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June 24, 2013 1:15 am

Milan menswear show: runway report 1

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Day one has been marked by big drama and big brands

Day one of the Milan S/S ‘14 menswear shows was marked by big drama and big brands, beginning with the return of Stefano Pilati – you know, the ex-YSL creative director now at Ermenegildo Zegna. It looks like he has finally found the right home.

Though Mr Pilati’s time at Yves Saint Laurent has recently been subject to some revisionism – the animosity towards his successor Hedi Slimane is such – it’s been forgotten that Pilati had a rough ride at YSL himself. But with Zegna, Pilati has gained the ultimate prize: a label without legacy. Zegna’s signature is its extraordinary self-milled cloth, and Pilati’s charge is to sculpt a new masculine silhouette for the label. Turns out it’s at its best when in his own image.

Put bluntly, Pilati wears clothes well, and many of the pieces looked straight from his own wardrobe, especially the loose summer coat with no visible fastenings. Tailoring had a welcome ranginess, meaning the double-breasted jackets were both fitted and had easy room for movement. Blousons added sportiness, and jacquards provided decoration, lightly in trousers, more blatantly in another summer coat.

Not everything worked. An obstructive belt clamped a voluminous coat too tightly, the belt returning as a motif that felt too much like a novelty. But the transformation for Zegna is extraordinary: its stores could become desirable places to visit for a fashion customer, not just businessmen. And that was just the beginning of the theatrics.

Dolce & Gabbana staged their first show since being given a jail sentence for tax evasion, and presented a collection that went for the tear duct. Sent out among their trademark black suits were a succession of pieces printed with images of Sicilian mythology, mostly drawn as if by hand. Statues of Zeus, ruins of temples: it’s not a huge leap to get the mournful sense of faded grandeur.

The emotion of the show stirred throughout, whether it be via the more evocative pieces, like a top that looked made from sack cloth, or the familiarity of their staples, such as muscle knits clinging tight to the models, all men cast in Sicily. After the designers took their bow, their arms around each other, a male streaker ran on to the catwalk. I’ve seen many a fur protester, but streaking at a fashion show is a new one for me – but the spectacle didn’t stop there.

Later in the evening, Dolce & Gabbana held a party to celebrate a book of photographs of Leo Messi. As in, the footballer accused this week of tax evasion. You couldn’t make it up. Oh for some calm!

But wait – Jil Sander was also in the mood for a jolt. Her spring/summer ‘14 collection was marked by a deft display of colour and ideas, with fluorescent orange and pink put to liberal use on zip-up bombers and long summer coats. (Indeed, the summer coat is cropping up with some regularity at these shows, and is a clear sign the industry is addressing its outmoded seasonality, with these clothes entering stores in the depth of January.)

Sander has always been convincing when she creates youthful male clothing, and her work added further validity to many of the trends seen in the next generation in London. The strong colour, as well as the shine of her patent jackets, seemed connected to Christopher Shannon; the ultra wide shorts made a link to James Long. Crucially at Sander, these styles felt authentic, and appropriate for the older customer who can afford her never-cheap prices. Knitwear bubbled, florals were woven in jacquards, a scribble print covered a suit – it’s great to see so much rigour in her work, and such clarity in the end result.

Then there was Versace, a house that has learnt how to have fun again. For a long while its menswear would do anything to not look like itself – not one of the ways recommended to preserve brand equity. They’ve realised their mistake, at the beginning of its spring/summer ‘14 show, Versace openly embraced its history: gold-studded leather jackets; a clash of optical and baroque prints on denim jackets and jeans. That it did so confidently and unashamedly, presenting the pieces you’d imagine would be in a Versace store, but haven’t been for some time, was laudable.

Then Donatella Versace sent out something new.

The play this season was the multicoloured sticking plasters that sportsmen have begun to use not just to heal injuries, but to decorate their body. These large worms of colour crawled over the bodies of the models, and on to the clothes: suits that will be perfect for fashion shoots, T-shirts that will look great in store. Another flashy seller: a trench with a blown-up print of Bert Stern’s photos of Marilyn Monroe. The colours popped, and the iconic image was abstracted enough to become a pattern in its own right. It was a clever move for a house that is clearly thinking again about its own best interests.

Throughout were suits, which form a backbone of their business. But most promising were the accessories, which for the first time in years looked viable, whether the gladiator sandals, or soft totes patterned with the colour worms or studded with the house’s Medusa head logo. Get the accessories right, and a brand can boom forward. Versace is a hell of a lot of fun, but Donatella also means business.

Finally, Andrea Pompilio showed for the first time in Milan – thanks to Giorgio Armani, who lent him his show space and the support of his technical staff. Armani has decided to help kick-start Milan Fashion Week, which has previously had no culture of encouraging new talent, on his own, and is launching a series of handpicked names. Pompilio’s work is very retail-friendly, with sellable stripes and paisleys appearing on blazers, sweatshirts, T-shirts, the lot.

The cut seemed approachable and inclusive, and if the palette and pattern felt a little too familiar to Dries Van Noten, the show was refreshing, both for the clothes featured, and for the rare experience of seeing new talent in this city that knows it needs to rethink the plot.

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