Models wearing creations from Dolce & Gabbana's new collection (AP) / AP

 

Like the Montagues and Capulets – or perhaps AC and Inter Milan – there are two warring breeds in Italian fashion. On the one side are the cerebral, on the other the flashy. Once they were defined by Armani and Versace respectively, epitomising perceptions of the divide between northern and southern Italian culture.

Today they are joined by a host of others – most notably the intellectually taxing Prada, which presents its autumn/winter 2015 menswear show tonight; and the ragazzo di vita razzmatazz of German-born Philipp Plein, the former boyfriend of Lindsay Lohan – which says everything you need to know about his aesthetic, really.

There are also plenty of labels that fall in between. Jil Sander, for instance, whose new creative director, Rodolfo Paglialunga – showing his first menswear collection yesterday – aspires to the ascetic rigour that marked out the tenures of Jil and her one-time worthwhile successor Raf Simons, but whose clothes seem to end up just looking dull.

That’s because while it is easy to blitz with glitz and dazzle people, it’s harder to make clothes that genuinely provoke thought.

 

Stefano Pilati, the designer of Ermenegildo Zegna, is one of the few designers who manages it. For winter, he showed against a lush backdrop of jungle vegetation. It wasn’t a desert island; there were no hunks in unseasonable trunks. Rather, the oasis was evocative of ecology, the clothing redolent of protective gear in a marsh-wiggle palette of brown and murky green, enlivened with shots of peach and red, like the interiors of carnivorous plants. A few coats were articulated like armadillo shells, others came in latex or coated with a laminate film. It made you think of Darwin, of evolution. It’s not just brute force that ensures survival – say having the biggest company with the most money (although Zegna is the largest menswear manufacturer in the world) – intelligence plays a part, too.

Dean and Dan Caten of DSquared2 have pitched themselves firmly in the maximal camp. “Camp” is a telling term. They trade heavily on it – himbos in hot-pants, spray-tans, a memorable American Gigolo outing where a near-naked model did sit-ups in gravity boots to the tune of Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” But their winter show was toned down, maybe in favour of a maturity that comes with 20 years in the business, the anniversary they were celebrating on Friday night.

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Models present creations from the Ermenegildo Zegna collection (AFP)

With enormous Davy Crockett hats and a fuchsia interpretation of the Mounties’ red serge, it sort of felt Canuck, which is where the Catens hail from, despite their Milan base. There was also a focus on what DSquared2 does best: distressed denims, studded leathers, trucker caps, fur-plumped parkas. Frankly, it’s a look that lost fashion relevance around a decade ago, but which still shifts in provincial stores and shores – Jersey, Geordie, Portofino and many more. It’s a cash cow. So much cash, they could easily afford to have Mary J Blige saunter down their catwalk, crooning an ode to the DSquared duo. But for a label that is, frankly, so good at being bad, you expected them to sell us dirty dreams, not just dirty denim.

DSquared2 proved a portent of sobriety to come: Dolce & Gabbana and Versace, both bastions of the never-say-basta instinct to layer on the decoration, stripped their aesthetic back for winter. Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana dedicated their show to the family – a make-believe bunch of Central Casting grandmas, silver-haired grandpas and a little bambino on his black-clad Monica Bellucci-alike mother’s lap, sat at the end of the catwalk for a family portrait.

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A model walks the runway during the Dsquared2 show (Getty)

There were printed silk sweatshirts and T-shirts which, alongside classic Dolce double-breasted suiting, made up the majority of this somewhat sombre show. Contrast that with the brutalist Medusa, cobbled together from bits of scaffolding, that Donatella Versace hung over her catwalk. “The Medusa of the next century,” she said before the show. “A naked Medusa!”

But just as DSquared2 didn’t indulge in sins of the flesh (or taste) for their birthday suits, Versace played it straight. “You can’t always be happy and celebratory,” shrugged Donatella beside her parade of pared-back suiting, strong in silhouette but rinsed of extraneous decoration. Generally, it was the better for it: the Versace suit came either wide shouldered above skinny trews (or, less successfully, leggings with elongated tunics), or narrow on top and pooling around the ankles.

Cashmere knits were sometimes pulled low over those wide trousers – a play on proportion that recalled the hyper-masculine illustrations of Antonio Lopez, who produced some of Versace’s 1980s imagery. Donatella intoned “molto sexy” at one point – it’s practically a house mantra – but the effect, in cashmere and silk, was sensual rather than sexual. And, as this was sobriety Versace-style, there was a hooded dressing gown in cognac-coloured mink.

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