, checked shirts, big ribbed sweaters, sheepskin coats and knitted skull caps. By next winter, it looks as if all you need to know is that more is more. -

(Photographs omitted)