Milan doesn’t do things by halves, and on the first day of its autumn/winter 14 men’s shows the message couldn’t have come through louder or clearer.
Opulence, richness and intricacy pulsed through the collections, from the regal to the raunchy and even the restrained. “Men in fur,” Neil Barrett mused, recalling his early plan for the very precise collection he showed on Saturday evening, which drew on nature and abstract art. “I love the idea, but in reality it can be a little bit ‘exaggerated rapper’. Or gay,” he quipped, a twinkle in his eye. Instead, he photographed fur and printed it onto a technical fabric, creating a new fabrication as electric as the lightning bolt motifs, which appeared throughout as a re-imagined nod to the graphic modernist collection he designed for autumn/winter 13, which made Barrett’s menswear the most talked-about, worn, and copied of last year. “I’ve never seen so many rip-offs of my sweatshirts come in on models for castings,” the designer said, eyes rolling. “We hit the right point, found our DNA and it makes sense what we’re doing.”
While the collection stayed true to Barrett’s stripped-back genetics, highly textured garments such as fluffy coats in fading autumnal colours or a leather lightning bolt bomber jacket in a diamond quilt had an ornate richness about them, which gave the collection an air of magnificence. Encouraged by people’s ways of wearing his garments over the past year, Barrett had fed this inspiration back into the new collection and, as a result, created a kind of conversation between designer and wearer. It’s this kind of democratic approach to menswear that’s caused the designer to influence an entire industry. CoSTUME NATIONAL and Les Hommes, who also showed in Milan on Saturday, both had elements of Barrett’s recipe to greatness in their autumn/winter 14 collections: ‘the art object coat’ (i.e. really elaborate coats), the graphic multi-material sweatshirts, and the post-modern gloom. All three were also present at John Varvatos, albeit in a slightly more gothy Americana way, as the designer put on a rocking show inspired by KISS, who joined him for an epic bow. A subscriber of a more restrained opulence, Stefano Pilati’s splendidly heavy coats for his second collection for Ermegildo Zegna, with twisted lapels and all sorts of beautiful wrapping going on, may have been minimalist but majestically so.
While their queen has now abdicated, the Jil Sander team wasn’t about to miss out on the regal action, either. And while the idea of royal gilded glitz in the clean, sombre universe of Jil Sander would seem impossible, the studio somehow brought into being a textured silver trouser that looked as natural in the Sander-verse as the slippery sleek, black coats and jackets that epitomised a collection, which effortlessly gave off the electric waves by which it was inspired. When it comes to the houses of Milan, however, there is no doubt who has most rejoiced in the news of a season of unlimited opulence. “Versace has always been a house of luxury and opulence. It’s our history,” Donatella Versace said after Saturday evening’s show. “And what I’ve found out through websites and Twitter and everything out there is that there’s a new young crowd of men, who really want an up-to-date version of that history.” The answer came as a thunderstorm of bling Versace greatness, with a bomber jacket in Vanitas stitching and gold embroidery on top, which has surely given Michael Jackson the shopping shakes up on his gilded baroque cloud, and two blazers with real gold woven into their lining.
If Versace ever needed an excuse to go all out, this was her season. Studded leather codpieces over trousers, chaps with bulging bubble butts hanging out in little purple briefs, and at least three of the heavy statement-y coats that are fast becoming the pièces de résistance of the new opulence. Speaking of Michael Jackson, Dolce & Gabbana’s set of chandeliers, suits of armour, and eleventh century portraits of the Norman kings of Sicily wouldn’t have looked out of place in Neverland. With royal march music, medieval gold crowns and huge tops reminiscent of breastplates, adorned with the same portraits, the collection boldly and brilliantly tackled Milan’s day one vibes with the kind of magical magnificence few designers can get away with like Stefano and Domenico. Merging the glitz with the undercurrent of gloom, which hasn’t left us since the London shows, the designers created a darkly rich saturation that had the minimalists of the press corps in withdrawal symptoms up on the rows. Most exquisitely, Dolce & Gabbana’s ravishing princes of darkness had sparkly battle gloves, bejewelled boots and enough modern armour – by way of ornate tailoring and giant coats – to conquer Sicily all over again. Liberace went to war, and he won.