Menswear: Finding the conviction behind all the crystal and the crocodile

Alexander Fury in Milan wonders what will actually find its way on to the high street

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Is it really menswear if men aren’t wearing it? That idea occurred to me not because of the number of female models appearing on menswear catwalks for spring/summer 2016 – although, only three shows into the Milanese leg of the international collections, they had already made an appearance at Emporio Armani.

Rather, the question feels relevant generally – you often wonder whose back these clothes will end up on, if anybody’s. Look at the front row: regardless of what they’re applauding, most of the men’s press are clad in two-pieces, or jeans and T-shirts.

I mean, if we’re not convinced of this stuff, why should you be?

Then consider factors such as Philipp Plein, a German fashion designer currently making a flashy splash with crystal and crocodile-encrusted clothes that resemble those sported by the cast of Jersey Shore. It’s fair to say no fashion editor would be caught dead in them, yet his revenue has more than doubled (from around £63m to £142m) in less than three years. By contrast, the ever-influential Prada saw its 2014 operating profit fall 25 per cent. Climbing the tower of the latter label’s impressive new art foundation in the south of Milan, you could see the set of Plein’s Saturday night show being constructed a few streets away. Littered (intentionally) with smashed machinery, it resembled a marauding army closing in – the invasion of the king of bling.

Is this what men really want to wear?

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Versace spring/summer 2016

It’s fair to say that the opening day of Milan Fashion Week threw up more questions than answers. You still feel there’s something questionable, for instance, over what Stefano Pilati is doing at Ermenegildo Zegna Couture. The design is forward-thinking and exciting – convincing, indeed – but where do these clothes actually wind up? At the moment they’re in the windows of Zegna’s store on the moneyed Milanese strip of Via Montenapoleone, looking pretty for the international menswear press here until 23 June. I wonder if, after that brief interlude, they’ll be shipped out for some staid suits that won’t scare the punters?

Sometime early on during Stefano Pilati’s tenure, Zegna added the suffix “Couture”. That’s a word synonymous with quality, an arena of fashion sometimes dubbed a “laboratory of ideas”. Pilati’s work chimes with both notions. But I can’t help remembering that Parisian haute couture is also only worn by a few hundred women across the world; what a pity it would be if Pilati’s Zegna is similarly restricted.

 

It’s a pity because Pilati is one of the relatively few designers – certainly in menswear, and especially in Milan – who offer exciting and experimental ideas. Experiments don’t always work: today, there was something a bit soupy about the trousers, for instance, but from the waist up Pilati was cooking. His papery overcoats in macro Madras checks, his zipped bombers with cross-over panels looping like Möbius strips, or giant poacher’s pockets sagging, four at a time, front and back, were some of the best outerwear propositions we’ve seen. They felt different, original but not alienating, like Pilati’s palette – opening and closing with black and white respectively, his show was dominated by inbetweeny grey shades, flushed with fleshy pinks or green and blue. I can’t help but think men would enjoy wearing these clothes, if they were given a chance.

The issue, again, is conviction. I’m not sure Zegna thinks these clothes will sell, so they don’t really try. I wish they could be bolder, and braver.

Few get bolder, or braver, than Donatella Versace. The reason her menswear works – when it’s good – is that she’s absolutely confident about it. Accuse Versace of being camp and Donatella erects a whole damn tent. She actually did today, a silk big-top printed with elaborate ormolu, wafting in the air-conditioned breeze like something out of Carry On Up the Khyber. “It’s a bit of a dream we are conjuring here,” said Ms Versace. “But the clothes are very real.”

Indeed, menswear is at the root of Versace’s rocketing sales – 29 per cent up in North America alone last year, when the label opened 40 new boutiques. There are plans for 30 more in 2015.

What will they be selling? The label’s signature bold print – this time micro versions of Versace’s ornate, Elton John-ish cushions tessellated into a grid that ended up resembling Moorish tiles – alongside leather, gold jewellery, and hyper-luxe stuff such as tie-dye silk jacquard suits or ombré sequin sweaters.

Ask Donatella if this stuff will end up in shops and she stamps a platform sandal and flails her bowling-ball sized cocktail rings around.

That means “yes”, in the house of Versace.

She says her manager (presumably the label’s chief executive) tells her to do simpler stuff, but Donatella says no. “No man needs nothing,” she declares. Quite. If only more designers thought like that. If only more were so confident.

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