Male models used to be gorgeous - all chiselled jaw, perfect pecs and golden tan. Sometimes, those of us who follow the international menswear shows would catch sight of ourselves and the moment of comparison would not be pleasant. But last week in Milan, for the spring/summer 1996 menswear shows, we were the ones feeling gorgeous. At moments, we felt like gods in comparison to the pigeon-chested little lads with wobbly knees and bad teeth who have inexplicably taken the place of the catwalk Adonises of yesterday.
Maybe it is to do with the fallout from grunge. Maybe it has to do with the fact that every lad in a band these days looks as if he has walked off an East End dog track. It is all very well looking like the weedy lad next door while you are singing about life as the weedy lad next door, but one would have thought it quite a disadvantage having no shoulders to speak of when it comes to modelling pounds 1,000 suits. Many Italian designers don't seem to think so.
Maybe it is postmodern irony. Whatever the explanation, bad taste as good taste is Italy's current fashion credo. Nowhere was this seen more clearly than at Gucci, which of course was all about dubious faded stars in dubious snaffle loafers, but has since become the bastion of cool, modern clothes. Since designer Tom Ford's arrival, - he was drafted in by ultra-stylish ex-Gucci creative director Dawn Mello - Gucci has meant seriously good-taste merchandise. Not that this stopped Ford from employing the little lads with the dental problems to show narrow suits in iridescent silver and blue, tight hipster trousers cut low over undernourished waists and chisel-toe loafers in bi-colour patent leather.
Gianni Versace has never been scared of bad taste, but his collection this season was surprisingly quiet. The cutting was rather fine, but we are used to seeing it displayed on the battalions of impossibly well-built muscle men he used to send down the catwalk. This time around, in a greased- lightning-speed show, those geeky, weedy boys were wearing lots of things in synthetic fabrics that used to be described as drip-dry.
In fact, the synthetics are not the same as the Seventies versions that made your hair stand on end. Now polyester and nylon are cool, which is ironic because the Italian designers in particular have spent the past decade preaching the gospel of 100 per cent natural fibres. But now, particularly thanks to Prada, the men's and women's wear label, black nylon is the thing. For next summer, it is simple - white nylon.
Design duo Dolce & Gabbana revel in the implied tackiness of synthetic clothes. Their second-line D&G collection was revealed last week in an exuberant mix of kitsch-patterned PVC tablecloths reworked as blousons, heavily logo-ed nylon versions of motorbike leathers, body-hugging Lycra T-shirts printed with Japanese cartoon characters and ultra-bright washing powder advertisements. D&G is throwaway fashion - wear today, chuck out tomorrow. But it's fun while it lasts.
Katherine Hamnett, the Briton who shows in Milan, went for deliberate tackiness with sharply tailored, shiny silk shantung spiv suits in gun- metal and bronze. You could find the like down the market for less than a tenner - always the problem with high fashion reruns of thrift store chic - but that didn't prevent Hamnett being one of the week's high points.
You are unlikely ever to find a Giorgio Armani suit for 20 quid on a stall in Portobello Road. While all around him revelled in bad taste, the elegant Mr Armani offered a cool, calm collection with no nerds lurking under the sculptural tailoring. While all around was wet-look PVC, Armani stuck to crisp and dry fabrics, the result of ingenious fabric technology. As for shape, the shoulders of his suits are broadening once more, while waists are slimming to a snug fit. Modelling on Armani's catwalk were all those Adonises with perfect dentistry and all their own hair.
The effect - after a week of feeling tall dark and healthy in contrast to all that pallid, skinny flesh, we members of the menswear fashion press corps began to start asking each other where the nearest bench press was to be found - or whether it would be simply less painful to cover all evils with the sumptuousness of a new Armani suit.
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