MILAN — After a few ho-hum seasons in Milan, mainly dented by a rush of coed shows scheduled during the women’s collections, the pendulum is swinging back to a fuller and more international Men’s Fashion Week. Gucci has given the city a welcome boost, returning with a show scheduled on the last day, Jan. 14, after several seasons of coed shows.
“At the start of this new decade and this next chapter for Gucci, we are excited to return to Milan Men’s Fashion Week, joining the other leading brands present to underline Milan’s prestige and influence on the world stage,” Marco Bizzarri, president and chief executive officer of Gucci, told WWD. “Milan Fashion Week is a pivotal event in the fashion world’s calendar as it also represents the fundamental role that Italy plays in the luxury sector, both in terms of creativity and manufacturing. The men’s category is now more vibrant than ever before as men have become more confident in expressing themselves through fashion. Alessandro [Michele] has played a significant part in this evolution through his vision and collections over the last five years and will undoubtedly continue to do so in 2020 and beyond.”
Along the same lines, Salvatore Ferragamo and No. 21 have also opted for differentiating their shows once again. Further expanding the international breadth of the week, the British Fashion Council is collaborating with Italy’s Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana on a series of events. Case in point: Instead of showing in London, A-Cold-Wall will stage its fall 2020 runway show at the Palazzo del Ghiaccio on Jan. 13. Alexander McQueen, which has staged men’s presentations and shows in London, Milan and Paris in the past, will return to the Italian city on Jan. 12. Stella McCartney will continue to showcase her men’s collection in Milan, this time with appointments at the brand’s showroom rather than an event.
“Just as politicians are setting up barriers and closing borders, fashion is opening up,” said Carlo Capasa, president of the Camera della Moda. “Fashion is increasingly interpreting social messages, and bridging Italy with the U.K. is an important message.”
Capasa was pleased to see companies supporting their men’s wear category with dedicated shows. “There’s been a growth in men’s wear in the past two years and brands need to highlight this category. Coed helps branding, but with separate shows, the stories told are more relevant,” he contended, noting that the January calendar comprises 100 brands, compared with 78 during the last edition in June.
Among these, Z Zegna is bowing out of Pitti Uomo after six seasons, decamping to Milan.
“I felt it was time to focus on Milan,” said Gildo Zegna, ceo of the Ermenegildo Zegna Group. The city “is strengthening its key role among the international fashion weeks,” said Zegna, praising Capasa for working “so effectively” to shape Men’s Fashion Week here “as a core moment on an international level, as well as giving to our city an even more strategic take for the whole fashion system.”
Asked about the men’s wear scenario, Zegna said he believes it is “more driven by a sort of new modernity that is not only formal like in the past.” Leading luxury companies such as Zegna “face a challenging context where digitalization is key,” communicating with consumers who are increasingly demanding about issues such as sustainability. “The inborn value of a product is as important as the product itself.”
Faced with constantly changing markets and customers, “for a company that wants to remain competitive, it is fundamental to be fast and flexible” in execution. With its fall campaign under the hashtag Whatmakesaman, fronted by Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali, and singer and actor Nicholas Tse, Zegna “entered a new path based on the new meaning of modern masculinity, related to a cultural evolution that let us communicate more and more our values behind our products,” said Zegna. “In 2020 we continue with the firm intention to legitimate this definition as we want to go on fostering the debate.”
The executive also pointed to another important sustainable project under the hashtag Usetheexisting, launched by artistic director Alessandro Sartori, which aims to create new fabrics from existing ones and also from existing fibers and leftovers.
The year 2020 will be very important for the company as it celebrates its 110th anniversary with a new project, said Zegna, while keeping details under wraps for the time being. “In terms of retail expansion we will be opening a new flagship store in Paris, on Avenue George V. France represents a strategic market for the company since the very beginning, where we opened the first boutique in 1980 and with it we have the opportunity to strengthen our presence even more,” he said.
In terms of style, Zegna sees “a reversal of the way men experience it” and identified modern tailoring as “the perfect balance between the sartorial tradition and a contemporary take,” maintaining the brand’s attention to detail and high-quality craftsmanship. “If we look at the way men were dressing 30 years ago and how they are dressing today, the differences are significant. Elegance, then and now, is still a key pillar of a man’s style. What’s changed is how we define elegance and how we incorporate relaxed elegance or casual outfits within business and travel wardrobes,” Zegna observed.
Brunello Cucinelli concurred, seeing a brisk demand in men’s wear and, after the strong popularity of streetwear, he believes the suit is “fundamental, but put together in a new contemporary and fresh way.”
To enhance this message, Cucinelli has been relying on a number of young tailors and a salesforce — themselves “brand ambassadors” who offer styling tips to customers to help rejuvenate the suit. As reported, Cucinelli’s namesake company on Tuesday, the first day of Pitti Uomo, released its preliminary 2019 revenues, which showed a 9.9 percent increase to 607.8 million euros, compared with 553 million euros at the end of December 2018, lifted by all geographic markets and distribution channels.
The entrepreneur, founder, chairman and chief executive officer of the publicly listed company, characterized 2019 as “an excellent year, one of the best in our history, and the first in our growth project with the goal of doubling turnover in 10 years.” As of Sept. 30, the company counted 103 boutiques, three more than at the end of September last year. Cucinelli said he has secured two locations, one in Paris on Avenue Montaigne, after seeking one for more than five or six years, and the other in New York in the Meatpacking District, next to the Hermès boutique. The two stores are expected to open over the next few months.
MSGM founder Massimo Giorgetti was also positive about the return of the suit. “Absolutely, and even more so in beautiful fabrics, wool, gabardine,” he said. The younger generation of customers are looking for quality, he believes. For example, the logoed distressed jeans, which were the brand’s bestsellers last winter, have been replaced this year by a surge in requests for classic pleated pants in gabardine, wool or felt.
Echoing several observers and in contrast with Virgil Abloh’s recent comments about the death of streetwear, Giorgetti elaborated: “I don’t think streetwear is over, on the contrary, but I think there’s a new way to mix and match — classic pants worn with a sweatshirt, for example. The total streetwear look is over.”
The designer revealed he will unveil “a new and unexpected collaboration” at the MSGM show, to be held on Jan. 12. “I am very happy, we have worked on it for the past two months,” he said, declining to reveal details.
Asked about the coed trend, Giorgetti laughed. “When everyone was rushing to do that, I never found it a solution, I didn’t think it was fair for Milan, and it would have been crazy to go coed just when my men’s wear was picking up. With coed shows, the seasonal message is less strong, and also there are too many looks. I really believe in this separation and it’s fun to do. Men’s wear allows you to be more experimental, and it’s crazy powerful, although I also see a trend toward a unisex demand.”
Antonio De Matteis, ceo of Kiton, said “there is a return to elegance,” but the “classic is revisited and modernized.” For example, a suit is now worn with a denim shirt or a turtleneck, a tailored and deconstructed jacket, almost a cardigan, can be paired with cotton pants, he said.
“It’s been a good moment for a few seasons now; we are very pleased because we managed to be in sync with the changes and can catch the opportunities,” trumpeted De Matteis.
Despite the challenges presented by the social unrest in Hong Kong, Kiton is planning two new openings in China, in Shenzhen and Changsha, and will also open a unit dedicated to the brand’s women’s wear collection in Moscow in February or March. De Matteis was also “very happy” with the performance of the recently opened stores in Palm Beach and Long Island in the U.S.
Stefano Canali, ceo of the family-owned company, believes “tailored looks were never actually over, nor will they ever be. It’s the way men interpret them that makes the difference.”
Canali last year redefined the company’s strategy. “There is a ruthless selection in the sector, we challenged and questioned ourselves, invested in new people, from finance and merchandising to marketing and production in Italy, the U.S. and China,” said the executive.
Core to the plan was redefining the brand’s identity while maintaining its credibility. “We never believed in the unfounded hope that we could change the customer, so we have focused on consistency, and retailers are trusting our solidity and history,” said Canali. “It’s difficult to find the winning formula in such a volatile world, but experimenting is always positive and we have learned from it,” he added, responding to a question about previous decisions, such as tapping Andrea Pompilio to lead the collections’ design in 2015.
While the U.S. remains the brand’s main market, the company plans to invest in China in 2020. There are 170 Canali stores globally, of which 40 are directly operated. The executive touted a 40 percent gain in the company’s online channel, which still only accounts for around 1 percent of sales.
Michele Norsa, vice chairman of Missoni, said the brand’s men’s wear “has a lot of potential.” He sees “a lot of attention and interest in this category.”
Since the sale last year of a 41.2 percent stake in Missoni to the Italian FSI fund for 70 million euros and the arrival of Norsa, who is a partner of FSI, the executive has been restructuring the fashion brand’s organization and distribution, just as talks about a possible eventual public listing have been heating up again. A store in Singapore just opened, followed by a Missoni boutique in Miami at the Bal Harbour Shops and an M Missoni store at the Aventura Mall. Three stores are in the pipeline and expected to open next year in China.
The fund is investing 10 million euros in the areas that Missoni needs to develop: the U.S. and Asia, and the brand’s retail network, which counts more than 70 stores between directly operated and franchised units. A concept flagship was unveiled in New York in September on Madison Avenue between 61st and 62nd Streets, designed by Missoni’s go-to architect, Patricia Urquiola. “As the stores expand, there will be more room to highlight the brand’s men’s wear collections,” said Norsa, who believes their stylistic guidelines are in tune with the moment, “inclusive, dynamic and colorful.”
No. 21 is also expanding in Asia, where it plans to open additional stores in 2020, boosting its men’s wear division. Founder Alessandro Dell’Acqua also opted for returning to Milan with his No. 21 men’s show, to be held on Jan. 11, after experimenting with the coed format. Ceo Roberto Ortello said he agreed with the designer’s choice. “We experimented with coed, it worked, but the men’s category must develop its own specific weight differentiating itself from the women’s and No. 21 is already well-recognized in men’s wear,” he said.
The market demands this distinction, he said, and the company is changing the pace of the category, which currently accounts for 10 percent of sales, skewed toward Asia.
“Milan is important, and from January even more. This season marks a strong signal from the Camera, with the return of several brands,” observed Ortello.