As the dust begins to settle around Milan Menswear Fashion Week, it’s time to revisit the season’s most memorable shows and unpick the inspiration.
Italian style is renowned for its opulence, for its its lack of restraint, and designers like Versace and Gucci’s Alessandro Michele are keeping this reputation alive with collections defined by heavy embellishment and intricate tapestry. On the other hand there are designers like Miuccia Prada who staged a cinematic spectacle inspired by war at sea for AW16, or Silvia Fendi who reworked the house codes of her namesake brand into a stripped-back, functional collection. Some of these collections were rendered memorable by their casting, others by their concept. Regardless, they all deserve an in-depth exploration – here are the seven wonders of Milan Menswear Fashion Week AW16.
This season Silvia Fendi made it her personal mission to create beautiful, functional garments that were as cosy to wear indoors as they were chic to wear on the streets. After being inspired by illustrations depicting domestic life in the 1960s, the designer began to question why the implication remains that comfort must be sacrificed for style. Her solution came in the form of an AW16 collection filled with enormous snuggly turtlenecks and geometric-printed outerwear lined with a fur trim.
There was innovation too, in the form of detachable coats that were specifically designed for the transition from indoors to outdoors, as well as an abundance of the brand’s signature furs. A neutral colour palette of brown and navy defined the collection’s most wearable pieces (including a pair of unexpected brown velour flares – think That 70s Show with a modern twist), although bolder designs were also explored with bright yellow furry accents and a series of graphic knits which featured a fun “Fendi” speech bubble. Referring back to the show’s theme, an architect was also commissioned to create a special ‘house’ in which the collection was shown, fitted with shaggy fur carpeting and a statement spiral staircase.
It was over 20 years ago that Tom Ford took the helm at Gucci and ushered in a provocative new era for the Italian house. Defined by its sex-centred ad campaigns, revealing silk blouses and high-octane glamour, the designer would cement a distinctive aesthetic that would go on to define the house for two whole decades. However, last year the fashion world was left shocked as Frida Giannini abruptly left the then-struggling house, leaving her successor Alessandro Michele only five days to prepare his debut collection. What resulted was one of the most remarkable transformations in fashion history – an unprecedented success from the very beginning, Michele focused his attention on youth and used the idea of a young, creative bohemian as his new muse.
Three seasons later and Michele is still making headlines – for AW16, he awarded trans superstar Hari Nef her first big-name modeling gig, alongside full control of the Gucci Snapchat account in the 24 hours leading up to the show. This breakthrough aside, the collection was business at usual for Michele who showed a collection made up of embroidered velvet bomber jackets and slim snakeskin-printed suits for AW16. A few nods to a Western theme were also included – an oversized jacket adorned with hanging fringe detail was just one example – whereas the patterned flares and embroidered jackets stayed true to the 70s aesthetic now synonymous with the house.
There are very few designers in the fashion industry with the intellectual and conceptual sensibilities of Miuccia Prada. Never do her collections depend on mere aesthetics – they are evocative, open to interpretation and always accompanied by their own unique landscape. First impressions of the collection revealed an obvious nautical theme, referenced in the blue and white striped collarless shirts and sailor hats shown on the runway. Speaking backstage, however, the designer elaborated by underlining that the collection was inspired by the sea in general, and the key role it plays in facilitating migration and transporting cargo between wartorn countries. This bleak commentary painted the collection in a new light – what were once innocent nautical stripes now seemed to more closely resemble the boy in striped pyjamas.
Despite the somewhat heavy narrative that accompanied the show, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Elements of mythology added a sense of romance to the collection, best embodied by a simple white shirt which had been screen-printed with an intricate illustration of the 21st century’s favourite mythical beast, the unicorn. In further nods to ancient history, the famous faces of Hercules and Cleopatra were re-imagined in illustration by Christophe Chemin, whereas flashes of colour appeared in the form of knitted patchwork jackets – a welcome antidote to the sombre colour palette that dominated throughout.
It might have been menswear season, but it was Aussie model Gemma Ward who stole the show at Calvin Klein’s AW16 collection – her first runway in over a year. Dressed in an oversized double-breasted tux complete with camel overcoat, the inclusion of both genders on the runway was deemed by creative director Italo Zucchelli to be a tribute to the universal power of menswear tailoring. While the notion of women at the shows is nothing new (see Naomi Campbell’s surprise appearance at Givenchy SS16), more brands than ever are choosing to merge mens and pre-collections – a move which could lead to the abolition of gendered runways altogether.
Despite the furore surrounding Ward and her long-awaited return, the collection was newsworthy in its own right. Zucchelli stayed true to the brand’s iconic heritage with strict tailoring and a series of coated denim pieces teamed with classic white tees. The more unexpected addition came courtesy of the metallic flashes that appeared throughout, a surprisingly fresh look for a brand so firmly rooted in its own history. These weren’t subtle metallics – think the shiny foil packaging of a Quality Street or the tinfoil glint of a survival blanket and you’re on the right lines. However, its impact was downplayed by its styling, resulting in a sequence of statement pieces that were surprisingly wearable. A burnished copper overcoat was perhaps the collection’s overall highlight, just visible under the larger silhouette of a traditional black overcoat.
Although it may not have been the most outlandish or conceptual collection on show at Milan, Marni AW16 collection deserves a mention for the way it quietly disrupted a series of classic silhouettes. The button-down shirt for example – they looked traditional in every way, but were gathered and ruched at the neck like makeshift hospital gowns, buttoned or tied at the back of the neck. Then there were a series of overcoats in navy blue, fitted with a discreet side band which appeared to give only one arm the freedom to protrude.
These experiments aside, the larger part of the collection looked to romantic blooms screen-printed onto mustard silk shirts, some of which were teamed with fur stoles draped casually across shoulders. The ‘hero piece’ came courtesy of the collection’s outerwear – more specifically the hugely oversized pinstripe overcoat which was teamed with a monochrome shirt and loose trousers on the runway for a relaxed yet instantly cool look. The show might not have made headlines but the clean lines, oversized silhouettes and subtle attention to detail are bound to result in a commercial hit.
Vivienne Westwood is not just a designer. She is also a tireless political activist, an originator of punk subculture and, unforgettably, she is the woman that, in 2014, marched to 10 Downing Street to gift the Prime Minister with asbestos for Christmas. Her collections are usually accompanied by their own individual manifestos and AW16 was no different, with Dame Viv releasing a video entitled “Be Specific” explaining her intentions to encourage a transition to green energy and save the rainforest.
Politics aside, the aesthetic of the collection challenged archaic notions of gendered silhouettes by introducing asymmetrical chiffon dresses and platform boots into her menswear show. The knitwear shown throughout the show came in various hemlines – it was either frayed and cropped to reveal a hint of midriff, or extended and elongated so that it dropped to the knees. Fittingly, the outfits on show were topped off with a subtle hint of bling in the form of gold penis pendants. Glinting subversively in the light, they were proof that Dame Viv isn’t quite ready to bow out just yet.
Superheroes were on the agenda for Philipp Plein’s AW16 showing, a somewhat sombre affair which stuck to an almost all-black colour palette. Signature touches of bling were on show as usual in the form of metallic logos and superhero insignia printed onto slim-fit black sweatshirts, but they were also in the light-up wheels of the painted skateboards that appeared frequently as accessories.
Although the pared-back aesthetic was a far cry from the studded leathers and ripped denim of Plein’s last menswear showing, his presentation was as spectacular as usual. Following in the footsteps of Tyga, Azealia Banks and Courtney Love, Lil’ Wayne was this season’s musical guest, whereas SS16 campaign star and man of the moment Lucky Blue Smith diverted the attention of his 1.9million Instagram followers with a standout appearance.
In just a few short seasons Plein has gone from relative unknown to one of the hottest tickets on the schedule with his unique view of fashion as a performance, as more than just clothing. He understands that weary fashion editors are desperate for spectacle, for a breath of fresh air amongst the overwhelmingly dense fashion calendar. Through his combination of high-octane glamour and blockbuster sets, Plein always succeeds in creating one of the season’s most memorable showings.