MILAN — The global pandemic forced the fashion industry to revise its schedules and methods this season. Italian men’s brands quickly adapted to the needs of the market and, despite the lockdown, succeeded at presenting their spring 2021 collections to press and buyers in July, instead of June. With the traditional men’s fashion week replaced by Milan’s digital fashion week, buyers and journalists could meet in the city for shows and appointments, but collections were still reviewed and ordered mainly through digital meetings.
“It’s been harder than imagined. It’s been something we have had to adapt to, and do the best we can, given the circumstances. I cannot find fault with what we have been able to achieve and it has been great to engage with our partners in a new way across different resources,” said Browns head of men’s wear buying Dean Cook. “I will say I do miss seeing and feeling the product or seeing it on a model.”
Despite the difficulties, there were positive aspects, as highlighted by Chris Kyvetos, buying director of men’s wear at Mytheresa. “Without the usual noise of traveling and rush of the show schedule, we feel that everything has been more authentic and to the point,” he said.
“One of the biggest problems with digital concepts is that there can be too much emphasis on mood over clothes. More emphasis on seeing the clothes on the body please,” suggested Matchesfashion men’s wear content director Simon Chilvers. “Also, it has to be noted that many designers looked to their own house codes creating pieces that work as a stand-alone wardrobe based around their aesthetic. There is a lack of throwaway moods and trends and a shift to pieces that last beyond a season.”
Describing it a “safe season,” LuisaViaRoma senior buyer Andrea Selvi lamented a certain lack of creativity and bravery in Milan, while Tsum men’s fashion director Riccardo Tortato praised fashion houses’ incredible resilience after the lockdown.
“I reward any brand that has worked so hard to deliver a new collection in such a short time. Italian brands have done remarkable work and all the industry needs to be thankful for all the Italian creativity and manufacture,” he said. “We need to support the industry and stand up for those brands which were brave and organized enough to do a physical presentation in the showroom or in a location. God bless made in Italy!”
With Prada emerging as the undisputed winner of the Milan season, buyers talked about brands’ new focus on investment in timeless pieces. Relaxed silhouettes, clean cuts and warmer minimalism, along with cozy knits and neutral colors, were the main trends of the spring collections presented in the Italian fashion capital.
“Bucolic inspiration and escapism have been among the most used themes of the season, which is definitely relevant after many months spent in lockdown, and part of the world still in a very critical situation. We want to feel close to nature even through the digitally built world in which we live now,” said Rinascente head of fashion Federica Montelli. “Many brands in Milan, but also in Paris, have pushed their narrative into craftsmanship and heritage, reminding their customers of the core values of luxury fashion brands. There’s a slight vibe of collective nostalgia communicated by brands, from the vintage-inspired pieces to the choice of celebrating their country and environment.”
Dean Cook, head of men’s wear buying, Browns, London
Favorite collection: Prada. The collection took me back to what Miuccia did with men’s at the very beginning; slick, cool, sharp and truly one of a kind.
Best presentation concept: I loved what Prada did: Working with five creatives to interpret the collection in five different ways was really fresh and innovative.
Trend-spotting: There are definitely more timeless products; I feel customers will want balance. There are so many options across categories, but having spent many months at home, I believe there will be a lure to classic pieces that will live in your wardrobe for a long time. So, this year I foresee an investment in timeless pieces with real longevity, whatever that may be in the eyes of the customer.
Must-have item: Anything from Prada Sport, I loved how they worked the tech elements with formal.
Budgets: We haven’t reduced any budgets but have carefully considered how and where we spend them. As production was hit, we’ve reviewed and adjusted how much and what we can buy from some of the brands as well as ensuring we are servicing the customer with seasonal product across all categories.
Buying process: I have enjoyed adapting for the season and I love how innovative brands have been digitally. It’s been amazing to stay connected. However, digital has a long way to go before it is able to compete with the IRL experience.
Louis DiGiacomo, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s at Saks Fifth Avenue
Favorite collections: Dolce & Gabbana’s collection was smart and versatile with a range of casualwear to more formal looks. Etro’s brilliant use of prints and color to elevate casualwear was very exciting. I also loved Zegna’s sophisticated collection full of unconstructed tailoring and a beautiful color palette grounded with neutrals.
Best presentation concept: Gucci’s presentation was extremely interesting. I loved how Alessandro Michele utilized Gucci’s internal design team as the models. It was unique and exciting to see the collection on real people with a range of body types. Zegna’s presentation was also exceptional. Watching the models walk through the fabric archives, outdoors and to the rooftop was very powerful.
Top trends: Prints were everywhere this season. We saw tons of paisleys, florals and stripes that can be worn casually or dressed up with a sport coat. In prior seasons, we saw more micro prints, but I think designers are choosing to be more bold with prints this season with many people working from home. You can’t see micro prints if you’re on a Zoom call — it just looks like you’re wearing a solid colored shirt — so I think designers are incorporating more pronounced prints that can be seen and appreciated in the virtual world.
Versatility is another huge trend this season. Men want something they can wear to the beach or lounge in that also can be worn to work from home or into the office. Dolce & Gabbana showed versatility in an interesting way, with untucked sport shirts opened with a white T-shirt or tank underneath and buttoned up for a more formal look for the office or a Zoom meeting.
There was also a ton of color. We always see color in the spring collections, but I think we’re seeing even more vibrant colors with everyone working from home as men are looking for ways to elevate their WFH look.
Must-have items: The sport shirt, an unconstructed sportcoat, the hat (bucket hats, newsboy hats, beach hats), the microbag, and sunglasses. And, of course, every man needs a good pair of sneakers.
Thoughts on video format: It’s much easier to see and digest the collection when you’re at home on your laptop, instead of squished and uncomfortable in the audience with people and things obstructing your view. I definitely like that aspect of the video format. I also like that I can go back and watch the presentation again as soon as it ends if I got distracted and missed something. What I don’t like is that you lose the energy of being there with friends and people in the industry. I miss the anticipation of waiting for the show to begin. Nothing beats that.
Thoughts on the buying process: I think the digital buying process has definitely made it more efficient for the merchant teams by cutting out all the travel time. The challenging part is for retailers to communicate with each other and with vendors. When you’re visiting a showroom, you can step away to talk about the collection with your team. It’s much easier to quickly discuss particular items or a color when you’re in person. Of course, so many brands have done an outstanding job making the transition to digital and actually showing the product. It’s the communication and dialogue that has been more challenging. Also, as merchants we like to touch and feel everything, and you lose that with the virtual buying process.
General comment on the season: Overall, I’m very impressed with the season. It has been great to see designers go out of their comfort zones with their collections and presentations. I also think the versatility of men’s wear this season is very exciting. There has been a big focus on the elevation of casualwear, which is refreshing and telling of the times we’re living in today.
Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus
Favorite collections: The Prada collection that was featured in videos by five photographers had a purity and a timeliness that felt distinctly Prada. Spare, trim tailoring shapes, signature house nylon fabrications in workwear shapes, leisurewear mixed with softly tailored jackets and coats — all had great relevance and freshness. The format was intriguing, and the video interpretations added meaning to each of the groupings. I was charmed seeing Mrs. Prada’s signature smiling bow at the end of the film.
Sunnei’s avatars dancing the Macarena was fascinating and fun. It was a highly entertaining way to see a collection and was an innovative use of the fashion video genre. It was refreshing to see the designers and creators who work at Gucci used as models for the new collection in Alessandro Michele’s sprawling live video feed from a Roman palazzo. They added a sense of humanity and personality that really grounded the collection.
Best presentation concept: Alessandro Sartori’s “phy-gital” presentation was truly transporting. A great hybrid of a runway show and a fashion film, models wandered through the beautiful, lush hills of the Oasi Zegna while intermittently being digitally transported inside the fabric mills of the Lanificio Zegna, all while wearing very light, airy tailoring and sportswear in beautiful pale colors. It was quite moving to see all the models parade across the rooftop of the factory, ultimately taking their (socially distant) positions in a static formation. A beautiful, inspiring location, amazing production quality and camerawork, and plenty of innovation and relevance in the clothing all made for a great presentation and the best of this virtual fashion week.
Trend-spotting: We’re seeing an overwhelming focus on lightness and relaxed shapes that has an even greater relevance these days. Unconstructed tailoring, lightweight fabrications, and easy, comfortable silhouettes are all very important. Drawstring and jogger-style pants in elevated fabrics are great items. There has also been a distinct workwear vibe that we’ve been seeing throughout collections featuring pieces with great versatility and utility.
Must-have item: A Prada sport jacket or coat in the signature house nylon. An airy, lightly constructed jacket from Zegna and Kiton.
Chris Kyvetos, buying director of men’s wear, Mytheresa, Munich
Favorite collection: Prada
Best presentation concept: The best presentation concept without a doubt was Prada with the show “that never happened,” taking place at the Fondazione Prada with an installation of five Prada-facing films by Willy Vanderperre, Juergen Teller, Joanna Piotrowska, Martine Syms and Terence Nance. Another notable moment was Sunnei, which showed the collection digitally on rendered hybrids, offering a blank slate for the buyer to create something personal, selecting their own color scheme for their “own” collection.
Trend-spotting: Suiting, natural and neutral colors, “formal” shoes over sneakers, knit over jersey and exaggerated bags.
Must-have item: Bag-and-suit combo from Prada and a printed summer shirt from Dolce & Gabbana.
Buying process: We thought that if our customers are buying online from imagery then we must be able to do so, too. So with this being said, it has gone quite smoothly for us. We are now working as our customers do, making the best selection based on the look and feel we see, and of course supported by our knowledge of the brands.
Sam Lobban, senior vice president of designer and new concepts, Nordstrom
Favorite collections: Prada, Gucci, Jil Sander, Ermenegildo Zegna, Massimo Alba and Sunnei.
Best presentation concept: The combination of concept video and look book stills from Prada was very strong. I really liked Sunnei’s Instagram post flicking between an all-white version of the collection and then second slide to all color. Also, whilst not technically Milan, I thought the Jacquemus show setting looked beautiful, and a very interesting take on creating a socially distanced outdoor runway show experience.
Trend-spotting: There was a continuation of oversized and voluminous silhouettes, relaxed but refined overall and some really interested and elevated looking textures and fabrications.
Video format: As aforementioned, I thought the five Prada films by Willy Vanderperre, Juergen Teller, Joanna Piotrowska, Martine Syms and Terence Nance were really interesting and conveyed the elements of the collection in a very compelling way — and not least of all because I personally loved the collection, too!
Mario Sisneros, men’s fashion director, Holt Renfrew
Favorite collections: Prada’sminimal and pure collection was a return to classic house codes, all the while moving the brand forward with restraint. Miuccia Prada made a compelling case for the new day uniform we will all want next Spring. Standouts were the impeccable tailoring, slouchy knitwear in spa colorways, and the sporty Linea Rosa group in optic white with hints of transparency. The ease of the relaxed silhouettes felt light and unconstructed, with workwear influences and the of-the-moment trend mixing and matching sartorial with casual elements. Prada opened digital fashion week with one of the most desirable, refined, and uncomplicated collections.
Best presentiation: Dolce & Gabbana staged an outdoor show at the Humanitas University in Milan. It was a refreshing palate cleanser from the all of the virtual Zoom market appointments. Seeing 101 looks move freely in the breeze was beautiful. Prada commissioned short films to create the “Show That Never Happened” which featured five takes on the collection from artists Willy Vanderperre, Juergen Teller, Joanna Piotrowska, Martyne Syms, and Terrance Nance. Each segment filmed at the Fondazione Prada portrayed a unique perspective of the collection through the lens of its collaborators. The video format added a layer of storytelling and an emotional connection to the collection that sometimes we miss at a runway presentation. Gucci’s live stream of the Spring 21 collection peeled back the fashion curtain, taking viewers on a journey to see the unedited process of how a runway show is created. From hair and makeup to styling and staging, Gucci gave a 360° view of their design process—all while following safe hygienic practices.
Top trends: Modern minimalism for today was seen at Prada, with classic tailoring paired with track pants, and at Zegna, with lightweight hybrid tailored jackets offering a new proposition to sartorial customers. Zoom fatigue has designers like Dolce & Gabbana and Gucci channeling summer getaways with joyful colorways and prints, offering an escape with fashion. Return of “wear-now dressing,” boots for Spring, outerwear with military influences, and coats that are perfect for January deliveries at Tod’s. Sport-inspired looks were seen everywhere in luxe technical fabrications at Dsquared2 and Prada. Commuter accessories at Prada were notable with updated messengers featuring extra pockets. Denim was seen all over Milan in various washes—from patchwork crafted at Dolce to Gucci’s more pragmatic 70s-inspired approach.
Must-have item: Black nylon updated messenger bag from Prada; Oversized printed polo shirt and patchwork denim shirt from Dolce & Gabbana; Prada’s perfect nylon single-breasted blazer; Tod’s hybrid hiker with a burgundy lug sole; Gucci oversized trousers in washed corduroy, and bright contrast laced runner and hybrid tailored shirt-jackets at Zegna.
Budgets: Budgets remain stable.
Simon Chilvers, men’s wear content director, Matchesfashion, London
Favorite collections: Prada and Jil Sander, which continued to evolve a precise wardrobe with very wearable, distinct handwriting, which makes minimalism feel warmer and more user-friendly.
Best presentation concept: The strength of Prada’s presentation was that it was 11 minutes, fast-paced with a conceptual approach. It felt like being at a Prada show — with the five artists interpreting the collection differently, it reminded me of the experience when you walk into the show venue, which is always treated in a completely new way. Crucially the finale allowed all the models to walk in all the looks — you could see the clothes worn and how they moved on the body.
Andrea Selvi, senior buyer, LuisaViaRoma, Florence
Favorite collections: Gucci with its “Epilogue” video; Versace for pastel colors; Jil Sander for a perfect mix between sharpness and suppleness.
Best presentation concept: I found very innovative presentations during this fashion week, but Sunnei showed the most creative video with the dancing avatars.
Trend-spotting: Relaxed silhouettes, a focus on sustainability and on the DNAs of the brands. Regarding the color range, a lot of pastels mixed with white and black. On accessories, bye-bye to backpacks, welcome camera bags used as a new messenger style.
Must-have item: Generally speaking laid-back and comfortable clothes. I would say wide trousers and lightweight knitwear.
Budgets: Increasing compared to last season, to introduce new brands and tap more into best-selling items from our best-performing brands.
Buying process: This season the whole buying team worked remotely using platforms developed internally by some brands or through Joor and Le New Black. This process allowed us to better understand the collections and make our selection for the final customers.
Federica Montelli, head of fashion at Rinascente, Milan
Favorite collections: Prada with its remark on pure minimalism; Etro for its solid collection; MSGM for its youthful and commercial collection; Dolce & Gabbana for its reference to the Italian Costiera and philanthropic effort; Zegna for its expert study on tailoring and color, and Magliano and Sunnei, the best young brands to look at.
Best presentation concept: Sunnei with its Canvas concept has proven that you don’t need a traditional fashion show to make things interesting. A futuristic concept and interface, where virtual reality is closely relatable to younger customers, but [there’s] a sense of fun and familiarity in the unexpected clashing choice of music (Macarena). Many designers wanted to narrate their “process” and Gucci’s Epilogue collection was the most effective effort, that felt real besides the immense production behind it.
Trend-spotting: Botanical patterns, in jackets or shirts both short- and long-sleeved, often styled juxtaposed. Natural fibers, including printed linen, or cotton knitwear with subtle craft finishes. Bags are more and more present in the men’s styling, in the form of the shoulder bags and totes on the runway. Natural colors, from undyed cream and beige to dark camel, and pops of peacock green.
Must-have item: It’s a women’s piece, but I can’t stop thinking about Prada’s neo-Nineties black bustier logoed nylon puff dress.
Buying process: We are quite satisfied with the level of digital platforms we have been offered by brands and multibrand showrooms. In some cases the experience is quite convenient and efficient, but overall we are missing the direct contact with the product. The two physical-only shows of this fashion week reminded guests of how important it is to see the product live, while we appreciated the innovation brought by the brands in communicating their identity through digital shows.
Riccardo Tortato, Tsum men’s fashion director, Moscow
Favorite collections: Zegna, Santoni and Bottega Veneta (Loro Piana and Brunello Cucinelli were not in the calendar but I saw a preview).
Best presentation concept: Dolce & Gabbana
Trend-spotting: Large soft pants.
Must-have item: Kiton blazer.
Budgets: Confirmed like 2020.
Buying process: We were able to have a small team in Milan. We have been visiting almost all of the showrooms and work in remote with the team in Moscow. Special thanks to all the brands that opened their showroom doors for us.