“It’s getting colder, thank God. I was terrified I wasn’t going to have a chance to layer.” My colleague, a prominent American men’s fashion editor, looked suitably relieved. It has been an unusually mild start to the year in Milan but, reassuringly for the international men’s fashion pack, on Saturday chilly Alpine air was descending on the city, fashionably late, to give winter wardrobes a workout. Mind you, by most men’s standards my fashion ed friend was hardly underdressed. A dapper man in his forties, he briefly opened his dove grey, double-breasted cashmere overcoat, with its dramatic, flyaway peaked lapels, to reveal a navy blazer, also double breasted, in softest lamb’s wool, over a charcoal cashmere roll-neck sweater, the look completed by a paisley pocket square and a printed navy silk scarf.
While I wondered what further layers he might possibly add to his ensemble, another colleague approached, this one the editor of a British style mag. And I had my answer: a puffy down-filled gilet, of course!
In fashion, the word “layer” is both verb and noun: one layers, using layering. And there is no better way to demonstrate one’s good taste than in being able to put together an elegant combination of overlapping complementary items.
Fashion week is about the clothes on the catwalk and the clothes not on the catwalk, and menswear revels in autumn/winter. Summer’s all very well, but a bit flimsy and insubstantial, and in the heat the layering opportunities are necessarily — and dismayingly — few. Winter brings scarves and pullovers, hats and gloves, coats and jackets and cardigans, detachable linings: layers, basically. It also brings rich, tactile natural fabrics: silk, flannel, cashmere, even vicuña. And muted tones: greys, deep blues, browns; maybe, at a push, olive green and burgundy for the more adventurous.
As my friend and I talked, we stood outside the presentation of clothes for next autumn/winter season at one of the international style snob’s favourite labels, Brunello Cucinelli, a specialist in luxurious, unstructured tailoring using the most expensive fabrics. Inside were cashmere jackets in muted colours, deceptively lightweight military-style overcoats, clothes so soft and flowing they might almost be pyjamas: all flattering, wearable, desirable. There were suits, of course, single and double breasted — and one-and-a-half breasted, a Cucinelli trademark – but separates (fashion-speak for single items of clothing) predominated. These are clothes to mix and match. Sharp, but soft.
And this was the overwhelming theme of the Milan men’s shows. The look of the moment — one that smart men for too long accustomed to being trussed up should be glad to embrace — is comfortable. There will, of course, always be a place in the professional man’s wardrobe for a formal, buttoned-up business suit — and they were shown here, too — but more persuasive was the idea that a man could be stylish and yet also relaxed; the tie was noticeable by its absence.
We’d seen some evidence of this shift from formal to casual last week in London, when even the stalwarts of Savile Row gents’ outfitting — Gieves & Hawkes, Hardy Amies, Hackett — offered soft separates in addition to suits, as did Tom Ford and Burberry. It’s a recognition, overdue perhaps, that not every man has to dress with stark formality for work, but that neither are jeans and jumpers appropriate for the office. Could it really be the case that that dreaded dress code of irritating invitations — “smart casual” — is about to have its moment? It seems so.
So the curtains are being drawn on the Mad Men era, when style-conscious men affected the slick, sharply tailored look of Sixties-era Manhattan. Roomier, pleated trousers are replacing tapered, flat-fronted strides; boxy jackets over fitted shirts are giving way to oversized overcoats over knitted cardigans. Think of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes rather than Jon Hamm’s Don Draper.
The mood in Milan was set on Saturday morning by the designer Stefano Pilati, whose second collection for the venerable Italian tailoring house Ermenegildo Zegna showcased voluminous cashmere coats over soft-shouldered jackets, with knitted shirts or roll necks in place of the traditional cotton shirt and silk tie. The palette was charcoal, midnight blue and black. Lace-up shoes were replaced by boots or monk-strapped shoes, which will, if the Milanese designers are right, be everywhere next winter.
There were suits at Bottega Veneta, but while the silhouette was lean, as in previous seasons, the fit was looser and the fabrics softer. The idea of a double-breasted check suit might conjure images of the Prince of Wales on official business, one hand in jacket pocket, but designer Tomas Maier’s designs were far less traditional, with ink-splashed hems, and looked much easier to wear. Again, knitwear took centre stage — sweaters in earth tones — layered under and over jackets.
Salvatore Ferragamo was all about luxury separates, too: huge belted overcoats (a definite trend) over knitted shirts, lightweight sweaters and pleated trousers, with the obligatory monkstrap shoes. Colours were equally easy: claret, olive, charcoal. The soundtrack was Pulp’s moody This is Hardcore, although it wasn’t. There were belted cardigans, too, from the British heritage brand DAKS, plus shearling, velvet and Withnail-style greatcoats.
Real suits of armour kept watch over the catwalk at Dolce & Gabbana. The show space was transformed into a medieval hall, with portraits of knights of the Middle Ages illuminated by huge candelabra. All this heralded a collection inspired by Sicily’s Norman period, with prints decorating soft knits embellished with coloured gemstones. Suits were in grey wool with velvet lapels, and there were jeweled, chunky tunics and even the occasional crown.
American designer John Varvatos has built his brand on high-end, pop culture-inspired casual clothes — a sort of rock’n’roll luxe — so his collection felt particularly timely this season. Varvatos marches to his own beat: this time, the party anthem Rock and Roll All Nite by Seventies glam rockers Kiss. He took his curtain call alongside Gene Simmons and the band, in full warpaint, a moment of irrepressible exuberance to burst the self-important bubble of some of the more sober fashion watchers.
Varvatos, though, is hardly the only designer to chart a distinctive course through the seasons. Donatella Versace produced an eye-popping collection, wild and extravagant, which seemed to find the sweet spot where rhinestone cowboys might meet gay bikers (possibly on acid). So we saw leather chaps over bandana-print pants, fur jackets, gold chains, jewelled codpieces. There was, this collection announced, a new sheriff in town, and she used to be in the Village People.
For the Moncler show, designer Thom Browne proved that men certainly do make passes at — or at least by — girls who wear glasses, sending a series of prim-looking young women carrying hardback books into a space decorated as a library, then unleashing a parade of boys in a quiet riot of Argyle-checked sportswear. It was as if prewar varsity golfers, outfitted for an extremely cold day on the links, had somehow interrupted the diligent study of their tweedy female counterparts.
There were girls, too, at Prada. Seventies girls in leather dresses, feather boas and shaggy fur coats, very Amy Adams in American Hustle, all the better to match the boys, in — you guessed it — elegant separates: not a suit to be seen, but a range of quietly impressive lightweight coats and jackets and flowing trousers, in blues and browns and greens and purples. The tie was reinvented as a skinny scarf, knotted at the side of the neck rather than the throat.
There was a great commotion outside the Gucci show — and a reminder of who will actually be buying many of the clothes shown in Milan — where the Chinese male model, bow-tied Zhang Liang, was mobbed by hysterical girls wielding camera-phones. Inside the mood was less hysterical, more focused: pastel coats in clean, simple shapes, unbuttoned jackets and trousers in napa leather.
Meanwhile there was, as ever, a lesson in luxury from Tod’s, which launched its first full ready-to-wear menswear collection with a range of covetable separates for men on the move: bomber jackets in impossibly soft suedes, unlined cashmere coats and suede trousers — to go with their signature lightweight, rubber soled shoes and butter-soft leather bags.
And so it was left to Giorgio Armani, the most established of the Milan establishment, to set the seal on a season strong on wearable, comfortable, luxurious men’s clothes. Arguably Armani has had more influence on the way men dress, for work especially, than any fashion designer in the last 40 years. In the Seventies and Eighties he revolutionised the men’s suit, softening the shoulders, relaxing the cut, removing lining, altering proportion, with soft fabrics draped and folded over the body, promoting comfort and ease of movement. At Emporio Armani, his sportier, less expensive line, on Monday, he offered a typically cohesive and convincing take on modern smart casual with soft suits in greys and purples, a gorgeous astrakhan overcoat, shearling jackets and fake fur trim.
The main line Giorgio Armani show on Tuesday morning was exemplary: relaxed three-piece suits, jackets so soft and loose they are almost cardigans; jackets that actually were cardigans, layered over waistcoats; pleated trousers; soft-shouldered, belted overcoats, and shearling and sheepskin, fur-trim, velvet coats in midnight blue and chocolate.
Armani recently had cause to revisit his past as the king of the power suit by designing the costumes for Martin Scorsese’s new epic of overconsumption, The Wolf of Wall Street. The message from the Milan menswear shows was equally Eighties inspired: Fashion Says Relax. Hot this autumn/winter Greatcoats
Big, roomy, dramatic statement coats with military details (silver buttons, epaulettes) were everywhere. Think Richard E Grant’s Withnail or Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock. Particularly strong examples: Dolce and Gabbana, Salvatore Ferragamo, Ermenegildo Zegna. Roll necks
Goodbye, shirt and tie, hello knitwear. Almost every designer ignored traditional formal neckwear in favour of jumpers: Gucci, Emporio Armani, Brioni. Monk straps
Big news: laces and loafers are out, shoes and boots with side buckles (preferably two) are in at Gucci, Ermenegildo Zegna, Salvatore Ferragamo. Pleated trousers
After a decade at least of flat-fronted strides, pleats are back at Prada, Jil Sander, Bottega Veneta and more