at the milan men’s shows, dreamers and realists go head to head
Following the London collections, Milan – led strongly by Versace and Neil Barrett – is showing an early argument for keeping it real on the menswear front.
Are you a dreamer or a realist? It's the question every man asks himself in the current menswear landscape - or should, at least - and the overriding hot topic of the men's shows this week. Dsquared2, normally a fireworks of frivolity on the Milan schedule, opened the week Friday night with a twentieth anniversary show so stripped to the bone of Dean and Dan Caten's core values that you almost forgot where you were. On the second day of Milan, the designers' thirst for the approachable was even more spelled out, as Donatella Versace - fashion's undisputed queen of fabulous - forsook the fantasy entirely.
"I call it Versace stripped," she told i-D of her streamlined, suit-centric collection, heavy on luxe but without a gilded Medusa head in sight. "It went back to the soul of Versace, which is a sharp cut and a silhouette of sensuality. We stripped all the prints and bold colours and stuff like that," she said. The Versace matriarch's comments are indicative of a menswear arena where every man - fashion victim, average consumer or otherwise - is faced with a choice of what he believes he and his surrounding world are about: dream or reality. And if you can't tear yourself away from the poetry of challenging, extreme menswear, you could be unsuited for a world that's all about the reality check.
For those of us, who like to throw a little glitter on it, it's a bit of a bucket of cold water in the face. But at the same time, this new wave of approachable menswear has its appeal. At the London collections, which kicked off the men's shows a week ago, Stuart Vevers' collection of outdoorsy everyman outerwear for Coach was an instant editors' favourite, not necessarily because it was beautifully designed - which it was - but because those pieces created immediate desire—shopping desire, that is, as in: you simply wanted to wear them, right then and there.
On the other side of the spectrum, although entirely wearable some would say, Craig Green's poetic take on uniforms and the sculpting of classic garments to the body created a just as forceful desire, completely different to that of Coach, but with the same impact around the manscape of show-goers. It was the tug-of-war of London Collections: Men and the first advance on the battlefield of an autumn/winter 2015 season, which looks as if it's going to divide the waters and force every man to make that choice for himself: dream or reality.
And yet, there can be something equally dreamy about the real and approachable, which has less to do with escapism and a lot to do with the very simple, primal instinct of want. Before the Versace show, Neil Barrett presented an exceptional military-inspired collection of the most desirable outerwear a man could wish for, paraded down his austere runway like a string of pearls that just got better and better. "I just think you can make a statement of a man with one piece," Barrett told i-D backstage. "Whether it's simple or complicated, if he has one piece that stands out he doesn't have to do anything else. [And with] a t-shirt, a knit, a jean: he's dressed. A girl can do that, but for a guy it's key. It's easy for him to dress like that."
Perhaps the uncomplicatedness created by an amazing piece of outerwear, which allows men to have a look without doing much more than putting on a terrific coat over an otherwise unassuming outfit, is what's currently pushing our desire for the real rather than the dreamy (and often more complicated). The sportswear/formalwear hybrids Barrett proposed in his collection - "I wanted to go back to when I was forming my DNA, like 2005-2006 when I did all these military hybrid collections" - are certainly a way for wearers to tick a lot of boxes with one easy, highly flattering garment.
At Alexander McQueen in London, Sarah Burton also based on her collection on uniforms, but rather than the military influence it was a similar idea - also to Neil Barrett's - of effortlessness. "We all have our uniforms we put on every day," she told i-D, and that was the look she was trying to convey: something that has a certain fashionability, but isn't too complicated or foreign to the person wearing it. The same could be said for the Jil Sander collection that showed Saturday in Milan where the statement coat reigned as supreme as it did at Coach and Neil Barrett, or at Ermenegildo Zegna where jackets with detachable zip cuffs worn unzipped made for that immediate desirability.
Donatella Versace didn't feel a need to explain why she felt like stripping down her man - that is one of her main prerogatives, after all - but did allude to a less materialistic but just as strong desire in her reasoning. "I feel it's time to change. And when I feel that, I feel it all the way," she told i-D. Why? "Because I like this man on the runway," she said. "I'd go out with him. If he asked me."
Plonked in the middle of all the reality on this first full day of Milan, like some magical fun fair of fabulousness, the Dolce & Gabbana show had no intention whatsoever of giving up the fantasy. The designers' family-focused collection featured all the fantastical bullion embroidery and majestic embellishment of the ultimate dream world, to the fairytale soundtrack of Luciano Pavarotti and Lionel Ritchie's The Magic of Love, but it was sold - very confidently - as the modern family man's natural day-to-day wardrobe. The realists may scoff at it, but there's something to be said for a silky bathrobe covered in gold crowns.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Ash Kingston