Italy’s tradition of menswear is as exalted as England’s: Italian style is just a little sharper, brasher, with far fewer socks worn.
Italy's tradition of menswear is as exalted as England's: Italian style is just a little sharper, brasher, with far fewer socks worn. But whereas London's latest men's collections were inflamed by an influx of young designers, Milano is dominated by companies whose vice-like grip on the fashion industry has been in place for decades. Sometimes, that grip feels like more of a choke-hold, strangling off oxygen to new talent.
That all sounds a touch Mafioso, which despite the suits and sunglasses is seldom an undercurrent at Milan menswear. This season, however, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana staged their latest spring/summer 2014 show just three days after the pair were sentenced to jail time for tax evasion in an Italian court. It's highly unlikely they'll end up behind bars, but it only intensified the hysteria and hubbub around what is always one of the most high-profile shows on the Milanese schedule. This one even had that football stadium-staple, a streaker, who stripped out of a cassock and sprinted the length of the catwalk after the designers had taken their bows. I can assure you, it wasn't officially part of the show.
Bar that distraction, everything proceeded as usual. Sicily, the eternal and endless font of Dolce Gabbana inspiration, was strip-mined again, this season for its mythology. Didn't know it had any? It's similar to Greek, apparently. The show was less mythological than lithographical, with Taormina ruins resembling hotel lobby artwork splashed across unchallenging suits, silk t-shirts and sweaters with Apollo-width shoulders. It takes more than a few buff bodies to conjure up the glories of the ancients, although a print derived from Roman coins raised a wry smile.
Greek gods bring us back to Versace, by default. The houses' trademark is the Medusa, for spring buckling belts at narrow waists or pimpling the surface of a leather perfecto. “Athleticism, discipline and freedom” said Donatella before the show. The athleticism came across in pinstripe silk suits sliced off mid-thigh into shorts, and slashes of fluoro across clothes and bodies like go-faster stripes, or the zinc surfers swipe across their noses.
Discipline was Donatella's term for militia-inspired pieces, while the freedom came across in her own instinct to do exactly as she damn well pleases. This was very Versace - “new Versace, my Versace,” Donatella stated, defying you to challenge her. Even when she riffed on the house's history - the Medusa, the baroque printed denims, and touches of bondage like the dresses currently on display as part of the punk exhibition at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art - they had a new lightness of hand. They felt contemporary again.
The contemporary is an obsession for Jil Sander. Her clothes for spring don't hang heavy with inspiration - in fact, they don't hang heavy with anything at all. The dynamic movement of the body in wide, pleated shorts or a rectangular jacket cut to curve away from the body, was exciting to watch. There felt like a genuine urgency. That came across in the colours too, pattern reduced to a scribbled floral jacquard, flashes of neon pink and hazmat orange amongst acres of pristine white, the brights sometimes banding the whites across drawstring waistbands like extremely upscale sportswear. As these clothes whizzed by atop hefty shoes, they felt modern - a sense so few designers have managed to capture. They also felt genuinely desirable, a quality which is even rarer.