MILAN — In a strong and polished and, at times, entertaining Milan Fashion Week, brands delivered the goods while staying very much within their comfort zone — focusing less on experimentation and more on mining their DNA.
“No big surprises, a really tame season. People are doing well what they do best — they’re staying true to who they are,” said Eric Jennings, vice president and men’s fashion director for Saks Fifth Avenue.
“Sober yet stealth,” is how Barbara Atkin, vice president, fashion direction at Holt Renfrew, Canada, described the season, which blended sportswear pieces with more formal attire. Calling 2011 a “record year of sales” for the Toronto-based specialty chain, with double-digit gains, Atkin said Holt Renfrew plans to “drive continued growth through 2012, and we are planning our men’s wear business accordingly.”
Yasuhisa Suzuki, coordinator men’s fashion, Tobu Department Store Co. Ltd. Japan, said, “In Europe we are doing bigger investments, because currently the euro is very low.”
Despite a general optimism for the year to come, many retailers said they are erring on the side of caution. “We won’t grow too quickly; everyone’s controlling their inventories right now,” said Jennings, who mentioned Burberry Prorsum among the week’s highlights, saying it reminded him “of why I love this business and men’s wear fashion, when it’s done in the right way.”
In addition to Burberry Prorsum, other collections receiving high praise included Alexander McQueen and Bottega Veneta, with Gucci, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo, Ermenegildo Zegna, Neil Barrett and Missoni also mentioned.
Darren Skey, head of men’s wear buying and merchandising at Harvey Nichols, commented: “For us, there were three really standout shows, and one presentation. We loved Burberry Prorsum’s great countryside-inspired themes and English-heritage look. We surprised ourselves by falling in love with Versace; the first half was tricky, but the latter half, with all the glitz and glamour and embroidery, was wonderful. Our customer loves that sort of thing. We also thought Dsquared2’s good kids and bad kids show was great.…We thought Jil Sander, with the shiny, wet look, “Matrix”-inspired leathers was interesting — rather than a standout. The presentation we loved was Alexander McQueen. We will certainly be finding the money to buy it. We loved the Prince of Wales checks, and all of the leather and wool. Between the Victorian theme and the country gent, it was a strong play on English heritage.”
For David Aquilina, buyer for international designer at Lane Crawford, a “newfound sophistication” defined the collections. Barrett presented his most mature show to date, he said, “focusing on streamlined tailoring and a toned-down take on outerwear. He also offered a fantastic capsule collection based around tuxedos, which was available only in the showroom.” Knitwear, tailoring and outerwear were the salient categories expected to drive business for fall. Fabrications remained focused on all things quintessentially British. Aquilina mentioned a strong focus on herringbone, houndstooth and Prince of Wales check, with “tonal grays as the new black.”
The Italian influence came through on soft tailoring, with the sweater jacket omnipresent. “The weights are incredible, too. You think it would be so heavy, but when you throw it on over your sport coat or your suit, it really fits well, it doesn’t feel like you have a jacket on,” commented Matthew Singer, men’s fashion director, Neiman Marcus Stores, Neiman Marcus Direct and Bergdorf Goodman.
At the other end of the spectrum, the double-breasted suit made a strong return. “There is a high level of attention to dressing more formally and elegantly, dressing like a gentleman. Prada was the catalyst and directional, as usual,” said Tiziana Cardini, fashion director at La Rinascente in Italy.
“All of the beautiful tailoring and outerwear will drive our business at Nordstrom,” said Jeffrey Kalinsky, executive vice president, designer merchandising for the Seattle retailer. “The resurgence of tailored clothing will resonate with our customers. Double-breasted has never looked better. We also loved all of the oversize outerwear, peacoats, and turtlenecks that dominated the runway.”
Anita Barr, director of men’s wear at Selfridges, noted: “The highlight for us was Prada — it set the tone for the week. We liked the elegance of it — it was a very powerful show. And, of course, Gary Oldman at the end. It was a real moment, and it left us all buzzing. We loved Burberry Prorsum, too — it was stronger than the summer collection and just a beautiful show. [Alexander] McQueen was gorgeous, and we’re really excited that they’ve introduced a made-to-measure service with Huntsman. Overall, budgets are up this season to reflect our investment in men’s wear at the store. It’s a healthy business.”
Kevin Harter, vice president of fashion for men’s and home for Bloomingdale’s, said: “The Italian designers offered us clothes that were opulent yet very masculine, which our customer loves. I always love Burberry Prorsum but thought Christopher Bailey showed his strongest collection to date. As always, there was an abundance of great outerwear, but I was thrilled with all the luxurious cashmere sweaters and the suitings. Prada was stunning, showcasing all the fantastic overcoats. One of the collections I’m most excited about hitting our floors is Z Zegna. Paul Surridge’s first collection for the house was stellar. His collection was the perfect mix of slim suits and sophisticated sportswear offered in a very masculine color palette.”
Rich wintry colors were a major trend with berry tones, blues and forest green leading the way.
Here’s more from the buyers:
Cindy Ho, fashion director, 360 Style in Kuwait Trendspotting: “A very beautiful men’s season in general, with superrich textures such as jacquard, silk velvet….It is nice to see [such a rich offer] for men, as it has been missing for some seasons. It is time to dress up. [Things are] playful, but in a very chic way, with classic suits in new cuts and [new ways of coordinating looks], with shirts, waistcoats and accessories.” Sound off: “So far, I am not disappointed with anything, but will find out in the showroom — and if the prices are favorable.”
Anita Barr, director of men’s wear at Selfridges Trendspotting: “There was lots of black leather — we particularly loved the accessories at Jil Sander, and especially the leather lunch bag. That collection had a very, very dark Thirties Berlin edge to it. Both Jil Sander and Burberry had the child animal motifs, and we liked the country theme at Burberry, too. There were a lot of heritage fabrics and country sports references, and tailoring was very strong.” Sound off: “You always find more formal looks in Milan, while in Paris you get a completely different sort of vibe. And men are dressing more formally in general. The boys on my team really dress up now for work — you don’t see jeans and T-shirts anymore.”
Darren Skey, head of men’s wear buying and merchandising at Harvey Nichols Trendspotting: “Great outerwear and knitwear, great techniques for knits and a variation on necklines. We also saw lots of snoods and scarves. Also, velvet suitings in great colors like red, bottle green and army green. And you don’t have to wear those velvet suits together — you can take the jacket and pair it with jeans or other trousers.” Sound off: “It was bloody freezing in Milan. If we could have taken some of the outerwear straight off the runway, we would have.”
Toby Bateman, director of buying for MrPorter.com Trendspotting: “Full-length coats with belts. Teddy-bear coats (humanely killed, we are assured)…animal motifs and feathers appearing as print detail. Slippers everywhere — in velvet, mostly, but also patterned. Shoes in two-tone. Camouflage patterns. Military details — brocade and trimmed-down trouser legs.” Sound off: “In general, the collections were quite tailored and smart. They were commercial, but designers have stuck true to their DNA in feeling.”
Matthew Singer, men’s fashion director, Neiman Marcus Stores, Neiman Marcus Direct and Bergdorf Goodman Trendspotting: “You’re definitely seeing that stronger suit come down the runway. The one-and-a-half breasted suit, which really holds its shape when unbuttoned and is really fresh and modern….With it being fall, there were a lot of scarves coming down the runway, but they were superlight….For footwear, I saw a lot of burnished toe effects and dress boots.” Sound off: “There hasn’t been any letdowns this season.”
Barbara Atkin, vice president,fashion direction at Holt Renfrew, Canada Trendspotting: “There seems to be a new relaxed formality where the roll-neck sweater acts as alternative to the tie, and heavy-knit cardigans enter the realm of modern outerwear. Evening separates seem to have taken center stage, as the statement formal jacket becomes a surprising key item of the season.” Sound off: “We are planning strong growth in knitwear, outerwear, novelty dress pants and sport jackets, particularly the soft deconstructed jacket.”
David Aquilina, buyer for internationaldesigners at Lane Crawford Trendspotting: “Eveningwear has…been key with most brands, not only offering the classic tuxedo, but also more commercially inspired takes on this men’s wear staple in jacquards, satins and — most noticeably for fall-winter ’12 — velvets.” Sound off: “With instability within the global market continuing to haunt 2012, it is important that the products that we present to our customers hold a certain level of integrity. Not only are our customers going to be seeking new and innovative products, but they are also after a sense of value for money.”
Yasuhisa Suzuki, coordinator men’s fashion, Tobu Department Store Co. Ltd. Trendspotting: “Strong and interesting colors, voluminous shapes, knitwear.” Sound off: “This fashion week was very conservative and too commercial.”
Kevin Harter, vice president of fashion for men’s and home for Bloomingdale’s Trendspotting: “The longer overcoat will be the statement piece for fall 2012, shown on the runway in beautiful herringbones, tweeds and cashmere. Slimmer suits continue but, again, in sophisticated fabrics and much more pattern. Knits seemed very updated, whether it was longer cardigans used as outerwear pieces or the pairing of classic turtlenecks with blazers and suits. Also felt strongly about all the corduroy and velvet that we saw.”
Maurizio Purificato, owner Antonia Uomo Trendspotting: Clean lines; the comeback of both the duster and the loden coats; revisited British style; velvet; cotton chinos; shearling; running-inspired jackets in technical fabrics.
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