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in this issue ASA BUTTERFIELD BY MITCHELL NGUYEN MCCORMACK

Fashion Week Report: Milan

MILAN FASHION WEEK. GENDER VERSUS NATURE. How significant are gender identities in fashion? Milan Men’s Fashion Week this season took this issue with a pinch of salt

 

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Gucci’s accent feminine silhouette with a sheer chiffon top

 

Looking at how far trends will go, one will inevitably notice how some menswear shows have had a few female models zigzagging on the runway. Would that count as going too far?

During Milan Men’s Fashion Week last January 2015, Dsquared2 kicked off the runway shows with a sexy female model in a masculine leather jacket and dirty denims. The parade then continued with a series of male models in unequivocally macho-looking ensembles and eight gorgeous females donning rather tantalizing outfits in between. English modern punk proponent Vivienne Westwood Man was another designer toying around with this juxtaposition, having a female model dressed in clashing patterns of glen plaid and checks open the show. It could have been easily taken as a hint of that the brand was trying to soften its edge; yet that couldn’t be further from the truth. Although the first 12 looks championed snappy blazers, the nonconformist spirit of the design didn’t bend the least bit toward being feminine.

 

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Prada’s industrial-looking uniformity

 

One doesn’t necessarily need female models to instill femininity in fashion design. This was, to the surprise of many, the big twist that Gucci had in store for their fall/winter ’15/’16 showing. Following Frida Giannini’s sudden departure, everything hinged on Alessandro Michele, the brand’s previous head accessories designer, who scraped everything and rebuilt the whole collection and the show’s concept in just five days. Ribbons, neckerchiefs and chiffons appeared in most of the collection, calling to mind J.W. Anderson’s gender-bending aesthetics.

However, a most sobering note on the subject came, unexpectedly, from Prada, which showcased its menswear collection together with the pre-fall pieces for women. During the show, a note found on every seat shrewdly stated, “Gender is a context, and context is often gendered.” Somber-colored hues, straight cuts and boxy volumes dominated the menswear presentation, and created an unfailing notion of industrial-looking uniformity. That sartorial attitude was picked up with some alterations for the women’s pre-fall offerings—they weren’t ostensibly sexy, but the sharp cuts emanated confidence. It was clear that in this instance, gender identities were not there to put a limit on creativity, but instead fuel ever-expanding variations.

 

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Missoni’s tunic and blazer pairing

 

Dolce & Gabbana did not dwell much on gender issues when launching their big fall/winter collection that celebrated the values of family. The traditional definition of family, to be exact, as the designer duo found themselves embroiled in spiteful arguments—followed by celebrity boycotts—regarding their stance on same-sex parents. Views on family values aside, several separates depicted portraits of families from different eras and others displayed sentimental Italian inscriptions including “Amore Per Sempre,” which means “Love Forever.”

Almost coincidentally, Giorgio Armani dubbed his 40th anniversary collection “Romance.” Seen on the runway were couples strolling together in matching outfits. While the pairings were not exclusively male-female, each twosome sported the same style, shades and even patterns. If the men and women in Dolce & Gabbana’s show were husbands and wives complementing each other, in Armani’s presentation they shared equal amounts of confidence and authority. To a certain extent, this might be a silent declaration of a time when style is no longer fashioned after a certain sex or gender, and gender-neutrality is a force to be reckoned with in the industry. Nevertheless, Armani did admit that “Romance” was an allusion to the relationship between the octogenarian’s aesthetics and menswear.

While the notion of gender is basically an outward perspective—something to be expressed from within—a few brands leaned toward an inward perspective, taking in nature as their most exquisite inspirations that define men through their fashion.

 

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Etro’s luxurious shawl

 

Stefano Pilati of Ermenegildo Zegna Couture said after the show, “Fashion can get very insular. We need to look outside.” And he did bring “outside” into his show, with a lush green forest as the background and echoes of birds and the sound of thunder. Pilati envisioned that the wearers of this collection were eco-leaders, those who at the very least mind what materials they wear. The treatment of the fabrics was elaborate, from Harris Tweed, made of virgin wool dyed and spun in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, to recycled plastic and even cashmere. The first half of the show sent out “urbanized explorers” donning long, luxurious coats over formal separates and leather boots. Military- and olive green along with earthy tones were the basic hues of these exceptional outerwear pieces. The last part of the show had “urban explorers” instead, with models donning functional and protective coats over shirt and tie combos. The coats were made to withstand harsh weather and are therefore perfect for strolling around the city in fall or winter.

Nature also became a reference for Etro’s fall/winter collection. In particular, a painting of Rhino from the 1500s by German artist Albrecht Dürer was said to have greatly inspired Kean Etro. Unfortunately, this vision was somewhat lost in translation in the middle of look after look in earthy tones rolled out by the dandy Italian fashion house. Nevertheless, the restraint shown in keeping everything well-tailored and modest in terms of clashing prints made this season’s collection seductively covetable. Paisley, the house’s accent motif, was reinterpreted in a variety of dark shades, while long scarves appeared enchantingly exotic—making them one of the season’s must-haves.

 

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Bottega Veneta’s “casual luxury” style

 

Exoticism struck another chord during Missoni’s menswear show. A family brand just like Etro, Missoni elevated its knitwear game with the inclusion of a simple theme: traveling. The color gradient appeared so exquisite, exemplifying mastery of sartorial craftsmanship. But even more striking was the pairing of windowpane-patterned tunics and coats almost at the end of the show. Altogether, the collection seemed to weave a new ideal for what constitutes a “fashionable” man, namely one who is an explorer of geography as well as cultures.

 

“In the end, one cannot help but wonder: Could post-gender be the new menswear?”

 

That conception found resonance with Bottega Veneta’s understated collection, albeit not in a tangible way. Tomas Maier, the seminal German creative director, proposed the ideal man as “someone who doesn’t think about clothes; he dresses from necessity.” At a glance, the series of looks on the runway were neither sleek nor posh; it was more like a parade of “casual luxury” ensembles composed of random essentials. Then again, Maier holds “clothes that have lived a life” in high regard, hence the intentional fashion languor.

 

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Ermenegildo Zegna Couture’s “urbanized explorers”

 

It was not hard to imagine the model wearing the black crisp suit with a green-tinted shirt as a creative executive in the movie industry; or the one in the blue sweater and comfy denims with suspenders suit as a lazy construction worker. But the whole notion that the clothes were based on real people from various walks of life—and cultures—was more than intriguing. Add to that the color-blocking mauve purple or pale pink trousers, and it became clear that the design has already gone past genders and focused solely on function. The opening look featuring a longhaired male model wearing a rather plain black coat epitomized Maier’s intriguing proposition. It was no longer a question of gender, but more of necessity.

In the end, one cannot help but wonder: Could post-gender be the new menswear? Is it possible that after many decades, menswear may finally mature the same way as womenswear—that the gender-confirming silhouettes are now a thing of the past? If Coco Chanel did the world a great favor by interpreting men’s trousers for women, so why shouldn’t menswear do likewise? In the world of fashion, letting women take the lead doesn’t sound like a bad idea, after all.

 

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