Menswear gets real — and surreal — at Milan Fashion Week

A model walks the Fendi catwalk during the brand’s fashion show during Milan Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2023 ©Getty Images

During the spring-summer 2023 menswear week in Milan, we were invited to a few designers, sort of. Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons designed a minimalist paper house with cutout windows, erected in Prada’s gargantuan art foundation; Donatella Versace opened the doors to the brand’s HQ, a baroque palace in central Milan originally bought by her brother, the brand’s founder Gianni; Zegna transported the fashion pack two hours from Milan to its historic Piedmont mill at the foot of the Alps.

Half a dozen other Milanese creators have offered similar notions for a season of shows that, with masks mostly avoided and audience numbers approaching pre-pandemic levels – but without press or buyer representation important Asian markets – looked like the first Milan menswear week back to normal, rather than a “new normal”.

Therefore, the return home seemed all the more bizarre, as if the designers collectively suffered from a group Stockholm syndrome, longing for the WFH lockdowns and lockdowns of the past two years – although in fact returning home meant going back to what they do best. The Milan shows rarely spoke with a unified voice, instead allowing the brands to fight in their own separate territories, to play to their strengths.

A model walks down a catwalk wearing a baggy blazer and trousers, holding a Grecian-style vase

Versace held its fashion show at the company’s headquarters in Milan. . . © Carlo Scarpato/SGP

A model, hands in pockets, parades down the catwalk in black pants and a black and red shirt adorned with the image of a bearded face

. . . and enlisted the sons of his favorite 90s models, such as Carla Bruni’s son, Aurélien Enthoven © Carlo Scarpato/SGP

A model wears a dark gray suit;  behind him another model wears an open dress with white shorts underneath

Dolce & Gabbana explored its archives, with 90s-inspired suits. . © Monica Feudi

A model wears distressed jeans and an embellished black and gold jacket over a white shirt

. . . and distressed denim paired with ornately embellished jackets © Monica Feudi

Strong was the word, for example, for Versace’s vision, where models clutched gilded vases from the brand’s homeware range as they snaked around a messy catwalk like shoplifters trying to outrun stupid security personnel. The clothes, in bright colors, baroque patterns and lots of wordy Versace logo prints, seemed designed for a new generation. Versace employed the children of its favorite 1990s models, such as Mark Vanderloo and Helena Christensen, to model the brand’s redux version of a 1991 print of theater masks.

If Versace hinted at the past, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana essentially borrowed Marty McFly’s DeLorean to dive into their back catalog and reissue, piecemeal, a bunch of looks spanning the past 30 years. It was a relief that after a few seasons of catching on to transient and alien tendencies, they returned home and found their hearts. It was also a testament to the variety of their work, from homemade knitwear to the striking combo of glittering crystal-encrusted shirts and ripped jeans that recalled the unabashed brashness of the early 2000s. The best was the middle suit from the 1990s that, broad at the shoulder, nipped at the waist and slender at the leg, made everything old suddenly seem new.

From time travel to globetrotting. The latter was a theme in Silvia Venturini Fendi’s menswear collection under her last name, but oddly the results were warm and actually comely, with baggy shirts, loafers and frayed and flared pieces of denim – this fabric was one of the few trends appearing all over Milan. “To me, denim represents freedom,” Fendi said backstage, and his styles included not only the real stuff but also the hyper-luxe imitation. If you want a mink coat printed to look like a denim jacket, Fendi is your go-to. There was a touristy vibe to it, but the idea seemed to be a return to basics, take away your memories – which included many of the brand’s best-selling bags here, as well as jewelry like pebbles found encased in gold. After a few seasons of formality, it was Fendi in a more sloppy and relaxed mode. It was more real.

A man models a denim jacket with jeans and a bucket hat

At Fendi, Creative Director Silvia Venturini Fendi focused on denim. . . © Aldo Castoldi

Male model wears denim shorts, patterned top and hat

. . . for an overall relaxed and holiday-inspired collection © Aldo Castoldi

A man in a yellow tabard and boots

For his Milan debut, Jonathan Anderson continues to play with surreal motifs. . .

A man models jeans.  He is shirtless with a red and black top slung over the shoulder, under which are bicycle handlebars

. . including attaching bike grips to sweaters

Was Jonathan Anderson’s Milan debut really real? This collection plays even more with the surrealist assemblies that he has been exploring for several seasons. While some designers in Milan seem desperate for Gen Z, Anderson seems to truly and naturally understand their mindset. And what they want is to be noticed, and that’s not going to happen in a beige suit. This collection was exhilarating – memorable, perhaps – with bike handles and soup can lids built into sweaters, and a model dressed as a giant loofah. But it was also memorable, which is more than half the job in a crowded landscape.

A male model in wide gray trousers and a patterned short sleeve shirt

Giorgio Armani sent many classics down the runway. . .

Male model in blue pants and matching smocked top and carrying a large tote

. . . in a refined palette of navy and greige

A man models a bright yellow suit

Zegna’s creative director, Alessandro Sartori, used touches of fluoro-limoncello for his costumes. . . © Filippo Fior/Gorunway.com

A man models beige wide pants and a pink jacket

. . . and innovative knitwear in softer hues, such as pink and beige © Filippo Fior/Gorunway.com

Children don’t seem to bother patrician Giorgio Armani, whose fashion is inherently personal. The clothes this season were Armani on his own turf: deeply tanned models, walking in navy and greige without a single pair of socks among them. At the end, Mr. Armani, tanned, without socks and dressed in navy blue, bowed.

Milan’s most powerful collections this season, Prada and Zegna, both tackled the same notion – the reinvention of the familiar – to different ends. “A kind of normality” was what Zegna’s creative director, Alessandro Sartori, was looking for, but he was also thinking of “the future of couture”. This meant using innovative knitted fabrics – some hot pressed to be laminated or fluffed into a technical terrycloth that looked like looped wool – or leaving seam details in raw linen and cotton, despite their fiercely traditional innards to canvas back. As the tailoring softened, the sportswear hardened into hyper-luxurious dupioni silk. It was this contradictory interplay that gave this collection its pop, alongside odd colors like a fluoro-limoncello or a dusty chocolate gray that looked like nothing else.

A man models a brown plaid coat over an orange shirt and shorts

At Prada, gingham checkered pea coats were layered on top of each other. . . © Monica Feudi

A man wears a black leather coat over a blue and white shirt and black shorts

. . . and often paired with leather shorts © Monica Feudi

Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons wanted to keep things simple. “The collection is about simplicity as a concept, as a choice,” Prada said ahead of the show. Simons backed her up, “We’re drawn to the idea of ​​’normal’ clothes.” Normalcy looked new here, with clean-cut beige or gingham pea coats layered, then, often, over leather tank tops and shorts. There was something here of the notion of design by curation, the recontextualization of items to shift their impact – a coat can look a bit perverse worn over bare legs and short shorts.

It had a serious impact on fashion as the catwalk, with models parading in heavily raised toe cowboy boots that look set to be next season’s shoe. And the fact that the coats got a bunch of fashion press and shoppers dreaming even in a 35C Milan summer is a measure of genius. Everyone in the room wanted to take at least one home – which is what these shows are all about, after all.

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