The MSGM London boutique.

MILAN — Trade policies, Brexit uncertainties, social protests in France and European political elections are factors that could influence the economy this year, but Brunello Cucinelli is unwavering: “Of one thing I am sure: it’s not true that men don’t want to buy, I don’t believe this at all.” With “at least three different posts” on social media per day, men “must change depending on the occasion. We take more care of our looks because we will be posted. It’s a new way of life,” he argued.

Figures released by Centro Studi of fashion industry association Confindustria Moda support this positive take — even 2019 is seen as “stable” compared with 2018 and showing “limited dynamism,” based on the spring 2019 orders. That said, the Italian men’s wear industry is expected to report 2018 sales of 9.44 billion euros, up 1.5 percent compared with 2017.

Men’s wear accounts for 17.5 percent of Italy’s textile and fashion revenues and 27.9 percent of all apparel. The first half of 2018 was particularly brisk, with exports up 5.5 percent, but business slowed starting last summer. Consumer spending in Italy was defined by the association as “one of the worst [since] 2013.” However, 2018 year-end figures are expected to close with exports gaining 3.9 percent to 6.33 billion euros, or 67.1 percent of total.

In particular, from January to September, exports of men’s fashion to the U.K. jumped 8.1 percent; 6.4 percent to Russia, and 27.7 percent to China. Sales in the U.S. rose 2.8 percent. In the period, men’s apparel overall increased 3.8 percent while knitwear grew 10.3 percent. Shirts, leather apparel and ties were down 1.1 percent, 4.2 percent, and 9.6 percent, respectively.

Milan Men’s Fashion Week begins today and closes on Jan. 14, losing some shows to the coed format and others to Pitti Uomo, but Cucinelli touted Pitti and Milan as “the most beautiful and important fashion week in the world for men’s wear.” He contended that 85 percent of business is done based on the trends and mood seen at Pitti, a stage “for a contemporary man who is not identified with fashion. Pitti is fascinating, an open-air show, followed by Milan with its great brands. They are tied together, in a single fashion week. I never separate them.”

A number of classic tailoring brands, from Brioni, Canali and Pal Zileri to Corneliani and Boglioli, have been through changes in artistic direction, management and ownership, adjusting to the times and new markets. Asked for a general comment, Cucinelli said that, “while there has been a big change in and evolution of women’s wear brands, there are not that many new brands for men. In addition, often the son does not want to wear his father’s go-to brand.”

Cucinelli, whose company this week reported 2018 preliminary sales of 553 million euros, up 8.1 percent from 2017, has long worked on making his men look “less boring and younger” and he talked about Patrick Dempsey visiting his company’s headquarters at Solomeo, and how the actor wore a “beautiful” polo under a green-gray corduroy suit. “He looked young, but was also chic.” Subtle details will make you look well-dressed for every occasion, said Cucinelli, but “of course, the suit must have a younger fit and volume.”

Brunello Cucinelli

A look from the fall 2019 Brunello Cucinelli collection.  courtesy image

Between Milan and Florence, “Italy is a key stronghold, a reference point for men’s wear,” concurred Antonio De Matteis, ceo of Kiton, which will present its fall/winter collections at the brand’s sprawling Milan palazzo on Jan. 12. “I don’t think this will change. Buyers are more concentrated in a short period of time anyway, cutting back on long trips, and attracting them depends on the strength and the importance of the brand.”

Kiton, he said, has been evolving to meet the requests of the market, and its younger KNT brand, short for Kiton New Textures, designed by his twin sons Mariano and Walter De Matteis, is a response to a desire to dress “in a more relaxed way.” He noted that “more mature men” are looking for “easy ready-to-wear for their leisure time” and that young men are buying more formal clothes. That said, formalwear is “more relaxed, deconstructed, with jackets that are more comfortable for more frequent trips.”

The U.S. remains Kiton’s main market and it is growing, said De Matteis. A store opened at Wynn Las Vegas and one in Manhasset, N.Y., is set to open in February or March, followed by two more in the region in 2019. While China and Europe are also performing well, De Matteis said business in the Far East was dented by political issues.

The year 2019 marks several anniversaries: Neil Barrett celebrates 20 years, Aspesi five decades and MSGM 10 years in business, with an event planned in June for men’s wear and one in September for women’s wear. MSGM founder Massimo Giorgetti said that sales of men’s wear have nearly doubled in two seasons. He attributed this to the fact that the brand responds to an existing demand, one of a young man looking for a contemporary, fresh and cool brand with a touch of streetwear. “We do sell formalwear, but it must be modern. I think there will be less streetwear going forward; fashion is evolving with more constructed and sartorial designs,” he contended.

Giorgetti touted Asia’s performance and the sell-through of the fall/winter collection there. “I am personally very happy — finally my men’s wear has found its identity,” he said, professing his support of Milan men’s fashion week. “This is a strategic choice; I would be crazy if I started to show men’s and women’s together now that men’s is performing so well. The message in coed shows is weaker, even if the men’s collection is strong, and I don’t see this as an opportunity to cut costs. I need two shots, and the message remains clearer in one’s memory, it’s not diluted and forgotten. I am convinced of this,” said the designer, who will show his new collection for MSGM on Jan. 13.

Given the success of men’s wear, Giorgetti believes a focus on this category should be a hint to a young designer. “There are thousands of women’s brands, go the other way,” he said.

Giorgetti voiced his concerns about the confusion created by increasingly shifting show dates and cities. “There is a need for more focus. We need to be modern in the offer and not in the calendar — those brands that are left have also come back. This is not a moment to experiment but to stay focused, identifiable with a show. MSGM is Milan and I am proud to support Milan.”

On the other hand, Gucci, Bottega Veneta and Salvatore Ferragamo will skip the January shows to host coed runway events in February, while a number of fashion labels will host coed shows in January including, among others, Dsquared2, Marcelo Burlon County of Milan, Neil Barrett, Sunnei and M1992 — the brand founded by eclectic designer Dorian Tarantini.

Giorgio Armani is the latest designer to experiment with coed shows. As reported, his namesake brand will skip the January shows to host a coed runway event in February, while Emporio Armani will return to the men’s calendar. The Emporio show will take place at noon on Jan. 14, filling the void left by the Giorgio Armani brand. In September, Armani held a coed Emporio show and performance by Robbie Williams at Linate Airport.

“After the success of Emporio Armani Boarding, I thought I would repeat the formula for the Giorgio Armani collection, showing men’s and women’s together in one single show in February,” said Armani. “It will be a different event that will underscore the differences between the two brands. It is also a choice that takes into account the changes and what is happening today and that perfectly fits with the Milan fashion calendar without overturning it, contributing to strengthen the message of a renewed and increasingly more interesting fashion week.”

To coincide with men’s fashion week, Armani will stage a new exhibition at his Silos space called “Fabula,” which will display more than 250 images from French photographer Charles Fréger focused on uniforms and dress codes adopted by different cultures as a mean of nonverbal communication. Running until March 24, the solo show is the artist’s largest to date. In recent years, the Armani/Silos space, which was unveiled in April 2015, has staged solo exhibitions of photographers Larry Fink and Sarah Moon and artist Paolo Ventura, as well as a collective display of images by the likes of Aldo Fallai, Kurt and Weston Markus, Tom Munro, David Sims and Richard Phibbs.

After his anniversary show on Jan. 12, Neil Barrett will open a store in London, in Mayfair. “The opening in London is very significant for me because it’s my first freestanding store in London (that adds to the shop-in-shop at Harrods, Knightsbridge). Being British, I have always looked forward to the day this would happen,” said the designer.

Asked about the brand’s two decades in business, Barrett defined them as “quite a journey…the industry and the landscape have changed quite drastically. The way people perceive fashion and the way they even consume it has changed so dramatically. For a designer like me — who is independent — there’s never really time to sit back and contemplate on what you have accomplished over years…you just drive forward instinctively. But as this anniversary approached, I came to realize that 20 years went by so I decided to celebrate and to share this moment with all the people that supported and believed in me.”

Barrett said he was “very excited” about the new fall/winter collection. “I feel that I am pushing my boundaries and challenging myself each season, constantly replenishing the wardrobes of my clients with the pre-collections and exploring new territories with the shows. This collection is born out of a British subculture — but seen from today’s perspective, through the eyes of the multi-cultural society that is Britain today,” he said. “It is nostalgic and forward-looking at the same time. Whilst being fundamentally British, this collection features a fusion of references — mixes of cultures and heritages that were impossible before. In the way second and third-generations from all over the world, born in Britain, retain traces of their cultures, but incorporate them into a new street style.”

No. 21 ceo Roberto Ortello said Milan Men’s Fashion Week continues to be a “very important moment” for the brand, and that “the show still weighs a lot on sales.”

The men’s ready-to-wear and accessories division of the label, founded and designed by Alessandro Dell’Acqua, today accounts for 10 percent of sales and Ortello said it is performing well, “appreciated by an international customer” and leveraging its “precise placing.” It is also increasingly gaining traction in Asia, one of the brand’s main markets, he said. No. 21 will hold its show on Jan. 14 at the brand’s sprawling headquarters on Via Archimede. Since last November, the company has started to directly distribute its collections, after years of working with Riccardo Grassi Showroom.

“I think men’s wear must be supported, communication is very important, and our own showroom is a very important step to give continuity and development to the brand,” said Ortello.

No.21

The No. 21 Milan showroom.  courtesy image

Brioni is also returning to Milan, after recent stints in Paris, with a presentation by appointment on Jan. 12. “Since its foundation, Brioni has always been presenting its collections in different parts of the world,” said the brand’s ceo Fabrizio Malverdi. “This season Milan turned out to be the most suitable location; in the future, we will see.” Of the collection for fall, he said it “will epitomize a complete men’s wardrobe where pieces can be freely combined, creating an always clearly defined narrative. You will see a strong focus on the leisurewear offering in addition to our core business attire. The collection will further see the introduction of ‘Primo,’ a new slender suit style, in a contemporary expression of the signature Brioni tailoring.” The collection is now designed by a team after creative director Nina-Maria Nitsche exited the brand last July after only one year.

Gucci, which will return to Milan in February with a coed show after it moved to Paris last September for one season, will effectively close the week with a performance at its headquarters on Jan. 14. Called “Motus presents MDLSX with Silvia Calderoni” the event will blend a monologue by Calderoni and video projections exploring the notion of gender identity in a play inspired by the 2003 novel “Middlesex” by American writer Jeffrey Eugenides.

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