school's out for summer: marni, philipp plein, versace and neil barrett hit milan
The Milan spring/summer 18 men's shows kicked off on a preppy note at Marni, while Neil Barrett called for a return to minimalism.
marni spring/summer 18
Right now the men's shows feel just about as confusing as the global mood they can't help but reflect. Here in Milan, heavy-hitters like Gucci, Jil Sander and Bottega Veneta have signed out of the menswear schedule, gone co-ed for women's week, and left Milano Uomo in a kind of limbo that isn't far off the political situation back home in England. Holding on for dear life would be one way of putting it. You could say the disorder we're growing accustomed to in the real world made for a preppy recoil on the Saturday of shows in Milan where designers put the schoolboy back on his pedestal. At Marni he wore tiny argyle vests and patterned pastel shirts, wonky-sized tailoring and Ivy League layering gone wrong. And it was great.
Francesco Risso, the designer who took over from Marni's founder Consuelo Castiglioni this year, made a much-needed departure from the graphic bombast that often overpowers the brand's collections and distilled Marni's 'thing' into something appropriately homespun. Those argyle vests were frayed, threads were hanging off them, ties were purposely badly knotted, hoods were detached, hats slipped off models' shoulders, and shirts were left open as if there weren't any buttons left on them. A preppy wardrobe in shatters, a schoolboy's world come undone. The soundtrack remixed Nature Boy, Nat King Cole's tale of "a very strange, enchanting boy", whose greatest lesson in life was "just to love and be loved in return". It was a coming of age for the dutiful pupil, and if the reality check that met him exiting teenage idyl made him look dishevelled, boy, can't we all relate these days. Risso's message was spot on, and that went way beyond the garments.
Prep goes hand-in-hand with the 50s, and the decade's post-war bubblegum bubble is epitomised in the capitalist teenage dream that is Grease. Philipp Plein made that the premise for his spring/summer 18 collection, which featured a performance by Grease the musical, a whole lot of beatnik leather and jeans, runway cigarette puffing and huffing, and a motorcade of state-of-the-art sports cars. Old Cadillacs would have been better suited for the back-to-basics statement Plein seemed to be making. Perhaps we're just too used to the spectacle of his fast and furious fashion shows by now, but in the 50s reference -- and the overriding jovial mood of the show, which saw a beaming Plein hanging off a truck alongside the musical troupe for his bow -- some of #PleinWorld's tough shell was cracking. It wasn't the stripped-down, soul-baring sentiment of Marni (those words aren't in Plein's vocabulary) but his wholesome point of reference definitely made for a more grounded tone, which was a welcomed move.
At Versace, Donatella took grounded to another level -- the outside floor level of her own headquarters in Via Gesú, where guests watched the show from café tables in the courtyard. Preppy pinstripes, ties and vests Versace-fied the early schoolboy theme of the spring/summer 18 men's season, before the bubblegum undercurrent of this day of shows took over in a series of baby blue and pink outfits and a sparkly golden tracksuit. There are plenty of those in Milan -- tracksuits, that is -- not least at County of Milan where Marcelo Burlon continued to carve out his opulent red-blooded street and sportswear niche, backed up by a performance by Abra.
"There's been so much, and too much -- and too much in a good way as well, because I love too much -- and I think for that reason it's time for some minimalism for those friends of yours, who happen to dress in that way," Neil Barrett said after his seriously minimalist show, which took place in the stark (but grand) surroundings of his sprawling new headquarters in Via Ceresio. "It's the right moment to go back to the mid-90s, to reduce, and take the essential purity in the garments. I was there for that first minimalism period, so I'm looking back with my eyes of today and reinterpreting and reexamining what I did to make it relevant for the 21st century. There's a whole zeitgeist, a whole feeling of that coming through now."
In a Milan that's been covered in embellishment for the past six seasons (at least), this was Barrett's polite call for order -- for something a little simpler and purer, perhaps, to settle the global soul. Streamlined, slightly oversized tailoring in grey, white and black created blank canvases for the designer's minimal decoration: a few stripes of silver here and there, a smoke motif, some red piping. This was anti-extravagance for the ascetic life, and after all those seasons of wild opulence all around the fashion landscape Barrett's message came through loud and clear -- in the quietest way possible, of course. "I really truly believe it's the right moment for purism to come through again. I just wanted less and less and less," he reflected.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Mitchell Sams