The big easy: Milan menswear shows

Low-cut shirts and pyjama-style trousers – designers were in a relaxed mood at the Milan menswear shows. From his front-row seat, Jefferson Hack introduces the week's themes
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Opulence

"I love Milan," says Tom Ford the day after the opening night cocktail party for his flagship store, the biggest and boldest yet. Set in the heart of the city's smart fashion district, the five-storey ultra-luxe emporium has already become the most talked about destination for both discerning visitors and Milan's well-heeled locals alike.

The glass and polished black marble entrance makes it feel less like the home of the "first true luxury brand of the 21st century" than a Bond villain's sumptuous lair. This is only fitting given that Ford is currently busy designing the wardrobes for Bond and principal cast in the forthcoming Quantum of Solace.

There is little product to be seen at first glance. Instead, a suitably dramatic Anselm Reyle foil painting dominates the darkened space. In a mirrored room to one side, bright light bounces off the coloured metal frames of sunglasses and clipped crystal perfume bottles. Each Tom Ford store has a unique addition to the unisex Private Blend line of 12 fragrances – in this case Italian Cypress.

There's the whole kit and caboodle of menswear on offer, from ready-to-wear to bespoke tailoring, gorgeous handmade leather shoes that will doubtless cause neighbours Berluti a twinge of pain, and fine jewellery and cufflinks that glint with precious stones.

Ford has given the space his personal touch, including art pieces such as the black Calder mobile on loan from one of his homes. Humour, meanwhile, comes in the form of decantered Scotch in dressing rooms ("I just like the colour of Scotch," Ford says), along with a pair of velvet slippers hand embroidered with what looks like a scene from the Kama Sutra.

The Tom Ford store in Milan feels sexier, more fun, less city slicker than his Madison Avenue debut. But then we are in Milan. "It's the home of luxury menswear. That's why I feel like I still live here," says the designer of this city, where a laissez-faire attitude to clothing is frowned upon and even delivery boys dress to impress.

Post modernism

Relax. This is the message ringing out loud and clear from many designers who are known for their contemporary approaches to classic tailoring. "Men like to change little by little," says Stefano Gabbana, one half of Dolce & Gabbana who showed baggy suits inspired by pyjamas. A white shirt with metallic blue collar, grey polka-dot tie and matching baggy drawstring trousers came together to make the point. Like modern-day Clark Kents, models sported quiffs and horn-rimmed sunglasses as well as coloured bow ties.

Thomas Maier at Bottega Veneta had more than a few surprises up his sleeve. Red gingham shirt and blazer with red slacks anyone? Okay, so that might be pushing the preppy into Pee-wee Herman territory, but there was a cool nostalgia for a jazz-era masculinity here: throw a blazer over a pinstripe pyjama and get with it quicker than you can say, "Let's Get Lost". The final outfit was an all-white silk double-breasted suit, worn with a white bow tie, just right for the modern-day Gatsby.

As a city that embraces industrialism and industrial design, it's not surprising that Armani and Milan have such a symbiotic relationship. Reminiscent of Jorn Utzon's Sydney Opera House, the architectural sails from which the models emerged at this show talked of summer breeze and ease. Sand, ivory and stone formed the dominant colour palette. Waistcoats made an appearance, worn over T-shirts or open-neck, collarless shirts, similar to Emporio Armani.

Emporio Armani's was the first of many fragrance launches in Milan, a city where product is as important as clothing. Josh Hartnett is the face of the new Diamonds for Men. Armani premiered the campaign before the show. It's a black-and-white, Fellini-esque sketch which shows Hartnett in a vintage Alfa Romeo sports car driving to a premiere or some other such imagined event. He walks away from the car and is mauled by glamorous model fans before turning to wave to the camera. It's unabashed fantasy but certainly effective in getting the message across: the coming together of glamour, celebrity and Italian heritage and all in 50 seconds.

Pragmatism

The video campaign for Prada's Infusion d'Homme fragrance couldn't be more different. Looking for an alternative way to deal with perfume advertising, Prada commissioned nine young directors to experiment and make short pieces. All the films were projected at a cocktail party after the show and are well worth a look on the interactive website prada.com. Miuccia Prada herself delivered an artful collection that felt poignant and downplayed. It was a "balance of power and fragility", she told attending press of the thinking behind parkas suspended from straps round the neck and cropped jackets that had the effect of elongating the silhouette. Bizarre as it may sound it was deftly handled, normalised by this designer in an almost pragmatic way. A casual black shirt with a patchwork of different blacks caught my eye. So did the layering of jersey sportswear shorts, tunics and fine-gauge cashmere jumpers with very unusual but attractive bump-toe leather shoes, all of which had an English public schoolboy feel.

Christopher Bailey dubbed his understated and desirable collection for Burberry "crumpled classics", in which expensive fabrics were treated to take on more character, to feel less new, shiny and perfect. Gone were the overt military references and, in their place, is a looser, more poetic and melancholic mood. Derek Jarman-inspired hats and ultra-light, pre-washed, unstructured trenches in cream and palest slate blue stood out. Bailey echoed Prada with low-cut tops that revealed the chest. As the journalist Tim Blanks noted on Style.com, this is "a new erogenous zone" for men.

Fendi may have tried to introduce the stack-heeled shoe this season, but that's one trend that's not going to fly with me. Instead, this label is all about beautiful tailoring. Using the finest fabrics and colours, Fendi makes such chic suits it's almost painful to watch them leaving the catwalk. A new twist this season came in the form of contrasting finishes. A dark bronze two-button suit juxtaposed a matt and textured jacket with shiny and smooth trousers. It could have looked like the model got dressed in the dark, but done the Fendi way, it shed new light on an old classic.

Retro futurism

At Alexander McQueen's show, titled Love You, the models looked like David Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth, but with cornrows in their hair. Jackets had hidden lapels, buttons and pockets. Men's tailoring has always been this designer's métier and he's confident enough in its technical execution to let his imagination soar. This time round body fetishism is transmuted into op-art prints that appear across suits and jackets. The shiny burgundy shirt and pants had cutaways that revealed glimpses of the body beneath.

When I think of Jil Sander, I think of impeccable modern shirting, a crisp and light collar that floats above the neckline of a shirt. This is simplicity at its finest. Raf Simons' collection for this label this season focused on colour blocking and zips with geometric hooks.

A fluorescent pink suit, like a giant highlighter pen, strode down the catwalk during the Calvin Klein show. Italo Zucchelli likes to introduce the odd surprise into his ultra-focused world of hi-tech fabrics, sportswear-influenced tailoring and modern minimalism. The cream bomber jacket that opened the show was made with a variety of different fabrics, including toughened paper.

Escapism

Milan is a city of industry, but it is also a place where, at weekends, the majority of its inhabitants escape either to the coast at Portofino, the lake at Como or the mountains for a spot of skiing. It's small wonder, then, that the line up of shows, from the quixotic Etro to Marni, turns to holidays and travel for inspiration.

With what looked like an Ed Ruscha-inspired sunset backdrop, Versace offered casual pinstripe suits with a kink in the stripe. Yes, it's still a bit Miami Vice, but there are plenty of bits and pieces to like.

Roisin Murphy was the unexpected guest sitting next to me at Gucci. She was performing later that evening at this label's fragrance launch. The colourful show was inspired by the cool Brooklyn band MGMT. In the song "Time To Pretend", they sing, "This is our decision to live fast and die young/We've got the vision, now let's have some fun", highlighting the hedonistic and exuberant feeling that runs through Frida Giannini's aesthetic for men. Roisin liked the colourful, tassled loafers. I liked the military green parka with bright red lining.

Finally, Angela Missoni's collection spoke of chic Italian boys stepping off small boats and on to the jetties at Lake Como, the place where she and her family – and I, myself, when I can get it together – go to escape the heat of Milan.

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