Milanese men: Autumn/Winter 2016 runway report

At Milan Fashion Week, designers use wool in innovative ways, updating traditional shapes and garments for the 21st century customer

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Whereas in London the focus is more on emerging designers, Milan Fashion Week is a stronghold of the big global brands – Versace, Ermenegildo Zegna and Bottega Veneta among them – and for the autumn/winter 2016 season, they certainly didn’t disappoint.

While Fendi is typically associated with fur, given its history, it turned its attention this season instead to wool, presenting a collection that evoked the spirit of cool 1960s crooners, with a plush staircase and pyjama-inspired garments to suit. The show opened, fittingly, with a series of robe-like wool coats in grey and navy checks, and carried through to more form-fitting, but nonetheless relaxed, suits in textured wool, like shagpile rugs reminiscent of luxury blues lounges. The slight flare of the pants and the cropped length of the blazers gave the collection a nostalgic quality, but the knitwear, such as roll-neck sweaters and loose jumpers in multi-tone colour palettes, ensured that, as a whole, the show felt modern, particularly when coupled with the playful accessories with Fendi’s signature eyes and mouth motifs embroidered on top.

Swiss brand Bally, too, was drawn to the past and, inspired by photographer Peter Schlesinger’s book Checkered Past, crafted a collection of innately cool pieces that might have come direct from the wardrobes of history’s best-dressed men. These included double- and single-breasted wool suits in gingham checks – some in black and white, others in bronze and black – ultra-fine roll-neck knitwear in bright mustard tones, and a series of coats in a knitted wool, the softness of the fabric giving the coat a draped, robe-like quality in line with the relaxed nature of this season’s collection.

At the Italian tailoring house Ermenegildo Zegna, the richness of haute couture’s past is brought firmly into a contemporary – and male – context, with artistic director Stefano Pilati using his distinct brand of languid and luxurious suiting as a base for hand embellishment. Here, wool suiting and outerwear, such as double-breasted coats and pleat-front trousers, were cut wide from the body, imbuing the traditional items with voluminous shapes, and decorated with embroideries and jewels. It is, as Pilati says, “an exceptionally sophisticated wardrobe ruled by fearless style”. The colour palette, largely made up of shades of grey, ensures a level of wearability, blending as it does with existing items in one’s wardrobe.

“This collection is all about the silhouette,” said Bottega Veneta’s creative director Tomas Maier. “I wanted to create a line that’s very long and lean, with everything elegant and elevated.” And with pants that kicked out from the ankle in a subtle flare, Maier certainly achieved an elongation of the male form. What stood out in this collection was a deconstruction of the suit, but not with the inclusion of sportswear elements as the designer has done in the past. Instead, wool knitwear, such as turtleneck sweaters and sleeveless vests, offered an alternative to shirting; belted overcoats replaced blazers; and knitted wool scarves worn over the top of full looks, trailing at the back, added a level of nonchalance in the styling. “This man knows what he is doing,” says Maier. “There are no tricks, nothing ostentatious. It is very discreet, but if you look closely, it is very special.”

Calvin Klein, too, eschewed sportswear this season – significant, in that the house is built on that quintessentially American style – but it didn’t stray from its minimalist roots. Men’s creative director Italo Zucchelli instead trained his attention on the suit, with undone tailoring in an all-black palette. The clean lines here, and the way many of the wool suits and overcoats seemed to sit at a remove from the body, almost like sculptures, shows the deftness of Zucchelli’s design hand. Meanwhile, metallic foil detailing, hidden inside collars and hoods, and luxurious wool knitwear, provided an intriguing counterpoint to the sartorial severity of the looks.

A standout show of the Milan autumn/winter 2016 season, Donatella Versace looked to astrology for inspiration, presenting a pastel-hued, futuristic collection that will find fans in men of all ages. What was particularly unique here was the scope of product: from zip-up Merino wool tracksuits with battery-operated light detail, to fuzzy woollen sweaters; slim-cut wool suiting in textured grey tones, to chunky knitwear. Versace has extensive brand presence globally, and in offering a vast array of products, the brand cleverly caters to its customers in all climates and cultures. 

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